Interestingly enough, a lot of people still ask about article directories as a source for building backlinks. For a long time, it was one of the most popular ways for a new to improve their SEO (search engine optimization). Are article directories still relevant for SEO or are they just a waste of time?
If this isn’t your first rodeo, then you probably remember when article directories were the go-to for links. SEO professionals used to submit short publications with links pointing to their sites to literally thousands of article directories. Many times, it would be the same article syndicated word-for-word across article directories. Here's a great example:
The idea was that a) They would earn a backlink by publishing to an article directory and b) They’ll get a bunch of links if other sites republished the piece through syndication.
Typically links were located on author boxes or within the content itself, much like guest posts. How I miss those days. It was fun, easy and with some automation, you could rank a new web page in minutes.
However, Google dominates search and SEO, and they’ve been changing the rules of the game. The value of inbound links has changed over time, and specifically the value of inbound links from article directories has dramatically changed.
Answer: No, Article Directories Are Not Relevant Any More
However, just because articles directories are no longer relevant doesn't mean that we cannot learn from the past, and shore up our current SEO efforts to be more “update proof” in the future, just in case Google changes their mind again. While some websites lost rankings in the various apocalyptic algorithm shifts of the past decade, many survived, or even thrived in this environment.
A Brief History Of Article Directories
In the beginning, article directories were pretty useful. Without social media, article syndication was great for getting your content picked up by news sources around the web. If I had a website about running, I could grab an article from Ezine Articles, publish it with the proper attribution, and provide fresh content for my website fanbase. The author got exposure and more backlinks. I provided value to my audience by curating excellent, relevant content for them.
I suppose some people browsed these sites as research for writing their own articles as well.
However, like all good things that lack good moderators, they were spammed to death! Plus, with the increasing popularity of social media websites, the usefulness of these content hosting services declined. Who wants to browse a bunch of republished text articles when you can have a community curate from around the web and engage in insightful discussion on Reddit? Who wants to dig though endless content on articledirectory.com when you can see what's happening right now on Twitter or Facebook just by searching a hashtag?
Isn’t An Article Directory The Same As a Media Company?
Simply put, article directories are websites that collect content on many different subjects. They’re rarely ever focused or niched down to a single industry, but there are some broad industry directories like “health and wellness”. In fact, most of them aren’t moderated properly and that’s the key difference from a media company like Forbes. Forbes, Business Insider, or even a dumpster fire like Buzzfeed all have writers on staff, and an editor for their guest writers.
Companies like that collect articles from multiple experts but have really high standards. Yes, there are sponsored articles and curated content, but they filter publications in such a way that only the best work from their authors/contributors are published on the web.
The lack of quality control is ultimately what lead to the devaluation of links coming from them, and the subsequent demise of these websites
The Fall Of Article Directories
Anyone could register and post an article. It was easy!
Frankly, that was their problem. Too many low-quality articles, jammed with external links with virtually no real filtering system. This, in turn, ruined the user experience.
New SEOs or site owners, in particular, focus on acquiring links too much and completely neglect to think about the visitor’s experience. Naturally, when you keep feeding ridiculously low-quality content to users, you’ll lose them and your authority on the web. So as search engine algorithms became smarter, and more able to detect low quality content, article directories quickly lost value. As the directories lost link value, fewer and fewer people published there, revealing that that only current value for these websites for for SEOs. Normal people were not using them.
When was the last time you saw a directory rank on page 1 of Google for anything?
Are There Any Situations To Use Article Directories?
For me, I never use them. I don't focus on backlinks, let along acquiring them en masse. However, I think there are some situations where leveraging a high quality article directory could be useful to you.
Considering the potential drawbacks they shouldn’t be your first pick! Google places less value on them since most article directory links are easy to get. Most article directories on the web have become filled with spammy and downright stolen content, hence, their lower link value.
