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Interview of Greg from BOTW Directory

11 December 2005

The guys who run the BOTW directory are some of the most fun people to hang out with at the search conferences. I have hung out with them a few times, and while playing blackjack with Greg I promised to interview him about BOTW. So here goes...

You recently added a blogs directory to BOTW. What are your favorite blogs?

We launched the BOTW Blog Directory at PubCon, Vegas. We worked on transitioning it for a couple of months, and decided that PubCon would be an ideal place to launch the new product. We had previously maintained the blog listings in their own category within the BOTW Directory, but we felt that blogs as a medium were distinct enough that they warranted a separate structure. Additionally, the search functionality of the Blog Directory (release date Jan 1) is a tag driven, post search, while the search at BOTW Directory is a site and description based algorithm. So, they needed to stand apart.

My favorite (outside of ones we own) business blogs are some of the industry standards - threadwatch, matt cutts, jeremy zawondy. On a personal side, my current feeds include: ZNet Blogs , WatchBlog, - mostly political and activist blogs.

I think you said you run a good number of commercial sites. Do you still submit new sites to directories? About how many general directories do you submit them to? What directories would you especially recommend webmasters submit their sites to?

We own some travel sites via another company. Most of these sites were built and SEO'd in 1999 - 2000 and are already listed in all of the directories that they need to be - BOTW, Yahoo, DMOZ, Looksmart, Microsoft's bCentral, and Business.com (when applicable). My recommendation to webmasters would be to evaluate the directory that you are contemplating submitting to. My main criteria would be: age of the directory, quality of sites listed within relevant categories, number of categories and listings per category (there should be ample subcategories, and not just long lists of sites in top level categories), potential traffic, and a general sense of quality.

DMOZ: vital or past it's prime?

The demise of DMOZ has been cried since the beginning of the project. DMOZ remains the top directory - numero uno. Though they have flaws, who amongst us doesn't? They are a group of volunteers who care very deeply about the project they are involved with, and the vast majority of them are concerned with quality and relevancy above all else. Vital - no. A webmaster can surely succeed without a DMOZ listing. Past it's prime - maybe. DMOZ once controlled AOL search, when showing in AOL search could really bring traffic. As long as search spam exists, DMOZ will serve a very important function.

How much of a role should directory links play in the link profile of a website? Does this change from industry to industry and by how competitive an industry is?

Directory links should play a minimal role in the link profile of a successful SEO'd website - only a handful of what should be hundreds or thousands of links. While directory links can prove to be a boon to your marketing efforts, they should by no means be more than a small fraction of your links, regardless of your industry.

What categories do you tend to see the most submissions in?

The majority of the commercial submissions tend to fall into either the Business or Shopping branches. The non-commercial submissions tend to submit more widely throughout the directory, with higher concentrations in Society and Recreation. We have seen a trend in webmasters submitting their sites more and more to the Regional branch - not too surprising with the current industry-wide push of local search.

What categories get surprisingly few submissions?

Surprisingly, adult submissions. Though the Adult branch is not visible off the index, we do a pretty good job of promoting it, and the Adult categories have the highest amount of traffic of any categories in the directory. Knowing the competitive nature of the adult website landscape, I would expect adult submissions to constitute a higher portion of our overall submissions than they currently do.

Does most of BOTW's traffic come from search engines? How do you lock in users and grow the audience?

Yes - a majority of our traffic is driven by the popular search engines - roughly 60%. We have a lot of categories that pull top 5, top 10 across the major engines, and that helps to drive a decent amount of traffic to related categories. We strive to provide users with relevant, quality content for the subject matter they are interested in. Our team of editors add sites throughout the day, scouring the internet looking for quality relevant sites to add to BOTW categories - in fact, over 95% of the sites listed within BOTW were added in this manner. Our search functionality gets stronger with each site added, and we continue to add new products and services to our offerings. We feel that this combination will enable us to grow our user base in perpetuity.

Directories and scalability...How do you ensure sites do not do a bait and switch after you accepted their site?

We actually re-review the sites. That is why we have the annually recurring review fee. We take some heat at times for our annually recurring model, but we have always stood by it as a testament to quality. The annual review process by our editorial team helps us to keep the bait and switch to a minimum, and maintain the high quality of the directory. Of course, we know the opportunity for manipulation is available, so editors manually check categories frequently. To make certain that all links are working, we have internal spiders crawling the site daily looking for link rot, 404s, etc...

Directories and scalability...Some categories have more value than others. How did you chose your price points & why not charge a wide variety of prices?

