Do your directories run afoul of Google’s “link scheme” guidelines?

Q: Google provides “webmaster guidelines” regarding “link schemes”. Are your directories a “link scheme”? If I list my company website on your directory might it actually hurt my search engine rankings rather than hurt them?

A: Here what Google has to say about link schemes:

Your site’s ranking in Google search results is partly based on analysis of those sites that link to you. The quantity, quality, and relevance of links count towards your rating. The sites that link to you can provide context about the subject matter of your site, and can indicate its quality and popularity. However, some webmasters engage in link exchange schemes and build partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking, disregarding the quality of the links, the sources, and the long-term impact it will have on their sites. This is in violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines and can negatively impact your site’s ranking in search results. Examples of link schemes can include:

  • Links intended to manipulate PageRank
  • Links to web spammers or bad neighborhoods on the web
  • Excessive reciprocal links or excessive link exchanging (“Link to me and I’ll link to you.”)
  • Buying or selling links that pass PageRank

The best way to get other sites to create relevant links to yours is to create unique, relevant content that can quickly gain popularity in the Internet community. The more useful content you have, the greater the chances someone else will find that content valuable to their readers and link to it. Before making any single decision, you should ask yourself the question: Is this going to be beneficial for my page’s visitors?

It is not only the number of links you have pointing to your site that matters, but also the quality and relevance of those links. Creating good content pays off: Links are usually editorial votes given by choice, and the buzzing blogger community can be an excellent place to generate interest.

Let’s take these matter one by one:

1. Q: Do our directories manipulate PageRank?

A: Yes, with conditions. If you are listed on our directories it will, theoretically, affect your rankings positively. However, this is no different than getting a link from the web directory DMOZ or any other type of web directory.

2. Q: Do we qualify as a web spammer or a bad neighborhood?

A: No. Trust me, I’ve been in this business long enough to have seen some crazy stuff, and what we’re doing ain’t anywhere close. Plus you’re not linking to us anyway, you’re getting a link from us.

3. Q: Do we do reciprocal links or link exchanges?

A: The answer to this one is easy–nope. We don’t ask for or encourage those who get links from our directories to link back to us or anywhere else.

4. Q: Do we buy or sell links that pass PageRank?

A: Nope. If you purchase a featured listing the link you get from the homepage to your website is a “nofollow” link which means it doesn’t pass PageRank. You’ll still get plenty of traffic from it, but the only PageRank that is passed is from the individual profile pages, which anyone can get for free.

The bottom line is that Google does not value links from low-quality sources, and low quality sources tend to have a lot of the above. Imagine if these directories, in addition to what they contain, also had links to and from porn sites, requested reciprocal links from everyone who signed up, were chock full of ads, irrelevant links, and if half the listings were from companies that had nothing to do with the stated purpose of the directories? Then you’d have a low quality directory.

However, we go to pains to make sure that each directory only contains listings for relevant companies, we don’t sell links, we don’t have advertising (other than the featured listings, which are featuring relevant content), we don’t do reciprocal linking, and if you completely ignore SEO and PageRank, these directories still provide value. And as long as they provide value independent of SEO purposes, then they will continue to provide value for SEO purposes.

For more information on this topic, I recommend reading Rand Fishkin’s post Matt Cutts on Nofollow, Links-Per-Page and the Value of Directories, specifically #5. Even better, read Rand’s 2007 post The Wisdom & Folly of Directory Link Building.