Are Directory Submissions still Effective to Promote Websites in the 2020s?

Directory submissions were a key part of most website marketing strategies in the early days of the web. Webmasters used to manually get their site listed in the major directories like Yahoo Directory (which closed in December 2014) and use submit-a-site services to automatically blast listings to hundreds of other sites.

Since then, the web has changed and most of those directories are now defunct. This has led many to believe that directory submissions are dead, and that they’re a pointless effort which only inexperienced Internet marketers waste their time on.

So does this website promotion tactic still work in the 2020’s, and who’s right in the debate about whether it does more harm than good?

Potentially Dangerous or Pointless at Best

Some of the main criticisms claim that directory submissions don’t work and worse still, they may even damage your site’s reputation by being in a bad neighborhood.

There are two main arguments against using directories as a web promotion tool:

  • Exposure – the first is that people don’t use internet directories to look for websites anymore, so any listing isn’t going to get much reach or traffic, if any.
  • SEO Link Value – critics explain that directory links may have been worthwhile years ago when link quantity mattered to Google, regardless of quality. But now that the search engines are fully aware of how thousands of worthless links can easily be bought to game the ranking algorithms, they’re totally pointless now.

Furthermore, the rules of the SEO game make it clear that site owners should not try to cheat the system by artificially getting more links to point to their website in an unnatural way. And that means mass buying links or spamming the web to get easy free links from places such as low quality directories.

Not surprisingly, directories and websites that are easy to get a link from are typically filled with sites from webmasters who use shady tricks and deceitful practices. Without any quality control, these directories normally accept any type of site, including adult and potentially illegal websites.

Being listed among such bad company may lead your site to be guilty by association, and hence penalized.

With this in mind, and already feeling overwhelmed by the never-ending list of things to do, it is understandable why online marketers choose to skip directory submissions when promoting a site. Some are playing it safe. While others are just glad to save a few hours doing mind numbing work and to have a reasonable explanation to tell clients about how outdated methods don’t work on the web anymore.

So what’s the bottom line – should marketers and SEOs forget about submitting to web directories completely?

Directory Links can be Very Powerful

Yes, the majority of web directory submissions won’t move the needle. Yes, getting a free spammy listing among shady sites may raise a Google flag. And yes, you’d be hugely mistaken to think that the average directory listing will bring you traffic or be promoting your site in any way.

But, submitting your website to the right directories can definitely have a positive impact, and it should be part of an overall web promotion strategy. Just don’t rely on it to do more than it can in today’s world wide web.

The key is to be highly selective and intentional with the submissions:

  • Understand the Value – among other things, the effectiveness of a directory listing depends on each industry/vertical, the directory’s quality, and the placement of your link within the directory.
  • Focus on Quality – one good listing is way more powerful than appearing on hundreds of irrelevant directories. So, it is very much a case of quality over quantity.

To the layman who doesn’t know the intricacies of website marketing, directory submissions may be useless. In fact, the average online marketer who is a generalist, may not have the know-how either. And that’s why, submitting to web directories is commonly considered to be an obsolete practice.

But experienced link builders know what others don’t. Getting exposure in a suitable directory is certainly worth the investment and far from dead. You just need to know what to do, where to do it and for which sites.

Quality Links from Relevant Directories

In the Web 1.0 days of the 1990’s, every site was mass submitted to as many directories as possible. In the 2020’s, it’s all about being very picky to get a calculated link. It’ll be hard to find, cost more than you expected and only be one of countless things you need to do to promote your site successfully. But it’ll be a good link that’s worth having.

Did you say pay for a directory listing?

In the hyper competitive world of the web, nothing of much value is going to be free. Not for most of us anyway. Yes, there are still places to freely submit your site. But you may not get as much value. Once again, it depends, and it’s very much a case by case, or site by site basis.

  • Paid/Featured Listings – a highly curated, niche focused directory will need your site to be very relevant. These may be free and they will welcome you because your inclusion improves their product. In fact, these resource pages may even list your website without you asking. But on the whole, be prepared to pay to be included or to get a decent spot that will have a noticeable effect.
  • Paid Directories – there are also premium directories where you can only get in by paying a listing fee. This can be a convenient option as it’s a sure thing, where you don’t need to waste time making a submission and then have to wait an unknown period for approval, or worse still, to end up being rejected.

Generally, you get what you paid for. While it is possible to submit your site to worthy directories for free, paying to get some sort of featured listing normally yields better results.

Links vs Directory Submissions

As you’ve probably gathered, one of the main reasons of submitting your site to a web directory in the 2020’s is to get a powerful link.

Getting good placements in local listings, trade directories, or other lists of niche sites may get you some traffic, or even brand exposure if it has a reasonable audience.

