Although many SEO experts differ on the specific tactics required to gain organic search visibility, the majority of them would place a relatively equal emphasis on the refinement of site structure and taxonomy/hierarchy, the importance of having relevant and indexable content, and the value of inbound links. Each of these focus areas has a variety of different tasks and goals associated.
To ensure the validity of each individual SEO tactic, it's important to constantly measure the performance of each tactic. This can be very difficult, because often many of the recommendations for SEO are implemented in conjunction.
However, in some situations, establishing case studies can measure the apparent results of a specific tactic. From a link building perspective, one of the longest-tenured tactics to employ is to build links within topical free and paid directories.
In late 2008, we launched three new pages within a specific business line of a financial services client. The content was optimized, and some internal links were established in order to get the content indexed. Our next step was for the link development team to request links from free and paid directories.
Let's look at a case study of the results of this effort.
The Situation and Tactical Execution
The three pages we were dealing with were somewhat orphaned within the normal navigation structure of the site, due to the majority of the site's content being "behind regionalization." As part of our overarching strategy, these three business-line-specific pages were created with the intention of providing valuable content that the search engines could index. In order to build immediate relevance and inbound links to the new pages, our "low-hanging fruit" was the ability to place links within directories.
We use a combination of paid and free directories when establishing these types of links to client sites, and these often vary based on the subject or niche of the destination pages. However, from a high level, there are a few directories that we have consistently achieved results form. These include the two most important and historically effective: Yahoo and Best of the Web.
We typically update our high-level list of paid directories to consider at least quarterly, or as research indicates a loss or gain of authority within the eyes of the search engines. Currently, additional paid directories that we have confidence in include JoeAnt.com, Starting Point, and GoGuides.org. Fees are associated with the review of the site, ranging from $39.99 (Joe Ant) up to $299 (Yahoo). Some are one-time fees, while others are yearly renewals (BOTW and some others offer an option).
Since at least 2004, I've told Web marketers that the $299 yearly fee for Yahoo is one of the best ways to spend money to help drive authority and relevance to a Web page. Yahoo charges annually, and for the same cost, a permanent, editable link and description is available at BOTW.
We submitted the three pages to a selection of these paid directories, as well as a handful of free directories. When we submit to directories, we expect rapid indexing for the paid ones, and a somewhat slower approval process for the free directories. This actually isn't a problem for us, as it paces out the time between links being established to pages, and subsequently indexed and counted by search engines.
Also, we optimized our submission process through a number of other ways that I can't share due to risking losing intellectual capital. But catch me at SES San Jose, and maybe I can talk through some of those considerations.
As expected, we began to see increased visibility for the pages within about 30 to 45 days after the paid directory links went live. Visibility, of course, never automatically equals traffic, so we measured visits to these pages and subsequent conversions, and were happy to see that these both increased dramatically after the implementation of the directory links.
We must give some credit to the optimized content and the authority of the domain, but we're very confident that the results can be at least 50 percent attributed to the implementation of the directory links, especially because we held off on direct request tactics until 120 days out, in order to measure the directory performance.
The final results that we attributed to the directory link building include a lift of traffic to levels enjoyed by other highly visible site pages, within 90 days, and an increase in monthly conversions for the business line of 45 percent year-over-year, when they had less content to target that niche. We have since moved on to additional link development tactics and have achieved incremental success for the business line.
Don't overlook the power of building links within established and trusted directories. It should be a fundamental part of any offsite SEO strategy. I look forward to reading your thoughts within the comments.
Frank Watson Fires Back
Directory listings are a must for any real SEO effort. I make it part of every recommendation to new clients. I'm a big fan of BOTW because they allow deep links -- that is, you can get listed for the various categories of your site versus the one listing over at Yahoo.
People should also look for any decent directories in their niche. Some make a good additional place to help build recognition.
I also look for places that generate you traffic. While the link love is nice, a directory that actually sends you traffic is a real win/win.
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