Learn how to optimize an online directory by producing quality content and utilizing on-page and off-page SEO.

Did you know that 75% of people never scroll past the first page of search results? If a directory website isn’t making the front page of Google’s search results, it’s missing out on a lot of traffic. That’s where search engine optimization (SEO) comes in.

Last time we talked about how to start an online directory. Today is part two of our four-part series on creating an online directory: how to optimize it for search engines.

What Is Search Engine Optimization?

SEO — Search Engine Optimization — are the strategies and techniques used to optimize websites to enable them to be found more easily and to rank higher in search engine results. SEO is essential for any website to be successful — including online directories.

SEO is generally divided into two parts:

  • On-Page SEO — Refers to the optimization of content on a website to make it more search engine-friendly.
  • Off-Page SEO — Refers to factors that happen off of the website, such as engagement on social media and how many third-parties are linking to the website.

On-Page SEO for Online Directories

According to a study by BrightEdge, organic traffic from search engines accounts for 51% of all website traffic and 73% of traffic to business service sites. You can’t afford to not be doing everything you can to ensure the directory has higher placement in search engine results.

On-page SEO refers to optimizing a website in the eyes of search engines. On-page SEO includes (but is certainly not limited to):

  • Including relevant meta data like title tags and meta descriptions.
  • Using headers to organize content.
  • Optimizing images on each page.
  • Including internal links on webpages.
  • Utilizing schema markup.
  • Making sure the website loads FAST.

Title Tags

The title tag for every webpage is important. In search engine results, it’s the first thing that users are going to see. Ideally every page on a directory website should have a unique title tag. Note that Google cuts off title tags in search results after 70–71 characters.

Meta Descriptions

Meta descriptions have been around for a long time — and they’re still important! Meta descriptions are often shown on SERPs underneath the site’s title tag, and these short summaries tell users what they can expect to find on a webpage. Remember that meta descriptions need to be kept to 160 characters or less.

Header Tags

Header tags are used to organize content pages, and they tell search engines what each section of content is about. They’re also a great opportunity to include keyword-rich phrases that Google will associate with the content.

Image Optimization

Images can add to the quality of a directory’s listings and content. Images also give you more areas in which to place in search results, such as Google Image Search. Make sure that images aren’t too large so as not to slow down page load time, and give each image on the website a keyword-rich alt tag.

Remember to also regularly confirm that there are no broken images on the site. Broken images can signal to both users and search engines that the website isn’t being properly maintained.


Creating internal links between web pages is another important SEO best practice. Internal linking (‘interlinking’) makes a website’s pages more accessible to search engines and passes authority from one page to another.

Schema Markup

Schema markup can help enrich a directory as a whole as well as each of the business listings within the directory. Schema markup can be used to help search engines recognize and categorize information including a business’ name, address and phone number (NAP), as well as extra information such as business hours or building names.

Page Load Speed

It’s important that an online directory’s pages load fast. For example, if a page load speed increases from 1 second to 3 seconds, bounce rate typically increases by 32%. From 1 second to 6 seconds, it can increase by over 100%.

There are several things that could be contributing to slow loading speeds, including oversized images or caching issues. In late 2019, Google Search Console added a feature that allows you to get an idea of a website loading speed and what the problem(s) may be.

Off-Page SEO for Online Directories

Off-page SEO is exactly what it sounds like: optimization that takes place off of the website, primarily in the form of external websites that link to the website you are optimizing. Third-party links that lead to a website are often referred to as backlinks.

Every optimized website — including online directories — need backlinks from third-party websites and social networks. However, these links need to be both relevant and from quality sites. Anchor text containing links leading to a directory’s website should also contain relevant keywords relating to the online directory.

A good backlink profile will have links from a diverse group of high-quality websites, but beware of low-quality backlinks. While high-quality backlinks can boost a directory’s SEO, low-quality backlinks can similarly damage it. Once a directory reaches a certain popularity, receiving low-quality or spammy backlinks will be inevitable. As long as you already have a portfolio of high-quality links, this shouldn’t be a problem.

Another related area of off-page SEO includes social media mentions and shares. Google looks at how online directories are being shared through social media to determine how useful users are finding them.

E-A-T and Producing Quality Content

Producing quality content is a must for search engine optimization. Online directories can and should produce optimized content on their websites, whether in the form of blogs, FAQs or other articles.
Search engines have become smarter over the years. Today, Google and other search engines have become very good at understanding the context and quality of online content.

One way that Google determines the quality of website content is through E-A-T: Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness. Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines discusses E-A-T in-depth and how websites can boost their expertise and authoritativeness in the eyes of Google.

Having well-written, quality content is also one of the traits of a high-quality directory. If the directory is targeting a specific business niche, the content can be industry-specific, or it can be location-specific if the directory is focusing on a specific geographic area.

After an Online Directory’s Optimized, What’s Next?

Unfortunately, SEO isn’t something that can be done just once and forgotten — it requires persistent work and auditing to address any problems that may arise and to continue implementing best practices on new content.

This article is the second in our four-part series. Next we’ll discuss how to market and attract consumers to an online directory!