Beside website optimization, rich content and frequent site updates, link popularity is a pillar of SEO and website promotion. This is a fact and we'll not waste time on this topic.
Beside exchanging links, providing free content for links (see my "WAF for free, quality inbound links" article) and waiting for crawlers / editors to discover and index / promote your site, getting listed in topic directories is a pillar of link popularity building.
Free or paid web directories - the choice is yours
Let's focus on the directories you should choose in order to get the best results out of your site submission. I will not point here names of the best web directories, but I will make a list or two of what you should check before submitting your site to a directory. When you start a directory submission campaign, keep in mind that 20 quality "votes" (read "links pointing to your site") from value directories will weight more than 200 junk ones - speaking in terms of traffic and ranking.
Of course, depending on the budget, you will be the one to decide if you go for free or paid directories, but, whichever you choose, pay attention to directories' "White" characteristics (the ones you will benefit from) as well as to their "Black" characteristics (those that do you no good). Enough talking, let's dig in!
"White" characteristics of a web directory:
1. A decent Google Page Rank (PR). Use Google Toolbar(TM) to check the PR of the web directory's category page which best matches your site's profile. Consider as decent a PR over 3.
2. Good link popularity. Use Google to determine how many other sites (domains) link to the directory you choose. Anything over 50 is OK for the start.
3. Topic-oriented content. It is best for your site's listing to be placed on a page having topic-oriented content. Avoid placing your link, for example on the SEO category page which holds also text links to "dating", "used cars dealers", "sewing" or other non-related-to-you categories / sections of the directory.
4. SEO-friendly structure and content. There are several characteristics which make a directory SEO-friendly and I will list the most important ones, from my point of view:
- a clean and simple design: no excessive Flash animations, fancy Java design scripts, no frames, not to many columns
- a short loading time of the category page
- a coherent and SEO-friendly manner of displaying the listed sites: a descriptive title (which should be also the anchor text for the link to the listed site) and a short description that makes sense for each site
- no more than 80 - 100 links on the category page and I mean the TOTAL number: navigation + outbound links!
"Black" characteristics of a web directory:
1. Crowded categories. There is no good for you to be placed on page 10 of the chosen category.
2. Indirect links to listed sites. If you move your mouse over a listed link (without clicking) and you see in the bottom bar of your web browser anything else than a clean and simple URL, you are dealing most likely with a redirected link. This doesn't add value to your site from the search engines point of view.
3. Link to a "details" page. Sometimes, clicking on the listing takes you to another directory's page displaying "detailed" information about the listing, including the link to the listed web site. This "details" page has a zero PR and will not bring benefits to the listed site.
4. "nofollow" atribute. Right-click somewhere on the chosen category page, select "View source" from the menu that appears and search for: rel="nofollow". If you find this atribute in the hyperlinks of the listed sites, be aware! A link to your web site with "nofollow" atribute may only bring traffic to your site, but the search engines will not "read" this as a vote. The "nofollow" issue should be "Grey" on my scale, but I have listed it in the "Black" section of my article.
These would be, in my opinion, the "Black" and "White" aspects of the web directories from the SEO point of view. If you find a directory that it worths to submit to, just before clicking the "Add URL" button, read carefully it's "terms and conditions" as well as "submission guidelines" sections.