Assessing Free and Paid Directory Qualities

A thread at WebmasterWorld attracted my attention. This is about determining what criteria are used in evaluating the quality of directories used to list links. One of the oldest and very traditional ways of link development is submission to free or paid directories. Since not all links are the same in terms of authoritativeness and some directories are more popular than the others, it will be good to discuss what are the factors that affect directory quality.

User Webwork has some interesting points raised (some entries have my comments):

1. Is it simply another DMOZ clone? Forget it. Use the DMOZ.

Right, because if it’s just a clone, then it gets its feeds from DMOZ and submitting a link will only lead the user to the Open Directory suggest URL page. Maybe he meant another type of directory.

2. Is the directory a niche authority? Does the directory benefit from inbound links from other authorities in the niche – such as legitimate .edu links or legitimate .gov links? (Not links from some student’s page on a .edu URL or from another page with the appearance of selling paid links.)

3. Is there evidence that the directory delivers traffic? How robust is the evidence? What is the source of the inbound traffic? Do reputable operators in the business space confirm that the directory delivers?

Getting a link from directories are often associated to making a site more popular in keyword rankings. I say otherwise, since directories could potentially bypass the use of search engines by searchers. That means direct traffic comes from directory to the web site and not from search results. The question was about how effective is the directory in delivering traffic to the site? Is the directory attracting plenty of visitors? Stats can tell. But if a good percentage of visitors to a category ended up in our web site then that’s all that matters.

4. How “thin” is the directory? How many quality, descriptive, useful outbound links are there? How deep is the data about the listed sites? Are the listings just a hotlink and a few words? Is that the type of information that someone performing a search would be satisfied with?

Looking at the quality of links that appear within a category, are they from prominent sites or just a bunch of artificial ones used to populate the category? Are the descriptions written in a professional manner (descriptive enough, grammatically correct and checked for spelling errors)? Will we be happy to click on these links after seeing how they are described?

6. Is it a “take all comers” directory or does it appear selective? Many “free directories” are free due to the minimal investment of time, ergo poor quality. Are there spam type links? Is the directory filled with links falling into certain categories (affiliate sites, other directories) versus being authoratative in some niche? “Free” is not synonymous with “poor quality” but free directories, in order to survive as something other than a labor of love, usually need to be married to some income source. A good free directory is likely to be supported by income coming from direct advertiser relations, etc.

This is an important element to consider. Is the directory manned by editors or employ submit-and-go scheme that lowers the quality of its listings by allowing everyone to submit (albeit the captcha features)? If editors are there they should also be impartial with their discretion to add or reject submissions. This is normally practiced in paid submission, but what about the free ones?

9. Is the directory taxonony natural, comprehensive, understandable, logical? In other words is it easy to drill down into the directory to find what you are looking for? Are there many dead ends – where you click on the hierarchical links only to land on a ‘no results’ page? Yech!

This is about the organization of the categories and the usability of the site. Are visitors easily able to find the right place to expect the listings they are looking for? Is the classification of sites appear logical? Is the site navigation easy to follow?

10. Does the directory offer a directory search function? In other words, if you can’t follow the taxonomy can you get to your results by keyword search of the directory? How well does it work?

It’s not just whether the directory offers search functionality. It’s whether that search function works and displays expected results: URL, category, name of site. It’s better not to show the search form than to have it and unable perform its tasks.

11. Do pages load rapidly? There’s nothing quite so painful as thin directories that load slowly.

One hint the site could be loading slowly is that its servers cannot handle the surge in traffic, which is good. But this does not happen most of the time. Since “thin directories” were mentioned, there is no question about loading a lot of content; it’s unusual to find directories that have photos either.

12. Are the pages cluttered with ads? Is there a big Adsense block above the fold? What is the quality of the user experience? Is it easy to scan?

One of the things that I hate most are directories whose Adsense ads appear to steal my attention from looking at the category listings. It’s not bad to place Adsense blocks on directories or any other site that provide information. What’s bad is to have these ads appear to deceive users into clicking them, presuming that ads displayed are not ads but instead part of the directory listings.

As we noticed, most of the items listed above involve user experience. Having a good directory whether it’s paid or free, should involve a user-friendly interface and content. Link popularity can easily follow directories that provide excellent quality and innovative features. This is because there are only a few directories that are either popular and useful.