Building Directory Links: The 90’s SEO Technique That Still Works

If you’ve been reading up on the latest fashion, you’ll know that the 90’s are back. I’m sure you’ve seen more than a few people sporting Wayfarers or liberal amounts of neon lately. Keep your fingers crossed for the return of Hypercolor t-shirts and slap bracelets.


While there are plenty of techniques that have emerged even within the past few months, let alone 10 years, there is one SEO practice that remains tried and true. Link building via directories is still a valuable part of any linkbuilding campaign, as long as it used in combination with other methods.. After all, search engines were built on directories.

I’ve become pretty familiar with site listings here at Distilled, and would like to offer you my top ten tips. Enjoy!

1. Come up with a comprehensive list of directories.

Some helpful resources are: Go through the lists to check each directory’s Page Rank, Domain MozRank, Google crawl rate, pricing, and niche value. Weed out the good from the bad, and note down any relevant information for each site (such as whether or not the directory allows anchor text in the title).

2. Keep track of your previous directory work.

Note which directories approve your links right away and which ones do not. If they haven’t been approved within a week or two, chances are they will never go live. Also make a note of the specific URL of your link. These have a tendency to get buried as time passes, so revisit the directory from time to time to ensure your link is still *somewhere*.

3. Ask your client for an employee name and email address.

As most directories require a name and email on the listing, it would be much more legitimate if it came directly from your client’s domain. Suggest they add a new email address that is slightly different to one of an existing employee (such as, or Just make sure that employee doesn’t mind having his/her name being used on such sites.

4. Be careful with your Paypal account.


Paypal is the payment method of choice for most sites and it doesn’t take kindly to multiple charges in a row to unrecognised email addresses for around the same amounts. Paid directory submissions should be approached with caution and moderation.

5. Reciprocal links = avoid.

Don’t bother with sites that require backlinks. There are plenty of good directories out there that allow free submissions with no ‘catch’. Many of these reciprocal link directories live in a little place we like to call Spam Town and will damage your site’s reputation.

6. Niche directories are super neat.

This almost goes without saying, but a more targeted directory to your client’s niche will benefit your link building campaign greatly. While some may require a fee for inclusion (and it’s usually pretty steep) there are plenty of free sites out there. Work your search magic to find just what you’re looking for, and try out SEOmoz’s Juicy Link Finder. Additionally, niche directories can include sites that the client has ‘earned’ entry into, such as ethical or city-based directories. The implicit exclusivity can lead to directory strength in these cases.


7. Use the correct category.

I’ve come across so many sites that have been listed under a category within a directory that was just wrong. Make sure you understand exactly what your client does! While some directories have editors who will switch your site to a different category if they feel it belongs elsewhere, it’s always better to get it right the first time. This will prevent a delay or even a rejection in your site submission.

8. Submitting deeplinks isn’t always easy.

Not every directory allows you to submit a deeplink from your site; most require a link at domain level only. Referring back to tip no. 1, make sure you do your research on what each directory will and won’t do.

9. Put the description section to good use.

99.9% of directories require a site description of around 250 words. This is a great place to work a little SEO magic, incorporating more keyphrases than the title section will allow. Usually, the text for this can be copied directly from your site’s meta description; failing that, a few sentences on the company with targeted keywords can be easily fudged written.

10. Don’t take their word for it.

Have you ever submitted a site to a directory, only for them to email you with recommendations for other directories to try? Don’t bother. They will have a very low Page Rank and almost no worth. Be choosy and select quality over quantity.

All link building campaigns can benefit from directory submissions, but this is only one aspect. The most success comes from a well-rounded approach with links coming from a wide variety of sources and sites.

Have any more tips on directory link building? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

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  1. Directory is old school indeed - but a really good way of getting links - I tend to do an hour or so every week for my site, just trudge thru finding some, and it is a pretty reliable source!
    Good list of links - i remember a while back there was a search engine that found links... lost in my favourites now!

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  2. Nice post, but stop linking to that wiki site that keeps out ranking us all please? Ta!

