The History of Paid Directories

by Paul Teitelman September 9th, 2008 

Paid directories have historically been one of the best link building strategies for Search Engine Optimization. Back in the golden days of SEO, where it was much easier to manipulate Google for SERP’s, paid directories were thought of as being the ‘holy grail’ of link development.

Over time, the fine staff over at Google have constantly and consistently taken efforts to both manually and automatically penalize these directories. In some extreme cases, the ever-feared Google ban has even been applied! The goal of this post is to attempt to explain why Google penalizes directories, and also to provide a few examples of powerful directories that:

1.) Have gotten penalized or even banned by Google
2.) Have had their PR edited over time
3.) Have successfully maintained their PR and authority

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There are still lots of paid directories out there, but it’s now much more difficult to find good paid directories to submit your clients too. I’ll cover this difficult topic in a future post, but for now let’s focus on why Google despises paid directories so much. Let’s start off with some examples as promised:

Directories that Got Penalized

Alive Directory: Went from a PR 7 all the way to a whopping PR 0! Isn’t that nice! They also got the Google penalty- hence they don't rank for their own domain name.

Big Web Links: Also went from the big PR 7 all the way down to a PR 0! Also got the Google penalty, starting to see a pattern…

Uncover the Net: Once upon a time this nice little directory was a PR 7. It got extra special treatment from the fine folks at Google and is now… BANNED! That’s right; got the full ban. Done and done; see ya later, nice searchin’ ya! No but seriously, just type in site:uncoverthenet.com into Google and check for yourselves! Nothing comes up= they got banned! Let’s move on…

Directories that had their PR Edited

Site sift: No penalty but PR edited from PR 6- PR 3

Romow: Had their nice PR 6 edited back down to a PR 4, not as bad as the site-sift edit though.

Aviva- Was penalized but then recovered their PR after a very "lucky" indirect chat with the one and only Mr. Matt Cutts. Apparently, someone on the Google Webmasters Blog inquired about why Aviva was penalized; drawing a long list of no-no’s from Matt which then somehow got passed along to Aviva’s webmasters. They erased and/or fixed all the problems Matt had outlined and then their PR was restored in a week, but they did get pinged from a PR 6 down to a PR 4; either way it's pretty convenient if you ask me! At least Matt helped them out though…

Directories that have Maintained Quality and PR

Joe ant: Is currently a PR 6 and has been around since 2001.

Best of the Web:BOTW is also a PR 6 (was a PR 7 at one point) and dates back all the way to 1994. Since then, they have consistently maintained their status as one of the best directories on the web. This directory is called the "Best of the Web" for a reason!

Family friendly sites:FFS is also a PR 6 and has been around since 1996. They strive to provide family friendly content for users of the web.

These powerful directories such as Joe-Ant, BOTW and FFS have been able to maintain their PR because they have strict guidelines to determine which sites they will actually accept. Their editors are even stricter when it comes to approving any keyword-rich anchor texts or descriptions. They also do not accept any adult related sites, and they certainly won’t even consider engaging in any of the shadier link building strategies mentioned below.

Why are these directories getting penalized?

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Well in the case of Aviva directory, Matt called them out for a number of sketchy link building strategies, the least being blatant cross linking between websites all owned my the same person. As for the other directories? I thought it over and compiled the top 7 reasons why Google continuously strives to strike directories down to their graves. Think of it as a Google pet peeve list for link building strategies for directories. When it comes down to it, Google hates:

1) Paid links
2) Cross linking sites all in the same network
3) 301 redirections
4) Velocity of link building going crazy
5) Link farms and any directory that mimics their linking structure
6) Blatant (and in a lot of cases, not relevant) link exchange requests
7) Low quality sites/high acceptance rates/spammy sites/overly favourable anchor texts

So is it really any surprise that directories continue to get penalized? Not really, and that’s what makes it even harder to find good, high quality directories to submit too. On that note, be sure to watch out for my next post in which I will cover this exact problem! Happy searching!

Paul Teitelman

I'm a SEO Manager here at SEP and am responsible for overseeing the organic ranking of clients for their major keywords. When I'm not in front of computers my main passions are drumming, hockey and hanging out up north at my cottage in Muskoka.

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33 Responses to “The History of Paid Directories”

  1. Very lucid and clear to understand for the first time for me. Thank you. I look forward to your next post with interest.

