Directory Submission is Useless – A History of Web Directories

Directories are dead. I said it.

Many obituaries of online services and concepts are written prematurely, but directories have been dying for the last ten years. Sure, its been a slow and painful death with a few niche directories and non-paid general directories survive the PR apocalypse brought about by Google, but there’s nothing about directory submission that is still relevant to a website promotion strategy.

Ok, there’s still DMOZ, but the best advice there is to just “submit it and forget it.” The internet is just too big for a “authoritative” human edited directory.

The First Internet Search

The goal of the early directories was honorable enough. Way back in the day search was incredibly unreliable and not a universally adopted online behavior. Yeah, I’m talking about like fifteen years ago. Dinosaurs and stuff.

Well, back then directories were awesome. You couldn’t just assume that every business had a website, and even if they did you might need some help finding it. Lycos and Webcrawler came out early, but these “search engines” were fairly unpredictable. Yahoo came in as a directory and search, and for a few years before the rise of Google the directory and the search engine were really two faces of the same function. Engines relied on their directories to populate the results, and directories were largely human edited.

DMOZ utilized an early crowd-sourcing campaign and tapped into the magnanimous nature of early surfers and their analytical desire to organize data. The directory grew and became an authority in its own right, powered by volunteers and sending massive traffic to the lucky websites to be included.

But Google was already looking past the directory by 1998. It was a good start to organizing the internet, but they saw inherent limitations: particularly, the reliance on human labor hours. Engineers at the Big G wanted something automatic, something that could scale with the exponential growth of the web.

Twilight Years: 1998-2006

Even as directories lost favor with surfers, they still provided a very real value to webmasters. While the traffic potential of directory listings was falling, it was still decent. Even if a directory didn’t deliver a lot of direct traffic, it could still have an indirect effect by passing on links that would be interpreted by the new search engines as a “vote.”

Why did the directories have so much authority that their links were valued? Well, it was mostly a reciprocal linking scheme. Sites would link to the directory and the directory would list them. Since the directories could acquire hundreds or thousands of backlinks, they had become established authorities with little real human traffic.

Some directories wanted to cash in directly, and the practice of paid listings became a bit of a standard. Directory owners could still make a profit and websites listed in the directory could gain a benefit.

But paid links are kind of silly, aren’t they? Again, Google comes to the aid of progress and knocks the paid directories down to zero PR. The message is loud and clear, and it makes sense: Links for the purpose of search engine ranking shouldn’t be for sale.

You don’t like it? Its the only thing stopping Microsoft from owning the top SERPs for every keyword you can think of. If links could be sold freely, eventually all the pagerank would be passed along to whoever had the biggest supply of cash on hand. If we wanted to see/hear media controlled by rich people, we could just turn on the TV or radio!

RIP Web Directory

By the end of 2008, there’s very little left for surfers and webmasters in the directory website model. Directories that haven’t lost their pagerank due to the depreciation of reciprocal linking and paid links are either saturated with submissions so your link gets lost in the volume, or they’re practically abandoned and not responding to the massive pile of submission requests.

But the idea of a directory isn’t completely dead. In some ways, the directory is alive and well in the internet version 2.0. What am I talking about? Social bookmarking, the new directory.

(continues in next post)

2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Social Bookmarking is the New Web Directory
  2. Blogging is dead – long live blogging!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.