Directory Link Building: A Still Worthwhile Tactic (When Done Right)

What business databases you should look for?
Published on 
April 30, 2024
Updated on 
April 30, 2024
Posted in 

One of the oldest and (still) most effective ways to build links is through what is usually referred to as “directory link building.”

If you approach it right, you can build natural links that help you rank. 

In the below article, we will delve into the various kinds of director links you can build and help walk you through web directory link building safety and pitfalls. 

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you read: 

  • Directory backlinks are ones that are hosted on a web directory–sometimes referred to as a link directory. 
  • While they aren’t as impactful as they used to be, when done right, they can still help your search engine rankings. 
  • A web directory is a site that contains lists or catalogues of other websites. They usually have a theme (e.g., all of the local financial advisor websites in a given local area). 
  • Depending on who you talk to, web directory link building is still worth the effort

Web directory link building: the basics

Directory link building, to reiterate, is where you add links to your website to an online directory that serves as a database of (typically) related websites. 

A good way to think of a directory is like a phonebook. You open a phonebook and browse the listed business by type and their alphabetical order. 

If you know what you’re (doing) and what to avoid doing, you can build some fantastic links using online directories that will have a positive impact on your SEO score. 

A caveat

One important thing to keep in mind when building directory backlinks is that they are, all things considered, a low-impact approach when compared to other forms of link building. 

Organic, editorial backlinks, strategic guest posting, or digital PR strategies like HARO link building are going to yield much stronger links in terms of their SEO value. 

That isn’t to say that web directories are not a worthwhile component of your overall link building strategy. But you should know what to expect when using directory listings. 

Three reasons why web directory link building makes sense

Now that we’ve tempered your expectations when it comes to your directory listing strategy, let’s get into the major benefits of this type of link. 

They are:

  1. Directory links can help establish your site’s credibility and trust. When potential clients see that your company is listed in a directory (especially a well-respected one), it lets them know you are a legitimate business. 
  2. Backlinks from web directories can help your domain authority and provide SEO value. 
  3. Referral traffic. Even if the SEO impact is not significant, having a link back to your website can be a great source of referral traffic, especially if the directory in question receives a lot of visits. 

Are web directories still worth your time in 2022?

As a link building service that strives to remain cutting-edge and relevant for our clients, the overriding question that we always ask of a link building strategy is, “is this still relevant?” Which is to say, “is there a clear ROI here in terms of time/money spent and SEO value provided?”

Search engine optimization and particularly link building, like any niche or profession, are full of people with conflicting opinions on just about everything. 

Here are some reasons why you shouldn’t dismiss directory links out of hand: 

  • MOZs State of the Industry report from 2020 contends that directory backlinks are still a ranking factor, especially for local businesses. 
  • We have seen directory links impact search ranking and visibility on Google

Important point

If you want a directory to provide meaningful SEO value to your site, you need to select it carefully–the same way you would any other referring domain. 

Traffic, trust and relevancy are the three most important variables when it comes to assessing inbound links

You don’t want low-quality, spammy directories linking to your site, especially if they don’t get solid traffic and even more so if they have nothing to do with your business or niche. 

Quality over quantity is the key to building links. 

Qualifying directories

As it was with pretty much every type of link building way back in the early days, it was much easier to game the system by simply building a ton of links. 

Web directory link building was all about how many different directories you could have linking to your website. 

Because it was so easy to get directory links if you didn’t care about vetting the directories for quality, directory links got a bad reputation for being low quality backlinks, 

Therefore, when you’re building these links, ask yourself the following questions before going ahead with a directory link: 

  • Will my inclusion in this directory be good for my credibility? 
  • Will people looking for businesses in my niche be using this directory? 

If the answer to either of these questions is “no,” then you should avoid building the link. If you can confidently answer yes to both of these, however, why not sign up?

For instance, let’s say that you have a really great blog that people love reading and you could add it to a place like Blogarama

This could be great for your brand image while also being a worthwhile link at the same time. 

The key is to know what criteria make for a worthwhile directory backlink opportunity

There are a few criteria you can always use to separate the good from the bad. They are as follows: 

  • Overly general directories that don’t have that are not niche relevant and/or are not based on a particular geographical location likely won’t be of much use to your site.
  • A directory is not worth your time if they don’t filter out the low quality links and spam and the criteria are clearly not very strict on who can and can’t get their link listed.
  • Always look for directories that use actual human beings to edit the listing rather than bots. A good directory will have someone manually evaluating each link that is submitted for review. 
  • Does the directory/website look good? That is to say, does it look like a professional website that has had a lot of time and effort put into it? 

Look at a directory like Foursquare, for instance. 

The website is well-designed, and it would clearly be relevant for a local business.

This is definitely the kind of directory that you want a backlink from. 

The different types of directory backlinks

While a lot of directory sites have basically vanished over the years, there are still plenty to choose from. 

Not all directory backlinks are the same, however, so it's a good idea to understand what links do what before trying to get listed. 

They are: 

  • General web directories
  • Business directory listings
  • Niche directories
  • Paid directories

General web directories

This type of directory lists a wide range of different businesses and niches. 

They will approve submissions from basically any website, and it is usually bots that vet these submissions, not humans. 

I know we mentioned in the section above that one of the evaluation criteria for directory sites was the use of human reviewers rather than bots, but there are still good bot-run directories. 

One of the biggest upsides of these directory backlinks is that your site will be placed into a category with similar businesses. 

This can add great credibility to your brand if you are listed alongside brands and websites with good reputations. 

The downside, of course, is that because the moderation is automated, these types of directories are often filled with spam links, so you need to spend more time perusing the links and business listings they have up before deciding to submit your site. 

