What Matt Cutts Said About Directories And A Discount


A while back I asked Best Of The Web (BOTW) President Greg Hartnett about a change the directory had implemented, seems they added nofollow attributes to their Sponsored Link section.  Regular directory listings were still attribute free but sponsored links went pink.  I was curious to know why they made this change so I asked, here is what Greg responded with:

We’re always trying to make sure that we stay in the good graces of the spiders by following best practices for webmasters.  We’d debated for quite some time whether or not the Sponsored advertisers (as advertisers) should be treated the same as directory listings.

In essence though, the two are not the same – web directory listings are under the complete control of the editors while sponsors have flexibility in  category placement and marketing message.

Each site listed in the web directory adheres to our quality and editorial guidelines.   If the site passes our editorial process, it’s placed in the most relevant category in the directory with a proper description.  Our editors add thousands of sites weekly on their own, and submissions account for a minuscule percentage of the web directory listings – we certainly can’t say the same for sponsored listings.

To ensure the integrity of the directory we decided to add the nofollow tag to our sponsored listings.  We’re confident that it sends the right message to the spiders and provides them information in a manner that sets the stage for another 18 years :)

So basically, BOTW added the nofollow attribute to links in their Sponsored section because anyone (within reason) can purchase them.  Since links in their regular directory are subject to editorial review, they are “clean” or free of the nofollow attribute.

A lot of people ask if paying to be listed in a directory is considered a “paid link”, they worry it’s against a search engine’s terms of service (TOS) since money openly changes hands.  Any time the word “paid” and “link” are uttered in the same sentence people get a little nervous.

In the past Google (specifically) said  said no , it was ok if the directory asked for a review fee provided the directory:

  • “exercised editorial discretion”
  •  didn’t yak about having a certain PageRank
  •  wasn’t registered on an expired domain and reborn as a directory or
  •  allowed you to drop unrelated anchor text with the submission.

Since all that was said eight months ago which is like 10 years in Internet life and with Google sending love notes and getting tough on paid link sources, I wondered if the “directory paid link” policy was the same.  So I wrote Google Engineer Matt Cutts and asked.  Here is our little Q&A:

Debra:   In the past Google/you have stated directories with strong editorial policies were OK to submit even if they required a submission fee to be reviewed.  Is this still the case?

Matt:     That’s still the case, but bear in mind that Google will ultimately decide which domains or directories to trust. Just because a directory claims to have strong editorial oversight doesn’t mean that it will meet Google’s criteria or that Google will trust the domain.

Debra:   If an editorially run directory offers a sponsored listing option, do you consider them (the sponsored links) paid links and against your TOS?

Matt:    Adding a nofollow attribute to sponsored links remains the best practice for any website.

I also wrote Bing for a statement but they did not respond to either of my emails.

Best of the Web turns 18 years old this week and to celebrate they are offering a rare 50% discount on all their submissions as a way to say thank you.  Here is the official verbiage:

A Huge ONE DAY SALE Featuring 50% Off All BOTW Products and Services

Use Promo code SINCE94 starting at 12:01am EST on 4/20 and receive an instant 50% off discount on all directory submissions, local listings, bundles and sponsorships. Submit as many sites as you want, as often as you want, but do it quickly because a sale this great can’t last more than a day!

Sweet deal and congrats to Best Of The Web on 18 great years!

(I have permission from all parties quoted here to reprint their conversations)


  1. Carlos Fernandes says

    It was my understanding that it was ok to charge and for them to have followed link – and even be “featured” in their category of choice – AS LONG AS – they didn’t get any preferential ranking boost when performing a search of the directory.

  2. Ty Whalin says

    I got the ads from BOTW as well, that is a great deal from them, but it is only for a limited time and does not last long. The rel=nofollow topic is always of great importance in the SEO world. Applying this to any sponsored or paid for ad is a good thing, this will help eliminate the people who are trying to pay there way to the top.

  3. gary e says

    Good information, especially while everyone is figuring out what does/doesn’t constitute OOP.

    In addition to the directory evaluation guidelines above checking the indexation of a directory gives a good clue to what the engines think of it and value they will pass through it.

  4. says

    Thanks for stopping by Cory. Lists would be nice wouldn’t it? Since we know that ain’t gonna happen, I think keeping in mind directories with footer links, sponsored areas not using nofollow and brand new directories are probably not going to be passing a lot of link weight. I’d spend money elsewhere in those cases. :)

    There was another comment dropped here but I believe I accidently deleted it. Was from a woman… sorry about that, didn’t mean to!

  5. Cory Howell says

    Thanks for sharing your conversations Debra. Time flies in terms of what’s right and what’s wrong… directories have definitely run the gambit of both over the years.

    Too bad Google can’t just give us a list of good sites :)