  2. Do you think it's worth starting a paid directory site? Seems like there's a huge market for a well-managed and proper one.

  3. Most of the paid directories out there have become powerless in the eye of search engines over the past few years. And now it is getting costly to get into those that still survive. – Rif Chia

  4. Douglas Karr says:

    I still don't understand the logic that I can pay for a link on a directory, like http://activediner.com and have #1 SERP placement on Google. However, if the restaurant paid me to blog about them on my site, it would violate Google's terms and I could be penalized.

  5. skyline says:

    It also depends on the websites accepted and the content.
    Someone was saying:
    "The quality of a web directory is given by the 1% sites you accept and not those 99% you reject"
    Furthermore, why would a directory with less than 100 websites included shuld have a high PR ?

    So when it comes to the quality of the web directory, you should also take a look at his backlink profile, the sites accepted, the empty categories, the category structure.

    Crosslinking, redirects, non-relevant backlinks, paid links… are problems that can affect any type of website.

    Thanks,
    Skyline

  6. [...] The History of Paid Directories | Search Engine People Blog Paid directories have historically been one of the best link building strategies for Search Engine Optimization. Back in the golden days of SEO, where it was much easier to manipulate Google for SERP’s, paid directories were thought of as being the ‘holy grail’ of link development. (tags: paidlinks backlink google directories) [...]

  7. Linda Bustos says:

    You knew someone was going to ask this – what do you think about the Yahoo directory?

  8. denver says:

    I have a quick question:Will the links in the penalized directories get penalized as well?

  9. Michael D says:

    Great post, but I have some questions regarding starting new directories in today's day and age.

    If you're building a directory to provide links within your industry (nonpaid), are not cross-linking to any other sites, don't use 301 redirects, don't require exchanges or link backs, but the domain is fairly new, is there any reason that this should be a problem?

  10. Paul Teitelman says:

    Glad you all enjoyed the post, I'll try to answer all your questions as best I can:

    @Business… There's a market for anything that is promoted and marketed well, so YES, there is a huge market, but it's pretty saturated if you ask me. Plus it will take years, and lots of money to build up your directory to the point where you can actually expect a decent return on your time and money.

    @Douglas… 100% agree with you… even wrote about this subject in my first post

    @Skyline/Singapore.. good points!

    @Linda… I was waiting for that question actually :) . OK, yahoo directory, $300= thanks a lot Yahoo! I would say it's not worth your money, but when you consider that most of your competitors are probably in Yahoo, it's pretty tough to ignore this directory. However, with that $300 you could also submit to approx. 20 very powerful directories.

    If you ask me, I would wait on the Yahoo directory submission until you exhaust all your other directories first, if you still don't see a strong boost in rankings from the other directories, then bite the bullet and submit to Yahoo!

    @Denver… Only the directory gets penalized, so the sites that are being linked to won't get penalized, but the actual links themselves will lose any value that they once had.

    @Michael… Sounds like your building quite a nice, little niche-focused directory there! As long as you are providing users with relevant content, and playing fair when it comes to link building, then you should stay in Google's good books. Emphasis on the SHOULD though… best of luck to ya!

  11. @Paul Teitelman

    Hi mate. You provided good replies too. There ain't many powerful ones left, perhaps the most common ones are Dmoz and BOTW. Yahoo directory is not worth the money submitting to. I will rather spend the $300 on getting a copywriter for a well-written article and spend the balance on a PR release.

    Rif Chia

  12. [...] The History of Paid Directories, Search Engine People Blog [...]

  13. [...] Teitelman in a Blog Post called; "The History of Paid Directories" cites the top 7 reasons why Google continuously strives to strike directories down to their [...]

  14. [...] Except DMOZ, Yahoo, Joeant, BOTW and maybe one or two more… [...]

  15. Utah SEO says:

    Everyone's been so quick to dismiss all directories but they shouldn't. A lot still work well.

  16. Ted says:

    "These powerful directories such as Joe-Ant, BOTW and FFS have been able to maintain their PR because they have strict guidelines to determine which sites they will actually accept."

    Where does that conclusion come from?
    To me, it's just a baseless conjecture.

    "They also do not accept any adult related sites"

    BOTW does accept adult sites, and there are plenty of them:
    http://botw.org/asearch/sex

    "and they certainly won’t even consider engaging in any of the shadier link building strategies mentioned below."

