8 Directory Submission Red Flags

Filed in Directories, MY BEST POSTS by Matt McGee on September 9, 2008 19 Comments

I’ve been living in directory submission land lately, looking for quality directories where I can submit my wife’s and my four local blogs, which are new and in need of some basic links.

It’s been a while since I’ve gone out on the hunt for links from quality directories, and the experience these past few days hasn’t been good: There’s a lot more junk out there than not. This can be a problem for the small business owner who may struggle to know how to tell a quality directory from the rest.

How to Judge a Web Directory

One directory I visited recently offered several different listing options, and the chart they presented offers a great starting point for learning how to separate the good from the bad. Have a look:

directory submission red flags

There are three red flags above that should tell you this is not a place from which you want a link:

  1. Reciprocal link required. Quality directories (Yahoo, DMOZ, Best of the Web, Business.com, etc.) never make reciprocal linking a condition of getting listed. When you see this requirement, the message is clear: The directory wants inbound links more than it wants great sites to be listed.
  2. 100% refund if not accepted. We can debate paid links until we’re blue in the face, but it’s reasonable to assume that search engines don’t consider this kind of arrangement to be a sign of a quality directory. For Google’s perspective, Matt Cutts has said, “For a high-quality directory, the fee is primarily for the time/effort for someone to do a genuine evaluation of a url or site.” If your payment guarantees inclusion, or you get a refund if rejected, you’re not paying for an evaluation of your site — you’re buying a link.
  3. 3 extra blog links and 5 extra blog links. Along the same lines, if you’re offered more links in exchange for more money, that’s a red flag.

That’s just from this one screenshot from one directory. Here are five more red flags to look for when evaluating directories:

4. Lots of advertising. Just as there are Made-for-Adsense blogs, there are MFA directories. If the directory’s pages are heavy on ads, to the point of making the web site listings seem like an afterthought, avoid that directory. Quality directories focus most on the presentation of their listings.

5. Selling links. I recently saw a “submit URL” page on a directory in Niche “A”, and right below the submit button there was a paragraph with (obviously sold) links to mortgage, drugs, and other unrelated sites.

6. Poor quality sites being listed. Search the directory for spammy phrases like “buy viagra” and see what results show up. If you can search for domains, try searching for “blogspot.com” (home to thousands upon thousands of spam blogs). There are some legit and very good blogs on blogspot.com, so be sure to analyze the blogspot.com sites that are listed.

7. Poor crawl depth. Low-quality directories tend to have very poor crawl depth; in other words, the home page and main category pages might be in Google’s or Yahoo’s index, but many of the deeper pages aren’t. This means your link may have no benefits where SEO is concerned.

8. Low traffic. If you’re not getting a link for SEO reasons, you better hope to get some direct traffic from the link. Check sites like Compete, Quantcast, or Alexa to see what kind of traffic the directory might have. I wouldn’t rely on any one of these stats/metrics sites alone, but together you may get a good idea of the directory’s popularity.

Further Reading: Two Articles

Here are two excellent articles on this same topic that a small business owner should read for additional ideas on judging the quality of a web directory:

Your Turn: What red flags did I miss? What factors do you use to determine the quality of a directory?

Comments (19)

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  1. If you notice that a directory has been set up in an “SEO-friendly” way and/or uses “links without nofollow”, that may be a Good Thing; however, if the *directory itself* emphasizes/advertises these “features”, you may want to think twice about getting included…

  2. Pelle says:

    Thank you for an interesting list of red flags. However, I would have loved a list of the quality directories you did find without any red flags. Or is that a well kept SEO-secret?

  3. Chad says:

    Having the three categories (free, express, featured) throws me off to begin with. I am not looking to deep link any of my pages so I am fine with basic directories. Great tips though.

  4. AM says:


    Now that you have explained how to ID a bad site, could you suggest some examples of high quality directories?

  5. Ryan Rose says:

    Matt, I’m going to have “second” Pelle’s comment. I don’t suppose you could share some of the “best kept secret” directories?

  6. Bill says:

    Great suggestions. I never thought of the ‘paid link’ aspect of directories.

    Ryan, there are a few sites out there that show the strongest links…the directories that are stronger than others.

  7. B.M. says:

    I found that the MediaBrains network of Online Directories offers advertisers a great way to get in touch with industry specific users of published magazines that relate to thier industry. We have had great success with a trio of their directories that all cover the same market.

  8. Adam Perdion says:

    Simple and great analysis. Thank you for the article.

  9. Also, look for how many directories are hosted on the same IP, thats usually a very bad sign.

  10. Will Scott says:

    Hi Matt,

    Not to gratuitously link-drop, but in answer to @Pelle, in my SMX LoMo preso (couldn’t stop the rhyme) I pointed to a couple resources for comprehensive directory lists.


    Yes, yes, they’re not all high-quality links but there are puh-lenty who don’t require reciprocation or payment and who do allow nicely targeted link-text.

    Always a pleasure dropping by,

  11. Dr. Pete says:

    Regarding #4, I’m constantly amazed how many sites cannibalize their primary business model to make a few extra bucks off of AdSense.

  12. Michael D says:

    Excellent timing on this for me Matt. Started researching a number of directories the past few weeks with many of the same findings. If done right, I think a good directory could provide a great resource to a vertical community and could incorporate many of the hyper local strategies you’ve suggested in the past.

  13. Kristina says:

    Thanks Matt,

    Guess I was thinking the same way of choosing directories. I was considering 2 “flags” – reciprocals, and not being indexed (inner pages), because never I had seen our submissions come in search results.

  14. Adam L says:

    Just last week I went on a directory hunt and you’re absolutely right, MUCH more junk than not. They’re more like soft link farms.

    A “Directory Hunt” for me usually involves searching for these types of things in Google:

    “submit URL” inurl:”keyword phrase”
    “submit URL” intitle:”keyword phrase”
    “suggest URL”
    “suggest site”
    “suggest link”

    …and so forth, you get the point. There is an endless combination of ways to find ’em.

    Avoid the paid ones you find for (at least) a couple reasons…

    The link value usually isn’t worth what they’re charging for SEO, nor do users search in Directories anymore. You’ll be lucky to get a visitor from any of them. I don’t see it as a scam since most do not promise anything except links, it’s just buying garbage and only the naive would purchase from them.

    Next, ATTENTION GETS LINKS more than money… if you’re clever. Spend some time seeking out directories, go ahead and submit to the free ones you find, and dedicate some time to a strategy that will get attention – and get one-way links. If your time is a problem, hiring some professional help is more beneficial than entering your credit card number over and over for “Joe Schmoe’s Directories”.

    Reciprocal linking with a directory is entirely useless, and you’re spot on about the ones that request them….the links won’t bring visitors and little or no SEO value, anyway.


  15. Rob Wilson says:

    My red flags – Are you seeing the category arrangement and the same information as a bunch of other directories? Is it a bulk import of DMOZ?

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