Getting into the big guys

The big indexes, Yahoo, Open Directory & (formerly The Mining Company) are a great source of hits. But most people don't properly submit to them, and even if they do get in, their listings are substandard.

Hot News: Yahoo has radically changed how their search results appear, and this affects submission strategy. See below for details.

NOTE: Due to recent changes at LookSmart, I can no longer in any way recommend submitting to them. See below for details.

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Proper submission to these indexes is becoming even more crucial because there is a pronounced trend towards using "human-edited" indexes in search results. In particular, many of the major search engines are starting to use Open Directory index listings in their search results, making it the #2 most important place to list your site, behind Yahoo.

Another thing to consider is that more and more search engines are using link-popularity as a ranking method (Google is the originator of this technique). Under this system the ranking of your site depends on how many other pages link to yours, and how important those links are. That means that a secondary benefit of getting a link on major indexes is that it can improve your ranking on some search engines. You can even hurry this along by, for example, submitting the pages containing your listings to the search engines!

For example, these days, everyone's favorite search engine is Google, and getting your site listed in Yahoo! and Open Directory can do wonders for your Google "pagerank". In fact, it can in some cases be cost effective to pay the $299 a year to maintain a Yahoo! listing just because of the boost it gives you in Google.
Before we begin, one important word of advice. When you go to submit to one of the major indexes, please take the time to find and read their submission guidelines, advice and limitations. The advice below is as accurate as I can make it, but policies change from time to time, and it can never be 100% up to date. The bigger the search engine, the more picky they are, so take your time and read carefully.

Furthermore, don't bother wasting your time (and money), if your site falls into one of the following categories, or uses one of the following techniques. The major indexes consider such sites to be spam and will not list them: In addition, the major search engines are actively penalizing/banning sites that employ the following techniques: People who repeatedly submit spam sites to the big guys have not only been blacklisted, but in some cases, their previously submitted (and legitimate) sites have been removed. So be nice to the Indexes, and they'll be nice to you. And credit where credit is due: Chris Sherman's SearchDay Newsletter is the place to find out what works -- and what doesn't -- with the search engines. For more info on the newsletter, click here.

Here's how to optimize your listings for all the big indexes:


Yahoo is without a doubt the single most important index on the Internet (though Open Directory (see below) is rapidly gaining on them!), and it is an absolute must that you get listed here.

Yahoo comes in three flavors; the main (original) Yahoo; the international Yahoo sites; and the regional (city) Yahoo sites. The original site is by far the toughest to get into, so if your site is in, or relates to, a country or region served by one of the other Yahoo indexes, you should first try to get listed in them. If you get accepted by one Yahoo index, you almost always get into them all - and if for some reason getting into a regional Yahoo index doesn't get you listed in the main Yahoo index, then the fact that you are in the regional index can be a big help when you apply to the main index - and you should point it out in your application. Note however that if your site isn't truly regional, and you do get it into a regional category, that Yahoo may leave it there and not give you a main index listing.

Warning: Yahoo can be nasty if you try and "game" them. Trying to get multiple listings can get you banned, and that's the last thing you want to have happen. There's also a trick some people use to make a free application into a paid category, which sometimes works, but if it backfires, you're toast -- which is why I won't explain how to do it (don't email ask, either). Why Yahoo hasn't fixed it so you can't do this is anyone's guess...

Robert's How-to-get-Yahoo'd Advice

First, be patient. It often takes 6-8 weeks for the overworked Yahoo staff to even look at your site (though recently, I've been seeing sites accepted in a week or less IF the submission followed the rules to the absolute letter)
If you wish a listing in the Shopping & Services or Business to Business sections (either main or regional) of Yahoo, you now must use Yahoo's "Business Express" submission option. You pay $299 ($600 for adult sites) and get a quick thumbs-up/thumbs-down on your application. And as of Dec 28, 2001, once you get in, you have to cough up the same amount of money every year to remain in Yahoo! (Existing sites are grandfathered). Because of this increase in costs, you should carefully consider if a Yahoo listing is worth $299 a year to you.

Note: Paying the money does not guarantee a listing, and the advice I give lower down about crafting a good submission still applies. For more information about Yahoo Business Express, click here. Warning: Read their terms and conditions carefully before using Business Express.

Note that you can still submit non-commercial sites to Yahoo for free as long as you don't submit them to the Business to Business or Shopping & Services sections of Yahoo! You can also use Business Express to submit non-commercial sites, though you don't have to. What Business Express buys you is a faster decision, and perhaps a little more attention to your submission. But if a free submission is properly formatted, you should get in anyway (just slower).

Also, if you submit properly, don't get in, and you're absolutely sure that your site is good enough to get into Yahoo, then it might be worth using Business Express to get them to take another look quickly. But for most non-commercial sites, it's not necessary.

In addition, Yahoo has just started offering Sponsored Listings for between $25 to $300 a month, depending on category. 5 sponsored listings are displayed at the top of category pages (if more than 5 people buy sponsored listings, they rotate randomly). In order to get a sponsored listing, you must first get a normal listing in Yahoo, then you can apply for a sponsored listing in the category your listing is in. You can't use this to change your listing title or description, by the way; it just gets you "up top."

I personally think these Sponsored Listings are a waste of time and money! I tried them out, they generated very little traffic, and to add insult to injury, Yahoo changed my site description without warning and trashed it. Thanks, guys!

To apply for a sponsored listing, should you be so bold, visit the Yahoo category page that contains your listing and click on the "what is a sponsored listing?" link.

