Directory Listings as Part of Your Private Practice Marketing Effort

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Unlike search engines, which rely on indexes of web page content built by automated crawlers, directories are edited by real live human beings, who exercise some editorial control over which sites will appear in the directory. Several, both paid and free, are available and can help market your practice.

Free General Directories

Once upon a time, many sites tried to offer free general directories, but these days the numbers have dwindled; we’ll cover just a couple of the more important ones here.

Open Directory Project

Now owned by Time Warner, the Open Directory Project (also known as DMOZ), remains probably the single most important and influential of all the directories edited by humans. The results from this high-quality directory are also carried directly by Google (where they are listed in a different order, according to Google PageRank). Submitting your site to DMOZ is essentially a no-brainer when it comes to marketing your private practice: there are tremendous advantages to being carried by DMOZ, and I can’t think of a single drawback. Read the submission guidelines carefully, follow them to the letter, and be patient; it may take many months to secure a listing, and there is no guarantee that your site will be listed at all. Google takes DMOZ listings very seriously, and in fact they even make it known that if you’ve had difficulty getting listed in Google, one of the best ways of remedying that is to get your site listed with the Open Directory Project.

Unfortunately, some less scrupulous webmasters have exploited their positions as DMOZ volunteer editors to list their sites in the directory repeatedly, and not always with good reason for the multiple listings. While doing some competitor analysis recently on behalf of another major mental health site, I found that one DMOZ editor had listed his own mental health site 12 different times, with 5 of those listings for only a single page of information, explicitly contradicting DMOZ’s stated policy on justifying multiple listings. This same site ranked on page 60 of the WHOIS hall of shame, dedicated to exposing abusive multiple DMOZ listings. (To be fair, this doesn’t really compare to the number one offender — CNN.com, which enjoys a whopping 231,782 separate entries in the DMOZ directory. I suppose it’s probably just a wild coincidence that CNN is a Time Warner company…)

Setting aside such editorial abuses, however, in my experience DMOZ editors as a whole are extremely helpful and make every effort to play fair — and that commitment to doing an excellent job is probably exactly why the directory has remained top dog for so long.

JoeAnt

Unlike DMOZ, JoeAnt restricts sites to just one listing in the entire directory. While this can make it a little harder to use (since sites often really should be listed in more than one category), it’s refreshing not to keep finding a glut of the same old sites appearing over and over again. You can get your site listed in the directory either by paying a comparatively low reviewing fee, or by volunteering to become an editor and submitting it yourself.

In my experience, the JoeAnt editing process is a fairly prickly affair, with different reviewing editors seeming to take wildly different views of how the submission guidelines should be interpreted; but, then, some of these people have spent years reviewing literally tens of thousands of different sites, so their own personal influence over the shape of the directory is both very apparent and probably very important to them.

If you’re considering becoming a JoeAnt editor, beware that the site provides possibly the worst system for handling the flow of reviews ever devised by humankind: plan to click and click and click through page after page if you want to get any work done. (I wonder what impact this unnecessary clicking has on the JoeAnt Alexa ranking, linked prominently through many areas of the site?)

Paid Inclusion General Directories

There are many more paid inclusion directories, but here we’ll just cover two of the most important ones.

Yahoo!

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Yahoo! famously began life as a free general directory maintained by a couple of university students, but over the years it has grown into the largest and most influential of the paid-inclusion directories. Note that Yahoo! provides both a search engine and an edited directory; it’s important to note that your site can be included in the former without appearing in the latter.

The last time I checked, the reviewing fee for a commercial site (which does not guarantee that a site will actually be included in the directory) was a minimum of a hefty $300 every year. Non-commercial sites can be reviewed for free, but be prepared for a wait of months or even years before a site is approved. Yahoo! claims to prohibit multiple listings in its directory, but as in the case of DMOZ editorial abuses, some of the less scrupulous webmasters have played the system and wound up with many separate directory entries.

Business.com

The Business.com directory is carried by a network of sites that includes Business Week, Inc.com, FastCompany.com, C|Net, Internet.com and others. Like Yahoo!, Business.com charges a recurring annual fee, although the fee is slightly more modest (about two thirds of what Yahoo! charges). Business.com claims something like 25 million business users, and if your site is at all targeted at business customers, a listing in Business.com could be a good fit.

Niche Directories

There are too many niche directories out there even to begin listing them, but if you can think of a topic, someone is probably running some variety of directory devoted to it. If you can find a good niche directory which lists quality sites that are related to yours, and which preferably garners a bit of its own web traffic (see our note on using Alexa to find out: “Tools for Marketing Your Practice: Alexa”), it may be worth your time to get listed.

I mentioned above that you should aim for directories which carry quality sites for a specific reason: some of these sites just look like humanly edited directories, but in fact they operate with link farm software that automates the whole process of listing and describing sites — meaning that there is actually little or no editorial oversight of the process.

Which brings us to the topic of link farms…

A link farm is a database of links, usually maintained automatically, and usually requiring a reciprocal link back to it from every site it lists. On first glance, they sound pretty harmless; where’s the problem?

Many people know that inbound links from other sites can boost a site’s search engine positioning, particularly in Google. Google’s PageRank technology, a favourite topic of web pundits everywhere, interprets links to a given page as ‘votes’ for the relevance of that page. Roughly speaking, the more (relevant) pages link to a given destination page, the more credit accrues to that destination page. Naturally, nothing in the world of search engines is that simple, and the reality is much more complex — both in the original academic papers which gave rise to Google, and in its implementation today. The exact method of calculating PageRank today is not publicly known, and as a result, much of the punditry and authoritative prognosticating about it is educated guesswork, at best.

Sometimes lost in all that punditry, however, is an important fact: reciprocal linking with low-quality databases of links in the web’s ‘bad neighbourhoods’ can actually harm a site’s search engine positioning. Why? Search engine algorithms are getting increasingly good at identifying when a set of links is just a set of links, with little or no added value. (Often, link farms have no unifying theme — your listing of a mental health service might appear right next to a listing for hair tonic — and even those which do employ some kind of organizational structure typically provide no original content.) Such sets of links are effectively downgraded in importance and contribute very little to the PageRank of linked sites. Search engines can also tell, of course, whether links to listed sites are reciprocal — in other words, they can tell whether a webmaster has knowingly linked back to a link farm. And in that case, Google has publicly stated that the site linking back to the link farm may be penalized; it seems likely that other major search engines have adopted a similar approach.

So, by all means do try to get listed in quality directories, and do seek out links from other relevant sites, but my advice is to avoid link farms like the plague!

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