In most cases though, the ultimate goal is to build a solid link that boosts your website’s backlink profile. This in turn enhances your site’s reputation in Google’s eyes and hopefully increases your rankings in the organic search results.

No, you won’t instantly shoot to the top of the 1st page by submitting to web directories. But proper web directory submissions will help to optimize a site to perform better in the search engines. It does this by:

  • Increasing the number of Quality Links to your site – quality trumps quantity when it comes to links, and even better is to have lots of quality
  • Diversifying your site’s Backlink Profile – getting endorsements (in the form of links) from different sources shows there’s a broad appeal for your site
  • Improving your site’s Reputation – getting linked from a trusted source will in turn enhance your site’s authority and trustworthiness
  • Producing real Traffic when the link is clicked on – links that get clicked on produce referral traffic and send a positive signal to the search engines

What are the Best Directories to Submit your Website?

To find the right web directories to submit your site, just focus on quality and relevance:

  • Top Quality – there’s no compromise, you only want to be listed in good directories that are worth getting into. Among other things, this normally means that they’re human edited, and more often than not, you’ll have to pay.
  • Highly Relevant – relevance is extremely important. Directory owners like it, users like it, Google likes it, and your site will love it. This is why industry relevant and localized directories are some of the best links a site can have.

How exactly can you tell if a Web Directory is of High Quality?

#1 Strong SEO Metrics

There are various widely accepted metrics used to gauge and compare the quality of websites – Domain Authority (DA), Domain Rating (DR), Referral Domains (RD), Total Backlinks, Trust Flow, Citation Flow and other more specific ones. As a high level filter,

A directory’s domain name related scores can be used as a broad high level indication of quality. To get a more detailed confirmation, you will need to dig into its page level metrics and link profile.

#2 Good Listings

A quick way to assess quality is to examine what sites are listed in a directory. Needless to say, shady or questionable sites are a big red flag. Even if they are willing to pay to be included, a human editor will spot and reject them.

On the other hand, if you’re listed next to the leaders in your industry or niche, the search engines are likely to classify your site as being among the best.

#3 Indexed in Google

There are directories that could have decent metrics and respectable listings but may be penalized by Google, and hence should be avoided.

This can be easily checked by reviewing a directory’s web pages that are indexed in Google. Just search for the domain name and there should be listings in the results page. Better still, enter this more precise search (without the speech marks):

“site:directoryname.com”

If there are no listings returned, that means the directory has been de-indexed for engaging in bad practices and don’t have much value anymore.

How to Submit a Site to Web Directories effectively?

Once you’ve narrowed down a list of suitable directories, it’s time to set aside at least 15-30 minutes to submit to each of them.

Before rushing in blindly, it’s a good idea to sketch up a plan to prevent becoming overwhelmed by all the little details to remember. Here are some site submission tips to

Here are some tips to make the process of directory site submissions more efficient:

  1. Start a spreadsheet to outline and document everything – it should serve as a control sheet to plan out the whole process and a place to record all the bits of information for each submission.
  2. Add the list of directories identified – note down their SEO metrics and any other data from your research. Categorize them, grade them, prioritize them and add to or prune them so that it’s an ongoing effort.
  3. Prepare the content about your site to be submitted – title, tagline, description, contact information, link details (ie anchor text, target), payment info and so on. It’s often a good idea to have a few versions of your site’s listing info (customized titles, varied descriptions, multiple anchor texts, link targeting strategy) crafted to suit each directory’s audience. For example, you may want to tweak your listing profile differently for industry vs local directories.
  4. Review the listing options and read the guidelines thoroughly for each directory thoroughly – copy any noteworthy points from the fine print to get a clear assessment of the best way to get listed. Make sure all the details are in your control document so that you have a central dashboard to find everything in the future.
  5. Analyze the merits of the available ways to submit your site – where will your site actually appear for a free listing, and in what order are listings displayed? If it’s a newest first, then you may be in deeper paginated pages in months to come. How will this change affect the value of the link? What are the exact terms of a featured listing or paid placement?
  6. Research the available categories to see which ones are suitable, the existing makeup of the listings, and how they’re ordered – if possible, examine the SEO metrics of the actual pages where you link will be published. Figure out if a placement on a deeper page of primary category is better or worse than the first page of a sub-category.
  7. Once you’ve made a decision, proceed to sign up, fill out the form, make the payment (if necessary) and hit submit – if you’ve done all the content beforehand, this part should be relatively quick.
  8. Make a note of specific terms, renewal payment dates and anything else you’d like to know more about the directory – if you contacted them to ask for something, remind yourself to follow up. If you want to know how the listings change, remind yourself to come back in a month or two.

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