02 October 2009

On the exaggerated death of directories

I believe that, if a triangle could speak, it would say, in like manner, that God is eminently triangular, while a circle would say that the divine nature is eminently circular. Thus each would ascribe to God its own attributes, would assume itself to be like God, and look on everything else as ill-shaped. -- Spinoza

Submitting sites to directories is mostly a waste of time and money, both of which could be more profitably employed elsewhere. How often have you heard this statement bandied about as if it were so obvious it would not need possible refutation or contradiction!

So let's test it out. Do a search on Google for "restaurants san francisco" (without the quotes). These are the first 10 results:

www.sanfrancisco.com/dining/
www.sanfrancisco.com/restaurants/downtown-union.html
www.onlyinsanfrancisco.com/where_to_eat/
www.yelp.com/search?find_loc=san+francisco%2C+CA&cflt=restaurants
sanfrancisco.menupages.com
www.bestofsanfrancisco.net/restaurants.htm
www.opentable.com/start.aspx?m=4
www.farallonrestaurant.com
www.foodyoyo.com
www.millenniumrestaurant.com

Two of these are web sites of restaurants. Most of the rest look like directories to me. If they look like directories to you they must be directories, no matter what anyone else may say.

The page ranks of these ten pages are 5, 4, 6, 4, 5, 4, 6, 5, 3 and 5. Nothing to be sniffed at, but no great shakes either in most cases. From the point of view of getting links, nearly all of them are pretty useless because they don't give a link which qualifies for PageRank, or if they do, it is on pages further down the category tree.

So as the owner of a restaurant, do you accept the opinion of the SEOs and conclude that it is pointless to submit your site to these directories? Would you prefer PageRank or would you prefer the fact that these directories, many of whom don't link to your site at all, send you customers who eat at your restaurants and pay good money to do it?

If, like any sensible business owner, you take the latter point of view you must ask yourself: Why then do the SEO gurus constantly downgrade the directories which, as any search on any search engine show, dominate the SERPs? For an answer you would do worse than look to the Spinoza quote that started this piece. A search engine optimiser looks at everything from an SEO point of view. He or she earns his living by getting clients' sites listed on other sites. A restaurant owner does not need an SEO's help to get listed on sites like the above. Ergo, since the SEO gets nothing out of such listings, he puts around the view that such listings are useless.

If you doubt this, then you must also give a thought to the severe criticism directed against DMOZ. Think of the last 10 times you heard an SEO ranting against DMOZ and ask yourself: What did he/she complain of? Almost certainly it was the fact that getting listed on DMOZ these days is well nigh impossible.

When, if ever, did you hear any SEO complaining that DMOZ pages rarely figure in the SERPs or that, from the viewpoint of someone looking for information, it is very nearly useless. It may have been useful ten or even five years ago, but the world has moved on since. DMOZ contains the sparsest of descriptions, no contact information, no phone numbers, and it cannot be accessed on the mobile. One would imagine any sensible directory to have all these features.

That should be the real complaint against DMOZ. That it has rendered itself irrelevant. Even the software has not changed much since it was first launched. To take one example, you cannot get a listing of restaurants in the US. The listing straightaway begins with listings of individual states. Hardly surprising then that Yelp.com's Alexa traffic ranking is higher than DMOZ's or that citysearch.com is close behind. At some point DMOZ forgot that its customers are not the web sites looking to be listed but the users who come hunting for information. The hordes of site owners begging for a listing made it arrogant. It forgot who its real customers were and it is paying the price for that.

Category: Internet


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