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10 Ways To Improve The Traditional Directory Model

In case you’re wondering what this is about, read my introduction here.

There are 3 reasons why SEOs disregard most directory links:

  • Most directories are ‘general-purpose’, so there’s little value (as compared to a link from on-topic site).
  • Few directories get much love from Google, mainly because they themselves don’t have a ‘trusted’ link profile (in other words, few quality links and fewer ‘in-context’ links).
  • Directory links are basically link lists which are valued lower than links from within a full-page article.

In short, webmasters shun directories because links from them deliver little value (apart from a few well-ranked exceptions such as the Yahoo Directory, ODP, BOTW and Business.com).

So how do we improve the traditional directory model? Here are some ideas:

1. One Page per Site

Each approved website should have its own page – this is the basic foundation of revamping the directory model because every other improvement stems from this step.

A dedicated page allows you to add far more information about a website than you could on just a page of links – information about the site, about the site owner, about the audience, and if you wish, information pulled from various 3rd party metrics such as Technorati and Alexa.

2. Go Niche

Instead of trying to build the next ODP, build the first ODP of a single niche (say, soccer blogs or celebrity blogs). The best way to build trust is to conquer a niche first and get people in your niche (not just readers but webmasters) to recognize your directory as the primary source of information on websites in your niche.

3. Detailed Site Reviews

Just putting up a link and a few words to describe the site isn’t going to help either your directory or the site you’re linking to. Describe the site in detail (i.e. audience, topic, history, any media recognition, status in the niche, etc.) and if necessary, get in touch with the site owners and send them a short interview request / questionnaire. When it comes to free website publicity, most site owners are willing to bend over backwards to cooperate – especially when it means talking about their own work.

4. Use Site Intros on Category Pages

You still need the category pages to show site listings, so to increase their value, add a 100 word introduction to that site below each link. More content (and especially relevant content) will give your category pages a better chance of ranking well in the search engines and this will help all the sites listed in your directory.

5. Link to Profile Pages on Category Listings

Ensure that the links on your category pages / tag pages point to the page dedicated to the site instead of the site itself. This may sound counterintuitive but what you’re doing is trying to give that site the best possible link from your directory, and the way to make that work is to have their profile page rank highly in search engines (and for that to happen, you need to link to it from within your website).

6. Ask Site Owners to Link Back to Profiles

Instead of asking for a direct reciprocal link, why not have the site owners link only to their profile page? It easier to agree (after all they’re raising the profile of their own site) and gets the directory deep links as well.

The best part about this is that quite often blogs will give you a link to the main domain as well as their profile page.

7. Rank Websites

Which are the 10 most influential websites in your niche? Which are the 10 most visited websites?

Find creative ways to rank the websites in your directory (you can do this category by category or directory-wide (or both ways). The idea is to get site owners more involved

8. Get Site Owners Involved

Personally my biggest grudge with directories has been the lack of communication between them and the site owners. Open up the paths of communication – list your email address clearly and encourage site owners to get in touch if they have suggestions or corrections to make in their site listings.

9. Provide Site Promotion Help

Webmasters want their sites listed in directories to help with the site’s marketing, right? So give them something extra – show new site owners how they can market themselves in their niche (this works really well if you have a niche-specific directory, but you can also give generic promotion advice if you have a general-purpose directory), where to get links from, what the biggest traffic sources are (and how to get listed on those sites), etc.

And make this information free for all readers, whether they pay to be listed on your site or not – as Chris G said the other day, give before you ask.

10. Do NOT Accept Free Submissions

I realize the need to populate the directory in the early days (do the research yourself or pay someone to do it). I also realize that usually webmasters with ‘new sites’ don’t have the money to pay for every directory. However, if you’ve built your directory as THE place to get a link from in your niche, people will generally pay up.

Charging for listings helps pay for processing (you can’t do all of it yourself, seriously – hire someone) and more importantly keeps out the spam (most of it). It’s up to you whether you want to have multiple price levels – I would recommend 2 at most (premium vs. regular) once the directory gets filled but in most cases having one flat rate will do.

And all this is just the beginning. In my mind directories can be portals into a niche and do a great job of helping searchers and readers find the information they are seeking. There’s a long way to go before we have a directory that can do that, although I hope we can take EatonWeb there.

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