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  3. Directory submissions are indeed old hat and it has been abused by newbie SEO's,a quick visit to DP forums will convince you but it has been a time tested strategy to acquire few backlinks.

    I would generally employ a disposable email id to avoid the inevitable spam mails that follow a submission.

    On a relative note, it would be nice if you could have a twitter thingy on your blog.

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  4. @kulasekaran thanks for the comment, what kind of 'twitter thingy' were you referring to?!

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  5. kulasekaran

    Sorry Tom for being so obtuse, I was referring to the twitter plugin which lets a blog visitor tweet the post.

    For e.g. TweetThis plugin is used on some blogs allowing the visitor to tweet the post if they are interesting.

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  6. @robbothan Thanks very much! If you find that link for the search engine, let me know.

    @kulasekaran That sounds useful. We'll take a look and be sure to pimp out our blog Twitter-style very soon.

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  7. It's seem hard these days finding quality directories that are not paid. Just gonna run linkscape on your site and see which ones you guys are in ;)

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  8. Good stuff Molly. But I've been noticing that in the latest toolbar Pagerank update, Google seems to have cut the PR of a lot of internal category pages of even relatively strong directories with PR5 and PR6 homepages. Anyone else noticing that? Does this indicate a further devaluing of directory links?

    I would also add this link to your list - uses SEOmoz's old "Page Strength" to order them but still very good list:

    Finally re the "Tweet this" button I'd strongly recommend having a look at SharkSEO's tip for modding this to keep link juice on your own domain and having your own URL shortener:

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  9. I have an addition to number 8: I wouldn't recommend using your meta description on all submissions because it would lead to duplicate descriptions. You could use it as a template though and make some minor changes, but I've experienced the best results with entirely unique descriptions.

    As a minimum I would definately use different anchor texts.

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  10. ah theres also this resource: contains some fairly old listings - but these can be handy if they've accumulated value!

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  11. rubbish- i meant! so that you drill into niche areas.

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  12. @Rob - Thank you! That is very useful.

    @Martin - I agree... switching up the information you submit to the different directories is a good tactic. Coming up with unique descriptions every time can be a challenge though, depending on the site!

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  13. Hi, great post. Directories are a good way to get some "power" to your site. A lot of directories have different possibilities to get into. With backlink, with no backlink, payed. As you should prefer directories with a high value to the visitor and with a "clean" topic (no porn, spam etc.). I would never pay a cent to one. Simply type "directory+yourtopic" into your search engine to find the best directories for your site.

    Regards from Germany


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  14. Thanks! - some valuable tips here

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  15. Very useful post. Have explored directory submission with little success to date, but going to give it another look following the advice above. cheers!

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  16. There's some great tips there. I've noticed that the power of directories has started to re-emerge over the past year or so. Before that, when Google decided to kill them off, it started to become a waste of time. I completely agree in regard to the reciprocal directories too.

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  17. We're debating paying for some directory inclusions. Is it money well spent? I hear different things.

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    • Marc raises the 'is it worth it' question. Certainly, there is still worth in the 'right' directories, even if you pay for it.
      There are two key points to be made, however.
      Firstly, directory submissions should be only part of an off-site optimisation plan (and they're definitely less important than they once were). Essentially, it's like a mixing desk where, over time, you add new tracks and delete or tweak the faders on others, and directories is one area that should have been pulled-back in the mix over recent years.
      Secondly, you should look at a directory in the same way as opportunities such as magazine advertising i.e. does it fit your business model; is it relevant; does it have reach and weight, etc.?
      Ultimately., a few, well-chosen submissions that follow Molly's guidelines will have benefit, paid or not.

  18. Directories are a sure way of getting links. I have found that finding related directories can be a bit of a chore but woth doing. I will check out your list at the top. I generally avoid paying also.

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  19. Excellent stuff here and with some useful resources. I agree that weeding out the poor directories is a must these day and measuring their strength using different tools has got to be done.

    I have also noticed some high page rank directories get slashed in the last few months and this was done manually as was outside of Google's page-rank update.

    Diversity with rotating anchor text and descriptions is a must and deep linking to as many pages as possible helps give an oeral balance.

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