PageRank Ponzi

// // September 09th 2011 // Rant + SEO

Why are you still submitting your site and articles to directories? Sure, there was a time when directories were valuable. But that time has passed. So stop feeding their business and build your own instead.

Totally Flabbergasted LOLcat

Page Rank Ponzi

Directories are essentially a form of PageRank ponzi. They use your content to build their business – to build their trust and authority – and, in exchange, lease a small fraction of that trust and authority (e.g. PageRank) back to you.

You either give away or actually pay to provide them with content. They take your assets, gladly, and use it to do what you should be doing. Even if you get a small benefit from this exchange, you’re getting the short end of the stick.

Directory Heyday

There was a time when directories were useful and valuable. From the mid-to-late 90s to around 2003, directories were used by many to find sites and content. This was before tabbed browsing and broadband connections made it easy to get from one site to another. This was before search became the dominant way to navigate the web. This was before social platforms allowed you to tap your social graph and crowdsource information.

One only needs to look at the search volume for the term ‘web directory’ to see that this is an outdated method of online discovery.

Search Trend for Web Directory Searches


In the directory heyday it may have been difficult to get your site, article or blog post distributed. The web was not nearly as connected or fluid.

But today we have blogging platforms, a robust social graph and numerous social media outlets that give you an opportunity to capitalize on your own intellectual property instead of giving it away to others for peanuts.

We Are The Directory

Whether you call it curation or crowdsourcing there are other repositories that mimic and exceed the traditional directory. You might search Delicious. In fact, more people should. Or you might try out

We’re doing the work of directories every day.


In June of 2010, Google launched Caffeine and increased their ability to crawl and index the web. This was one of the last pieces of the puzzle in making directories obsolete.

Previously, directories might have been able to quickly surface new sites or content that hadn’t yet been found by Google. But that’s just not the case today. Google finds new content even in the dark and dusty corners of the Internet where Geocities pages lurk and survive.

Google Directory

So what does Google think about directories today?

Google Directory No Longer Available Message

Google shut down their directory. Read that again and think about what it means for the future and value of directories. And don’t get me started on the utter collapse of DMOZ. (No, I’m not even going to link there.)

As an aside, Google may want to consider a folder level URL removal so directory results (which return a 404) don’t clutter up SERPs.

Directory Spam

Most web directories are hastily thrown together arbitrage sites that serve as outposts for spam. Here’s a excerpt from an email sent to me by an ‘SEO Consultant’.

Directory Spam

This is not SEO, at least not the SEO I practice. Some may reject this carpet bombing approach but subscribe to the idea that a handful of paid directories are worthwhile.

I say save your money.

Paid Link or Paid Listing?

Jack McCoy from Law & Order

Frankly, I’m still a bit irked that Google doesn’t view a paid listing as a paid link. The argument for paid directories is that they provide a certain level of curation that makes them valuable. You’re paying for someone to curate that directory – not for the link. This seems a very thin argument at best, and a bunch of claptrap at worst. Most, if not all, directories are pretty much a free-for-all as long as what you’re submitting isn’t complete spam or off topic. The level of curation is marginal, and I’m being nice.

Not only that, but it comes down to intent. For some reason I hear Jack McCoy yelling ‘intent follows the bullet’. It’s not a perfect analogy, but the general idea is that intent matters. Today, the intent for a directory listing is, quite simply, to secure a back link. So, what exactly is the difference between a paid link and a paid listing? There is none as far as I can tell.

Link Value

REM Out of Time Cover Art

How valuable is that directory link anyway? I’m telling you that the value of these links declines every day. People aren’t using these sites. Newer technologies have replaced directories in the information ecosystem. The closure of the Google Directory should be a wake up call to anyone still clinging to this practice.


Traditional directories are an obsolete method of information discovery. Even if they provide some small benefit today, you’re paying a hefty price to support someone else’s dying business model. Stop PageRank ponzi and invest in the future and yourself instead.

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Comments About PageRank Ponzi

// 12 comments so far.

  1. Rick Bucich // September 09th 2011


    I have used WMT to delete entire directories using the url removal form. I even used it to successfully remove an entire subdomain once.
    Perhaps I misunderstood.

    There’s still considerable effort being put out there is building and maintaining these dinosaurs. Unfortunately it is in some’s vested interest to perpetuate it. Some forums I used to visit are so full of bad advice that you get shouted down if you try to provide a valid knowledgeable perspective. Newbies in this environment are in a world of hurt because little good comes from it.

  2. AJ Kohn // September 09th 2011


    You’re absolutely right, there is a lot of effort and propaganda out there helping to keep these dinosaurs (excellent description!) afloat. Hopefully even the newbies know that the 1000 directory spam is bunk. That seems rather transparent. But I cringe at the BOTW discount codes that are sent out like it’s some can’t miss great opportunity. I mean, they have an affiliate reseller program!