You don’t want too many general directory links in your backlink profile because Google can view this unfavourably (which we will get into in a bit). 

A common example of a general directory link would be something like the digital version of The Yellow Pages:

Business directory listings

These links are more exclusive than the one’s we’ve already touched on because they are only for businesses. 

This means that the business listings are all actual companies that make a product or provide a service–they aren’t just online entities. 

One of the most common directories for these kinds of listings is the Better Business Bureau (BBB). 

When you visit a directory like this, it’s immediately obvious that it is human beings running the site and vetting the listings. They are trying to communicate trust and authority. 

Niche directories

Directory backlinks become more valuable the more niche-related they are. 

There are directories out there that focus on a specific type of industry or business, which is going to send more powerful relevancy signals. 

These kinds of directories can be more difficult to locate, but they are the most valuable to link builders who are trying to maximize SEO value. 

These are the directories you should ultimately be looking for. 

Take the below, for instance. 

It’s a pet industry directory. If you were a pet supply company, you would definitely want a backlink from a directory like this.

Paid directories 

Finally, there are paid directories. 

You have to pay a fee to be listed here, which is the exact opposite of the other directory types we’ve covered so far. 

The advantage of paid directory links (a lot of the time, not always), is that your link is usually hosted on a quality website. 

The fee is often in the form of a monthly or yearly subscription. 

A good example of one of these paid directory submission sites would be something like, where you have to pay a sponsorship fee to be listed. 

How to build good quality directory backlinks that search engines will like

Now that we’ve been over the different kinds of directory links, let’s delve into actually building those links. 

Below are some important tips and considerations to keep in mind. 

Confirm domain authority and indexing status

The first thing to do is to make sure you are submitting your website to a directory with good domain authority. 

Using something like Moz’s DA analysis tool or Ahrefs Authority Checker can help you evaluate the Domain Rating/Domain Authority of prospective directory sites. 

Here’s Ahrefs DR checker applied to the pet industry directory we mentioned previously. 

This is a respectable domain rating and a backlink from a web directory like this, if you’re a niche-relevant company, is a great link to have. 

Bio: Laura MacDonald has been covering small business and entrepreneurship spaces for over a decade. She loves learning about and explaining new developments in small business trends, strategies and concerns. When she’s not researching and writing her next piece, she is probably out running with her dogs. 

Peruse a directory’s existing listings

Once you’ve narrowed down the directories you want to be listed in, start checking out who they link to. 

Does it look like they have an editorial process in place for vetting submissions or do they link to anyone and everyone? If a directory is linking to niches that Google views with a lot of suspicion–gambling, cannabis, pornography etc.--you might not want a link from that directory because Google could just end up neutralizing the SEO value. 

You also want to know what your listing is going to look like. Do you like the listing style they use? Do you think it looks good? 

You should know what your listing looks like before going through whatever effort is required (potentially even a payment) to get listed. 

Make use of keywords 

Before using keywords in your listing title, you should know what a directory’s keyword rules are, but it’s a good idea to include them in the title of any directory submission. 

These keywords tend to become your anchor text, which is a crucial element for ranking in search engines. 

Plan your description carefully

Depending on the directory in question, you may be allowed to create quite a lengthy description along with a link to your website. 

Including keywords in that content is important, but make sure you are not hurting the UX for whoever is reading your listing.

Keyword stuffing, using a naked website URL too much, and forcing keywords into your content in ways that are jarring are bad for your credibility. 

Be unique

Make sure to use a unique title and description for each directory you submit your link to. 

Search engines will pick it up as duplicate content and could penalize you for it.

By doing this, you avoid getting flagged for link manipulation and duplicate content and maximize the odds that you get meaningful SEO value from your directory backlinks. 

Build directory links in stages

Google is good at spotting unnatural spikes in backlink traffic, and if you all of a sudden build a bunch of links to directories at the same time, Google could flag you for spam. 

Try to spread your submissions out over the course of 3-6 months to avoid triggering Google. Getting links from multiple directories too fast is risky. 

Keep tabs on your listings 

Simply securing a directory link isn’t enough, you need to make sure the information it contains about your business stays relevant. 

If Google finds inconsistencies in your directory listings, it could remove them from the search results and, more importantly, it will confuse and frustrate potential customers. 

Visit your directory listings once every couple of months to make sure they are as up-to-date as possible. 

Directory backlinks as part of your link building strategy

Getting your website and company listed in business directories is a good way to establish your brand, your credibility, enjoy referral traffic and, when done right, improve your search engine optimization. 

This is especially the case for niche directories and business listings that are industry-oriented. 

Do your due diligence and make sure you are only going after high quality directory backlinks, avoid anything that could be construed as manipulative link building, and stay on top of your listings after they are published, and you can still get good value out of your directory backlinks. 

It is also important to keep in mind that directory backlinks should only ever be one small part of a much more comprehensive overall user-centric link building strategy. 

If you would like to discuss that strategy with an experienced link building agency and how a diversified, natural backlink portfolio is the key to significantly improving your ranking and organic traffic, get in touch with dofollow today

Why Trust Us On SEO

Eric Carrell & Sebastian Schaffer have been working in SEO for over a decade, building their own projects - understanding and testing SEO strategy, along with building hundreds of white hat links per month for our projects. They take their learnings and experience and apply them to the strategy that drives our link building strategy for our clients.

Eric & Seb have always believed in quality over quantity, doing things the right way so we future proof our client’s websites against future Google updates and the evolving industry of search.

While Seb handles the company strategy around culture, processes and structure, Eric is constantly working to improve our service offering, customer experience, and following the industry in parallel with Google’s Quality Guidelines so that we are always one step ahead of our competition and aligned with what Google wants to see for your site to rank higher.

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