More value for who - the webmaster or the user? For us, each category has the same value, and needs to provide unique content, relevant to the subject matter. We are not charging for links - we are charging for an expedited review of whether or not your site is eligible for listing within the BOTW Directory. Our price points reflect the value that we feel a listing in a quality, eleven year-old directory provides - that and what the market will bear.

In this post http://www.martinibuster.net/2005/11/link-development-is-dead.html Martinibuster talks about avoiding known SEO hotspots, such as doing things like submitting your sites to directories. Do you feel some directories are better than others? How do you think the search engines distinguish between what links to trust and which ones to not trust? What do you do to put BOTW in that trusted group and keep it out of the bad group?

As I often do, I would agree here with Martinibuster that a webmaster would be wise to stay away from known hotspots and potential trouble zones. And yes, some directories are indeed better than others. If I were a webmaster looking to submit to directories, I would be very selective. If you have any doubt about the credibility of the directory, pass on it. Come back six months later, and reevaluate.

Search engines are getting smarter by the day - I could throw out any number of guesses at what they think, but the simple fact is, I do not know. Of course I am concerned with it, but we stay focused on providing the user with the best experience we can, and let the search engines do what they may. We are very cautious about our online advertising buys, and as such, only advertise in relevant areas that we feel will bring the most relevant traffic. It has gotten a little scary buying online advertising these days, and we tend to err on the side of caution.

Niche directories vs general directories: where is their greater value for webmasters to submit their sites to?

The directory industry need not be a zero sum game, and typically it isn't. For us, that is a nice change from the travel industry. In the travel space, if somebody buys a room from Expedia for next Friday, they are not buying one from me. In the directory industry, just because somebody submits their site to a niche directory, doesn't mean that they shouldn't, or can't submit to a general directory. If it is a monetary issue, I would tell the webmaster to evaluate what he/she feels will bring the best ROI, and submit accordingly. Typically though, a webmaster should identify all the quality directories, both general and niche, that meet his criteria and submit to them all.

I heard there was a bet associated with the BOTW t-shirts I see everyone wearing. Is this true?

I can neither confirm nor deny the existence of any bets associated with the BOTW t-shirts ;) People sure do love wearing them though. Best marketing dollars we ever spent...

The fox on the BOTW website looks cool. Why isn't he on any of the t-shirts?

Nuggs is the fox - the site mascot. Inspired by the use of Mozzie throughout DMOZ. We thought it would be a great way to lighten up the pages a little bit, and he gives the directory a personality of its own now. He hasn't made it onto any of the shirts yet, but you may see him on one soon.

In many ways I see the search business model teaching web users to trust links less by teaching publishers to blend ads as content. How do you see that effecting the directory business model going forward?

When you blur the line between which sites are advertisers and which are not, everybody loses. That line is increasingly getting smaller and smaller. Luckily, I don't think it will have a material effect of BOTW users, as there is clear labeling of sponsored sites vs directory listings throughout our properties. I think directory owners, and others in the search industry, would be wise to follow suit.

I tend to think directories helping structure the web are to some extent being replaced by wikis and blogs. Do you see your directory one day changing shape from the well known link description link description format to add other features?

Though there are no plans in the immediate future for any substantial changes to the BOTW directory structure and/or format, we are of course open to various options in the years to come. Blogs and wikis are fantastic, and certainly serve their own purposes. We are involved in the blog space with our BOTW Blog directory (http://blogs.botw.org), as well as BOTW Media (http://botwmedia.com) - a publishing network of 20+ blogs authored by subject matter experts from around the world. We plan on additional expansion into the blog space, and we have our pokers in the wiki fire. We are well positioned to capitalize on the changes in the industry. We work diligently to keep BOTW well positioned to capitalize on the changes and constant evolution within the search industry.

What do you do when people pay to submit low quality sites?

If sites do not meet the minimum site guidelines, we reject them. When somebody pays for a review and the site is rejected, they then have 30 days to correct the problem. If the problem is rectified we are happy to include the listing. If the problem remains, or if the alternative site submission does not meet the guidelines, the site does not get a listing. Period.

I am sitting to your left playing Blackjack and a new deck starts. Double my opening bid, go cheap, or all in?

Go cheap - on a new deck you have no history, nothing to judge by. But is sure is fun to say "All In"!

It's almost Christmas. Have you any special coupon codes that SEO Book readers could use to make Best of The Web even better by saving a few dollars on submission costs?

In light of the holiday season, we have created a discount promotion code specifically for SEO Book readers. Use the following promo code for $10 off all products - submissions and sponsorships: NB7W4U This code is good for unlimited submissions, but expires on Dec 31 2005, so be sure to submit now!

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Thanks Greg.

Submit your site to BOTW today. Read the BOTW Blog to keep up with Greg and the BOTW crew.

by Aaron Wall of Search Marketing Info

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