Online web directories are services that list and categorize businesses, largely for the purpose of local discovery for consumers. As a business owner it’s a great asset for search engine optimization. In the 1990’s, SEO specialists discovered that they could fast-track a website’s rise through the ranks by listing it in as many places as possible, thereby getting a large number of “back-links” to fool the search engines into thinking it was a highly relevant site. This partly resulted in online web directories popping up all over the World Wide Web like mushrooms.
Like many other “black hat” SEO techniques, such as keyword stuffing and anchor-text optimization, Google is beginning to crack down on some of these directories, penalizing and even blacklisting some completely from Google search results. This is not to say that all directories are shifty or that you shouldn’t use them, but the practice of listing your business in every single web directory you can find is liable to do you more harm than good.
Trustworthy Local Business Directories
Listing your local business with the big name local directories is always worthwhile. You should definitely make the time to claim and optimize your listings on Google+, Facebook and Yelp. Others that attract a large audience and have authority to provide SEO benefits are Yahoo Local, Bing Local, Mapquest, Yellow Pages, and Foursquare. These are trustworthy sites that follow certain rules and standards and are unlikely to ever run afoul of big search engines like Google.
Directories Related to Your Industry
Next, you might do a Google search to locate the top one or two directories for your industry. Their prominent position in the search results shows that they have a good solid standing with Google. Beware of any directories that require a “link-back,” however, which requires that you place a corresponding link to the directory on your website. That’s one of the frowned-upon practices that may end up getting them on the outs with Google.
University Alumni Directories
Check and see whether your alma mater has an alumni business directory, and if so, submit your listing. Links from universities carry a lot of weight with Google and other search engines. If your business has more than one owner, have your co-owner(s) do the same for their alma maters. Don’t forget about non-university education, such as a beauty school or vocational training program. They love to list their successful graduates, and it’s an excellent, relevant place to put a listing.
Likewise, any certification you have achieved is liable to bring with it a directory of certified experts. Make sure the certification is relevant to your business, however. Listing your beauty salon on a site for expert scuba divers is the kind of thing that can get you penalized by the search engines.
Recommended Service Provider Directories
If you sell or service a particular product, check with the manufacturer to see if you can be listed as a recommended service provider in your area. Be thorough; there may be any number of products or services that you provide which will give you an opportunity to be listed in their service provider directories.
Should I Pay For Links?
Some experts will tell you absolutely not. That comes from the link-building schemes of the 90s when SEO companies would offer to get you a higher page ranking for a hefty fee. They would then proceed to list your site on every possible directory in existence, many of whom charged for the listing as their sole means of revenue. These links have no value, and will cause you more harm than good.
That said, there are some very good directories who do charge a nominal fee for the listing. It’s up to you whether you decide to pay it. If it’s a highly respected professional directory, you may feel it’s worth the price. Otherwise, no, you should never pay for links.
As technology evolves and, along with it, the World Wide Web, SEO experts will always be looking for shortcuts – and search engines will keep on shutting them down. The best practice for building your web presence is to convince the search engines you are relevant by being relevant.
Don’t stuff your site with keywords; add more pages of good, thoughtful content. Don’t waste time and money getting hundreds of worthless listings; you’ll get much better return from just a dozen or so really good, quality listings. And don’t forget about the third part of the equation: citations. Hold seminars, classes, guest lectures, and promotions to keep your business name, address, and phone number (NAP) in the community spotlight, and your local SEO campaign will yield a bountiful harvest!