Before we had the internet, telephone directories played an essential role in our lives. If you needed to replace a broken window or find a seafood restaurant to celebrate a special event, your only option was to pick up the phone book, head over to the yellow pages, and look up the number before dialing it from the landline.
These days, telephone directories are still important, but now we often use our smartphones to search for “glass in Kleinmond” or “sushi near me” and within seconds we have options at our fingertips, with a little telephone icon waiting to connect the call as soon as it’s clicked.
Google and other search engines use over two hundred ranking factors to determine which results to display in the search result pages (SERPS) that include your website’s on-site search engine optimization (SEO), your location, customer reviews, and the quality of links pointing to your site, plus those from reputable web directories.
Why listing in web directories creates benefits for your business:
- Get relevant backlinks from reputable websites
- Create credibility and consistency
- Get found in the search result pages (SERPS)
- Build an online presence without a website
- Web directories provide a platform for reviews
- It’s important for local SEO
The connection between web directories and search engines
With the average person visiting Google to search the internet at least 3 times a day, it’s hard to imagine a time when Google did not exist. Yet, that was the case in the early 1990s when the internet was first launched.
In those early days, we used web directories.
People have been using telephone directories since 1878. It was a formula that was familiar. It was easy to replicate and give a sense of structure to the beginning days of the internet. Web directories were a natural progression from the old-fashioned printed telephone directories and consisted of lists of business names grouped according to different categories with a link to their websites.
As the lists became longer, they evolved into searchable indexes of directory information that gave rise to the first primitive search engines. Yahoo started out as a list of favourite websites with descriptions and links maintained by humans. Webmasters had to physically submit their websites to Yahoo in order to be found.
When Google’s predecessor Backrub was launched in 1995 it was based on the importance of backlinks. It ranked a page based on the number of citations or mentions on other websites. Numerous links were seen as an indicator of page importance or page authority.
If you wanted people to find your website, it was essential to be listed in web directories. It didn’t matter if you had an established business or were the new kid on the block – all you had to do was add your name to the list and your website would be found in alphabetical order along with your competition.
It was easy to abuse the system. The internet soon became ‘the wild west’ with directories popping up all over the place and marketers adding listings by the hundreds. Many web directories became platforms for obtaining spammy backlinks and provided no useful or relevant information to the user.
By the mid and late 1990s, web directories dominated the internet. SEO, or search engine optimization, did not exist and nobody hired digital marketers.
Fast forward to 2021 to find a completely different landscape. Machine powered search engines made most general web directories redundant, almost 64% of all businesses invest time and effort in SEO and 78% of companies hire a team of at least 1-3 digital marketers.
In this new environment, are web directories still relevant? Is it even necessary to add your listing to a web directory and how can your business benefit from it in 2021?
Get relevant backlinks from reputable websites
“The objective is not to make your links appear natural, the objective is that your links are natural”Matt Cutts, software engineer with Google from 2000 to 2017
Over time search engines started penalising sites that used aggressive link building or created links with the sole intent of improving their search rankings.
As early as 2007 Google made changes to their search algorithms to the extent that about fifty general topic web directories no longer appeared in the search results even if their actual trade names were typed in the search bar. Today automated web directories that practice manipulative link building strategies have all but disappeared from the internet.
So, what is the importance of online directories today?
Now the focus is on relevance. Is it relevant to your particular business to be listed in a specific directory? Does it make sense for your business to be listed in a niche category or specific location? If the answer is yes, then it makes natural sense to list your business in that directory, and because Google loves to provide their users with relevant search results, you are bound to be rewarded for it.
The goal is not to list in as many directories as you can, but to list in a few niche directories that will be relevant to your business and your potential customers.
Niche directories narrow down on a specific topic. It may cover a type of industry, where businesses will be grouped together within a similar category like Find my Baker where you will find everything to do with baking from professional cake shops to decorating classes and party planning.
Another popular niche directory type is a geographical directory like Villagevoice that serves businesses and residents of a specific area.