Potential Situations To Use Article Directories
- you do research and find real humans using a specific website
- there are other high quality, original contributors already using the directory
- you find evidence that a directory is ranking well in search engines
- links to tier 2 or 3 websites in a PBN (if you have a budget and knowledge in this area)
Legitimate Alternatives To Directories
There are plenty of alternatives to directories for getting links and traffic to your website. The most obvious one is going to be social media curation websites like Flipboard or Pinterest. Though you might not have considered them in the same wheelhouse as Ezine articles, they do serve a similar purpose: They let relevant people know about your amazing content.
Getting your article featured in a prominent Pinterest board can easily double or triple your traffic instantly. I've seen it before, and tripled my ad revenue for an entire week just from one viral pin. That pin, featured on someone else's board (that they hand-curated), gets you a link to your website (albeit not super powerful), but more importantly it gets real humans to view your content. More eyeballs on your content means more leads or sales for whatever you business model is.
Getting featured on news websites like Flipboard, Google news, or other news curators would be an amazing alternative. The links go directly to your website, and a page 1 feature could send you so much traffic that your host breaks and your site goes down. These are very hard to get into, and typically apply only to “news” sites rather than affiliate websites, but if your affiliate site is sufficiently informational and original, anything is possible, especially if you have a niche audience, like “wearable tech” versus “tech news”.
Also, as of now, guest posting is still a legitimate way to grow your audience and backlink profile. The process of getting featured is grueling. So many people outsource this task, so it's freakin' annoying getting 100 emails a day from non-English speakers asking to feature Joe Schmoe on your website because has high quality content he wants to share with the world. That being said, making honest connections with peers in your niche and creating a mutually beneficial strategy to trading audiences is a way to grow traffic and brand awareness.
Getting a guest article on a popular website in your niche can send you a temporary traffic surge, a long-term traffic stream, and maybe even a bunch of new consistent readers. For now, guest posting is still white hat link building, but you also need to be careful. Much like the degradation of article directories, websites which are doing too much guest posting (hosting OR acquiring) can be penalized.
Do I need to Disavow Spammy Links?
In most cases, no, you do not need to disavow these links. The disavow tool's usefulness for SEO is constantly called into question, and even some SEOs suspect that it's used to “out” spammy websites. Whether you believe that theory or not, consider this: Google wants the most people possible to create high quality content without having a tech-heavy SEO strategy. They simply cannot expect your average content creator to suss out spammy sites and continually disavow them. The bots can create crappy links faster than you can disavow them!
The disavow tool should only be used in extreme situations, such as a negative SEO attack, clearing up a manual penalty, or perhaps as part of a comprehensive SEO audit.
If you have spammy links coming from a low-quality article directory, just leave them. Every website on the internet is going to have some junk in their link profile since you cannot control the inbound links coming to your site.
Google’s Official Stance On Article Directories
In the above video, here’s the part that stands out for me.
“Just trying to write one article and just syndicating it wildly or just uploading it to every site in the world and hoping that everybody else will download it and use it on their website… I wouldn’t necessarily count on that being effective.”
Right there, he told SEOs why article directories wouldn’t work but never said they didn’t. Therefore, it’s going to depend on your own unique situation. Follow the tips laid out in this blog post to do it right!
What We Can Learn From The Rise And Fall Of Article Directories
No search engine has flat out said that they completely disregard links from article directories. On top of that, many directories are still operating, still gaining fresh, original content from authors. Therefore, these directories may be useful to you at some point.
However, if you plan on syndicating your content to hundreds of low-quality article directories, you’re missing the point, and might even trigger a manual review that gets your website penalized.
How can you use this knowledge to build an update-proof website that won't crash and burn in the next algorithm change? Well, we've learned a lot over the course of this article.
- Always create quality content. Don't waste time with low quality stuff, no matter where it's published
- Host your awesome content on your own website so you can maintain that quality (and good user experience)
- Focus on legitimate outreach and brand building rather than syndication
- Don't put all your eggs in one basket in terms of link building