Another One Bites The Dust

For more than a month, the Dmoz editor section has been down. Now, Microsoft Small Business Directory is closing its doors. While it’s hardly news to anyone that follows the search marketing space that the heyday of the directory is over, it is certainly interesting that these particular directories have ended up here.

It’s no secret that the search engines are constantly trying to determine which sites to trust and which links are trustworthy. Part of determining which sites to trust involves the sites that link to them. Dmoz, SBD, Business.com and the Yahoo Directory have all been thought to garner some of that trust based on the editorial control they exert over the sites appearing in their directories.

The search engines clearly need some editorial assistance within their algorithms for text link analysis. I can’t imagine the engines ever getting so advanced that they can analyze all links without some manner of human assistance, even if the human assistance is a bit imperfect. You’ll always be able to buy links under the radar if you know what to look for and stay away from known link sellers and buyers.

So what’s the deal? If editorial control in links is important, then why are these good directories taking a dirt nap? Netscape doesn’t seem to care about getting dmoz back up and running and the SBD is down for the count. We all know that the editorial control at dmoz had its share of problems, but have the search engines really moved on for good? It’s obvious that Google is in love with the editorial control exerted at Wikipedia. Do any search through Google and you’ll be hard pressed to find a query that doesn’t return a Wikipedia page in the top 100 results. Are directories finally done because Wikipedia is so great? I doubt it. Like Dmoz, Wikipedia has had its own editorial control problems including bias and sometimes just plain, inaccurate information. Can the answer really be Citizendium, which seems to combine the problems of both Wikipedia and dmoz? The possibility of a rogue editor exerting absolute power over an entire group of articles could certainly lead to the selling of mentions in a trusted article.

So, beyond the editorial control of top tier directories and online encyclopedias, social media sites like digg are all the rage. Perhaps the recent directory news signals that the search engines have moved on, using social media as their “trust crutch”? Is being mentioned in them a sign that the search engines should trust a site? They certainly can be effective in bringing tons of traffic and loads of links. However, the bias of these sites is painfully obvious, and their “mob control” is less than perfect. Are you an executive at a Fortune 500 company looking to achieve the buzz created by being on the front page of Digg? Here’s an idea: Announce that your company will be switching all computer systems over to Macs within the next six months because you’ve seen the light and because they are vastly superior to any Windows-based machine. Guaranteed links. Sound like an expensive move just for some links? Don’t worry. In six months, just announce that your company has called off the plans based on security flaws found within the Mac operating system. More guaranteed links. Social media isn’t all bad. Like I mentioned, it can bring you links, visitors, and exposure. All those things are clearly good and once you’ve figured out what makes your voting audience tick, the return on time invested can be substantial. At the same time, mobs aren’t always right and pandering to them can get old. Then again, social media sites don’t appear to be going away anytime soon. Personally, I can’t wait for the next new wrinkle that makes social media one step better.

I’m saddened by the downturn of the quality, trustworthy directories, some of the outlandish statements / bland articles on Wikipedia, and the groupthink of social media. Having said that, you can’t get too frustrated if you don’t lean on one source too heavily. I will miss the Small Business Directory (and Dmoz too, perhaps??) They were easy links that got websites off on the right foot. But, in the end, the key is to identify as many authorities and trusted sources from the search engine’s perspective and to utilize all of them to your advantage with balance. As it has always been, the trust given to certain sources will fade as their weaknesses are over-exploited. And when that time comes, those sources will either adapt and improve or fade into untrusted obscurity.