It is not so much about obtaining links as it is about trust. Before you list your information in an online directory consider how reputable the site is. The power of association with a respected website can boost your own reputation. Think about your customers. Will they see your business as more or less trustworthy if they see you in the directory?
Listing your business in a niche directory that is relevant to your business can help to establish your business’s standing in the community. If it is natural for your business to be in a specific directory but you are excluded, your potential customers may think that you are not an established business and choose to call your competition instead.
Credibility and consistency
When you list your business in a web directory you’re sending an indication to Google that you exist and that you are a real business. A spam site will not list a physical address or phone number. Showing up in a local directory will be a strong indicator to Google that your business listing is relevant to a person’s search query.
The most basic information – your NAP (name, address, and phone number) is also the most important information to submit to the directories. The reason for this is that Google will use your NAP details when looking for local search results to display.
A good practice when creating web directory entries is consistency. Google prefers consistent and accurate information and will favour businesses that have a similar NAP across different sites. Calling yourself Jono’s Plumbing Service on one website and Jonothan’s Plumbing on another may confuse the bots and reward your competition with a higher position in the search results instead.
Get found in the search result pages (SERPS)
Having a listing on a variety of directories can be viewed as having your eggs in many different baskets. The more relevant directory listings you have, the better your chances of being found when someone looks for a service online.
Reputable listing sites will appear in the SERPS as they will usually have a higher domain authority than your own website and because they target your business category as keywords you have a better chance of showing up than if you rely only on your own website.
You can even dominate the SERPS if your name appears a few times in the first ten entries on the SERP in different directories as well as the listing of your own website. This can indicate to prospective customers that your business has a strong market presence.
Build an online presence without a website
Web directories can be so important to local search queries, that you don’t even have to own your own website to appear in the results.
‘This ‘n That’ is a tiny gift and decor shop in Pringle Bay established during the last months of 2020. As a new family business located in a small town, they don’t envision creating their own website in the near future but listing their business in a web directory is allowing them to get noticed online.
In addition to your NAP information, many directories will allow you to include other information including links to your website and social media profiles and also photos and text information. On Villagevoice you can include unlimited text and up to 20 photos describing your business and its unique selling points.
Web directories provide a platform for reviews
One of the most important assets of any business is a brand ambassador. A brand ambassador is a happy customer that not only becomes a loyal supporter of your brand, they want to shout it from the rooftops so that everyone can see how great your business is, and how well you treat your customers. The best way they can do this online is to leave a review.
A lot of reputable web directories provide a platform for people to leave a review. You can use these reviews to your benefit from an SEO perspective but also to engage with your customers and reply to their reviews.
Reviews can affect your SEO in a negative or positive way. The better the review scores a business receives, the better the change to get a positive result in the SERPS. Recent good reviews are an indicator to Google of a high likelihood that your business will provide good service to their users and you will be rewarded with a higher ranking than if you consistently receive poor reviews.
With more than 90% of people trusting reviews as much as they do a personal recommendation from a friend, you cannot afford to ignore the power of reviews. The more places Google can look for reviews, the better your business will perform online.
It’s important for local SEO
46% of all search queries on Google have local intent. The search term “_near me today/tonight” on mobile devices has seen a 900%+ growth over a two-year period and because local directories directly answer this type of question they will often be found at the top of the search results.
Google determines your prominence by looking at a variety of indicators but ranking on local search is mostly based on 3 things: relevance, distance, and prominence. To keep things fair for everyone, only Google knows exactly how their algorithms work and what other factors influence the results. It is possible that a place that is physically further away may appear in the results when your business does not. This sometimes happens when the algorithm thinks it is more relevant to the searcher’s intent to display the results of a business located further away than your physical location.
You can boost your prominence and chances of being found by listing your business in local directories. It may be the SEO tipping point that Google needs to display your information instead of your competition.
Choosing to list your business
Relevance and Reputation are the most important factors to consider before choosing to list your business on any web directory.
Ask yourself if your potential customers are likely to visit the directory where you plan to list your business and if you are listed, will your inclusion in the directory improve your credibility and gain their trust?
If the answer is yes, your business can only benefit from being listed.