Are you listed? Tips for using SEO directories today.

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Although online directories are still part of any comprehensive search engine marketing and optimization strategy, they no longer have the power they once did. We spoke with marketing experts about the role online directories should play now and how they fit into your digital strategy. Here is what they said:

Understand the new role of lists
It used to be that getting a website listed in a directory was an easy path to traffic and success. At that time, being linked on a site with a high page rank would increase your score with search engines. These days, however, Google and other search engine companies have become aware of how websites and their owners have exploited the previous system. “These links worked extremely effectively to improve rankings, but they violated Google’s Webmaster Guidelines because the only purpose they served was to improve rankings in ways that were unnatural for the linked websites” , says Jayson DeMers, founder and CEO of PublicBloom.

Eric Siu from Single grit says directories should be considered just one more tool in your toolbox, not your first and only option. “Directories still have a bit of value, but…you better create great content that stands out and promote it through social media.” He says you should focus more on original content that is compelling and worth sharing and building real relationships with real authorities in your space. Think about what users will be looking for and what they want. Content that responds to queries your customers enter into search engines will be more valuable than simple directory listings.

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Quality over quantity?
When considering directories, look for ones that use publishers and charge fees. Each of our experts recommends Dmoz.org, an open content directory run by a community of volunteers called Open Directory Project. “It’s one of the biggest directories on the web,” says marketing consultant Brian Honigman. “Google and all search engines take this into account when deciding how best to categorize your website.” Dmoz has human editors who oversee each application to ensure accuracy, a stark contrast to the vast majority of online directories, which are automated, easy to manipulate and more likely to be punished by Google.

DeMers also recommends listing your site on botw.org and the Yahoo Business Directory. “[These] can help with SEO because they are generally considered strong links from respected, editorially selective publishers,” he says.

Beyond that, be diverse but picky. Money spent getting listed in online directories could be spent elsewhere, especially if you’re a cash-strapped start-up. “The most common way to go wrong is to be listed in too many low quality files [directories] that Google would consider spam,” says DeMers.

Siu adds, “You’re probably better off spending that $200 somewhere else.”

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Be professional
Since modern directories that actually improve your SEO are all carefully moderated by human editors, make sure your site is fully optimized and professional before submitting. For example, your pages should be easy to read, with clear, readable text. “The only reason you wouldn’t get accepted is if your website was messy and didn’t look believable,” Honigman says.

don’t be smart
You should abandon all old spam-based tactics when submitting your site. “Another way to mess up is to use keyword-rich anchor text with an exact match when linking to your website,” he says. Any attempt to exploit the system will only mark your site by Google.

Work your niche
Find smaller directories that cater to your niche. “If you have an interior design site and are listed in an interior design directory, you might be worth more,” says Siu. SEO can be finicky when it comes to directories, but this tactic could help a more eclectic business get noticed.

This can be particularly useful for new businesses that do exclusively local business. DeMers suggests looking at local online directories such as MerchantCircle and SuperPages, but adds that these won’t make drastic changes to your search engine results. “Getting listed in every local directory is primarily beneficial for local SEO and marginal for national SEO,” he says.

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