    These once proud creatures ruled the Internet in the late 90s, but the meteors have hit the HTML and their tiny T-Rex arms simply won’t allow them to survive for much longer.

  3. WB // September 09th 2011


    Have you ever placed a directory link…..or bought a link in BOTW or tried to get into DMOZ?

  4. AJ Kohn // September 10th 2011


    I sure have. I’ve bought directory listings with Yahoo!, BOTW, JoeAnt, GoGuides, GreenStalk and others. I’ve gotten links in DMOZ (a while ago) and spoke to super-editors there who told me the best way to ensure I got listed was to become an editor for that section.

    It’s my job to test these things. My experience is that these links don’t help for an established site and, of late, have very marginal impact for a new site. This may have to do with the fact that Google understands what these sites are about and, therefore is discounting the value of those links.

    Whatever the reason, I don’t think submission directories have been a viable SEO option for years. I can think of a number of different ways to generate more effective back links, all ways where the exchange of value is far more equal in nature.

  5. Gail Gardner // September 11th 2011

    Too many people want to cling to what used to work – even in the face of clear evidence showing that it doesn’t work any more. Often that evidence is clear to the few but as clear as mud to the many.

    The handwriting has been on the wall for a long time and it tells me any business counting on Google for traffic should be sharing what kind of flowers they want at the funeral of their business.

    If a non-big brand wants to survive what is going on today they need to be working a new plan. Personally, I believe that has to be alternatives to Google including social media and collaborations of bloggers strong in their niche.

  6. AJ Kohn // September 11th 2011

    Agreed Gail. It’s tough for many to adapt and change, particularly since there are others who are trying to preserve those ‘old’ ways for their own benefit.

    Search Engines (including Google) are a great source of traffic, but they shouldn’t be your only marketing channel. In fact, I believe you should use the traffic you get from Google and convert that traffic into subscribers, followers and evangelists. Too many focus on getting the traffic, instead of what to do with it once it arrives.

  7. Barry Adams // September 12th 2011

    I would agree with your sentiment if the ‘carpet-bombing’ approach to directory submissions had stopped working. The sad fact is that it still works. The sheer volume of links to be gathered more than outstrips the feeble value of each individual link. It still works and thus is still an effective – if decaying – method to boost a site’s link profile and this its rankings.

  8. AJ Kohn // September 12th 2011

    Thanks for the comment Barry. I’ve seen ‘carpet-bombing’ work in the past, but recently I’ve found it to have less of an impact, and that impact evaporates quickly. The idea offered by many seems to be to simply dip back into that well and do another round of bombing once the first wears off. I don’t mind exercise, but that’s one treadmill I don’t want to be on!

    Perhaps it differs by site and category, but I can think of a number of other methods that provide better ROI in the long-run, both in terms of link building or general marketing.

  9. GSM // September 21st 2011

    I think that DMOZ will live. Because it show only high-quality sites.

  10. Israel Kendall // November 16th 2011

    I bet the majority of those who do still search for “web directories” are bloggers looking for directories to submit to. I’d venture to guess that the average person below 30 or 35 years old has no idea what a web directory is.

    Thanks for the great article. I’ve been reading through some of the stuff on your site since I found it yesterday, and I must say these are some of the most unique and informative articles I’ve read.

  11. AJ Kohn // November 17th 2011


    I think you’re right. The remaining traffic around ‘web directories’ likely has more query intent around finding places to get listed rather than actual information exploration. Some of the directories might retain some value, but I suspect it is less and less every day.

    And thank you for the very kind words about the blog. I hope I can continue to deliver value to readers like you.

  12. Brian McGavin // December 04th 2011

    I work as an outbound salesperson for an online directory and have been working there for the past 2 months. Potential customers ask me about traffic counts for their individual listings. The owner of the directory tells me that the directory only collects information on the whole site. I am asked for regional traffic ie., Ontario vs Alberta vs British Columbia. No we don’t track that either. The owner tells me we are like the classifieds in the Yellow pages or in newspapers–no one expects to be able to track the success of their ads. I tell potential customers “link the translated summary page to your website so you can track performance both of your web site and the links e.g., my company’s translated Chinese, Punjabi, mini-web pages.

    I did a search of the company’s online presence, blogs, third party website mentions, complaints, compliments from customers, Better Business Bureau…nothing. I did get a mention that the business was incorporated in 1981 as a brochure, print, translation service. That it had started an online directory in 1997 for students wanting to study in Canada. As Steve Goldstein of Alcara has said,”it’s better to have a reputation than to have no reputation.”.

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