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Web Directories

Web directories serve as a valuable resource to internet users. Web surfers utilize them as an easy means for locating topics of interest, while businesses find them indispensible as a method for promoting their websites. Thousands of websites exist on the internet that can be described as web directories. (Our own site partially fits this category, although it is much more.) A web directory or website directory is a collection of links to other websites arranged in an organized structure. A good web directory will also display information about each link within its directory structure. A web directory may link to other websites unilaterally or may require that each listed website provide a reciprocal link (See below.) back to the directory.

While web directories are arranged in an organized structure, they may also possess themed content. A themed web directory will only include links to websites addressing a particular topic or definitive range of topics. See Geosource, maintained by the Central Library of Utrecht University in The Netherlands, as an excellent example of a themed web directory. It may be difficult to get your website listed in a themed web directory, as these types of website directories are usually manually edited using strict selection criteria.

The ascendancy of Google as the web’s premier search engine also gave rise to link farms. Google™ search engine methodology places a great deal of site ranking importance on the number of links leading to a website from other sites. Reciprocal linking (also known as link swapping or link exchange), the practice of linking to a website in exchange for a link from that website to your own, arose as a direct response to Google™’s ranking strategy. This was quickly followed by the emergence of link farms as a means to capitalize on the reciprocal linking concept. Link farms are websites whose sole function is to perform link exchange with other websites.

Web directories are readily distinguishable from link farms. While a web directory exhibits an organized structure and categorized content, link farms tend to possess a hodgepodge appearance. Links to websites within a link farm are generally carelessly arranged in a “free-for-all” manner; frequently, the first link to be listed may simply be the most recent website entry into the farm, with earlier additions receiving lower and lower stature as they are pushed downward by recent arrivals. Even if the appearance of a link farm is tidy, it will be difficult to find a particular item of interest you are searching for.

Search engines generally look unfavorably upon websites linking to link farms, and may even ban sites that actively pursue this as a primary method for generating reciprocal links. The principal goal of an owner of a link farm is to boost the search engine ranking (search engine popularity) of his or her own website by getting as many webmasters to link to it as possible rather than to display quality content. This combined with the number of “hits” generated by traffic to the site can then be parlayed by the link farm owner into advertising revenue.

The link farm concept strives to fool search engines into recognizing a website as having great importance by way of its large number of inbound links. Search engine designers rapidly became wise to this ruse and redesigned search engine software to discriminate between link farms and genuine web directories. Due to the unprofessional nature of link farms (Any novice can create one; it really doesn’t require much skill.), most tend to come and go quickly.

A listing in a single prestigious web directory, unlike that found in a link farm, can go a long way toward promoting your site on the internet. The best website directories will be recognized by the DMOZ Open Directory Project, the world’s largest, most comprehensive human-edited directory of the Web.

Authored by Kenneth L. Anderson.  Original article written 6 August 2003, updated 4 January 2006.

The article to the right warns of the dangers of listing with link farms and provides some simple strategies for obtaining higher search engine ranking. Check Related Links at the left margin for topics pertaining to website promotion, the ultimate goal of webmasters who list in web directories. View the Internet Business & eCommerce SiteMap for a list of our internet business and ecommerce topics and the Business Center SiteMap for a complete list of all our business topics.

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