    You are stating it in future tense, not in past tense, right?
    With Google's penalization going on wild, I bet a lot of directories out there (not besides selected few) won't even consider engaging in any of shady link building to protect their business. So what's so special about it? :-)

  17. [...] Teitelman wrote a post about the history of paid directories. In this post, you'll see that only the directories with good intentions have survived. [...]

  18. Blanca says:

    It is very clear now how this all works but I read somewhere else that is you want high page rank the links itself wont help in the search engine, so I am lost again.
    Besides having backlinks to my website is there any other thing I can do to improve page rank and traffic.?

    http://www.chico-chihuahua.com

  19. VMOptions says:

    It appears that powerful directories are defined by PR alone. This is not accurate. Some of the directories that have been penalized continue to receive quite a bit of traffic.

  20. Pushkar says:

    The value of directories as far as link value is concerned, have come down heavily in the last year or so which makes sense too.

    As far as Alive and Aviva are concerned, they had crossed all the lines, so really they can't complaint though I feel of the owners since I know both of them had worked really hard on their directories

  21. The alive directory thing was the worse. Many people spend hundreds of dollars on links from that directory

  22. Eva White says:

    Building a good directory and then maintaining its pr has to be one of the toughest jobs today. Specially when people are trying to push their web pages into search engines.

  23. SeanM says:

    Great information to help decide on whether to pay to have your site listed on a directory like that or not.

  24. Matt says:

    Its a hard time for directory owners, thats for sure.

  25. Paul Teitelman says:

    @ Singapore… Good call as there are much better ways to spend that $300!

    @ Utah… I've never dismissed the importance of submitting to directories, in fact it's quite the opposite. You just need to ensure you are submitting to quality directories that's all.

    @ Ted… These are simply examples of powerful directories that have maintained their PR, if you've got a better explanation as to why they've maintained their PR as opposed to other directories who have lost theirs I'm all ears.

    @ Blanca… content is king! Focus on providing great content and the links will come. If they don't, then syndicate the article and socialize it as well. It's still all about the backlinks though so you were right the first time around.

    @ VM… you're right about the traffic but I was just referring to their effect on the SERP's and rankings.

    @ Pushkar/web hosting/eva/sean… Agree with everything you all said; building and maintaining a quality directory is very tough. Especially going forward as Google continuously strives to try and penalize directories.

  26. Blanca says:

    thanks for your reply to my post. I will continue to focus on content.

  27. Ted says:

    Well, I can show you more counter-examples than yours, where directories which accept crap sites have good PR. Can you offer explanation for those cases if I reveal them? :-)

    The point is, PR is useless when it comes to measuring the quality of a directory.
    So, your statement vouching for the relationship between PR and site quality is simply baseless.

  28. Paul Teitelman says:

    @Blanca… No worries, best of luck to ya!

    @Ted… Wow you really have some objections to this post eh? I'm sure you could show me a bunch of high PR directories that are of low quality; there are plenty of them!

    If you want to reveal them be my guest, in terms of offering an explanation I don't think that's necessary, I'm not Google nor did I write their algorithm.

    All I can suggest is that these directories will continue to get penalized going forward, so although they currently have a high PR they won't be able to MAINTAIN it like the higher quality directories that I mentioned in the post do. Hopefully you now see the point I was trying to make about PR and directories; the hard part is maintaining the high PR over a long period of time.

  29. Paid Surveys says:

    This is exactly why I hardly ever use paid directories. If I have paid $50+ for in a link in one of these, only to fine its been hit with a Google ban I would be very frustrated. I only ever do a few free directory submissions, and apart from DMOZ, Yahoo, BOTW and Joeant I don't really bother. Unfortunately its too hard to say whether they really do have an impact on your websites Rankings so people continue to pay for it anyway.

  30. Paul, wasn't the reason for UncoverTheNet being wiped from the index because of MyWebNews, who allegedly hijacked their pages? MyWebNews is now defunct, but a look back into the Archives reveals that they were scraping the UTN website:

    http://web.archive.org/web/20070309160412/http://mywebnews.net/

  31. [...] The History of Paid Directories [...]

  32. [...] The History of Paid Directories [...]

  33. Matt says:

    Hi Paul – Great info. Do you have a list of the directories that you recommend most?

    I've actually never heard of Family Friendly Sites – going to submit to it now.