Yahoo has also introduced "Most Popular" listings underneath the sponsored listings; so far it is unclear how a site becomes a Most Popular site.
Second, don't even THINK about bothering them until your site is 100% up and running, with nothing "under construction." Take a look at a few of the sites in the category you want to be listed in. Is your site as good or better than them? Good site design, fast loading pages, and relevant content are important. A site with a clean basic design and lots of good content (like this one!) is more likely to get in than a flashy hyper-graphic work of art that isn't actually very useful.

One of my favorite sayings is "Perfection is when there is nothing left to remove." Take a look around your site for anything that's only there to show how clever you are, and consider removing it. The Yahoo reviewers won't think it's all that clever.

A subtle gotcha when it comes to getting commercial sites listed on Yahoo is that Yahoo requires that the site list the physical address of the business somewhere on the site (and the easier it is to find, the more likely it is that the Yahoo reviewer will find it and you'll pass this test). This address must be a physical one; post office boxes don't cut it. Note: several of your fellow users have reported that they've managed to get listings using post office box addresses, so the rule may not be cast in stone. However, I'd only use a PO Box if I had no other alternative.

Third, be gently insistent. If you apply and don't get in after two months, submit again. But before you do, go look at your site once again, and see if you can't improve it.
Whatever you do, do NOT bombard Yahoo with submissions. If you apply more than once a month, they'll ignore you until the end of time.

Another good way to get banned from Yahoo is to submit a site to a regional index that has nothing to do with that region, or isn't really a regionally limited site. Boy do they HATE that!

If you are still having problems getting in, or getting a change made to your listing, see the note further down the page about the "secret" Yahoo email address.
How to apply to Yahoo

First of all, I suggest you print out this page so you can have it handy when you visit Yahoo.

Visit the main Yahoo site or a regional site (as appropriate), and do a search (your site title or domain name is a good one) to determine if you are already in the Yahoo index or not. Because Yahoo uses Google for primary results, you need to search just their directory only, not use their regular search; click here to go to Yahoo's directory search page. If you are in Yahoo's directory, then you need to consider asking them to change your listing using the advice further down on the page. If not, you need to apply for a new listing.
In October, 2002, Yahoo radically changed the way their search results are presented. In the past, after the sponsored sites (3 listings from Overture), sites in the Yahoo index were listed first (the "Web Sites" listings), and then pages from the Google database were listed (the "Web Pages" listings). This made it very important to be in the Yahoo index so you'd be listed in the "Web Sites" results, and it also made it crucial that your Yahoo listing contain the right keywords so it would appear.

Overnight, all that has changed! Now Yahoo blends it's Web Sites with Google's Web Pages listings, and it seems to be taking its lead from how you rank in Google! As far as I can tell, the only difference between the Yahoo results and the Google results are (1) if you're in the Yahoo index, then your Yahoo title and description appear in place of Google's results, and (2) sites that are in the Yahoo index have an arrow and link below them called "more sites about" that points to their category.

This means that as long as you rank well in Google for a particular query, you'll rank well in Yahoo for that query, even if none of the words in the query are in your Yahoo title or description. Which is great news, assuming it lasts!

It also means that -- assuming this change is permanent -- that you don't have to be as obsessive about writing descriptions with lots of keywords in them, and can spend more words on making the description good "attractive copy."

But it also means that if you don't have decent Google rankings, the value of a Yahoo listing is reduced, because it will no longer appear in a "Web Sites" area. On the other hand, a major reason for getting a Yahoo listing is that it gives your Google ranking a big boost.

The net effect, in my opinion, is that if you're really agonizing about spending the $299 a year, and not sure if it's worth it, you can probably hold off a bit until you're more comfortable with the expense.

Assuming you are not in the index, take your time, and find the category page that best fits your site. At the very bottom of this page will be a small "Suggest a Site" link. Click on it to get to the site submission page.
If there is no "Suggest a Site" link, then the page you are on does not allow listings to be added to it, most likely because it is a very general top-level page.

A good method for finding the right category page is to do some searches that you think people looking for your site will do, and see what categories are listed. In the past, the trick was to submit to the topmost category (so your listing would appear higher up), but this no longer works (in particular now that the "Web Sites" listings no longer appear!). Instead, look for a category that has the least number of entries in it, to reduce your chances of being "buried" in a huge category. This usually means a very specific category. The exception would be if your business name is alphabetically very high (ie: starts with a number or the letter "a"). Then you'd want to be in the most general category possible.

If your business is geographically limited in scope (for example, you're a Real Estate Agent), then you'll want to be in the most specific category you can find in the regional directory section. This is because Yahoo searches take into account the words in the various category and subcategory names under which your listing is placed -- it is as if these words are in your title and description. So by being in such a specific category, you get your state and city names "for free" -- they don't have to be in your description. Use those precious description words to mention other geographical locators (county) and services.

Take your time, and carefully read their suggestions on how to submit. They REALLY mean it. Follow their instructions to the absolute letter, as if they were inscribed on stone tablets handed down from Heaven. If you break the rules (for example, using numbers or brand names in your descriptions), forget about getting in. Read those rules. Re-read them. Re-read them again, out loud.
The #1 mistake people make is that their title and description read like promotional ad copy. Bad mistake! What Yahoo wants is a descriptive title and description. No hype allowed! And if you can make your description one sentence of at most 15-20 words, you're less likely to have it edited down!

Apply with an eye to making the job of the Yahoo reviewer easier; for example, use the "comments" field in the application form to point out special things about your site that the reviewer ought to look at.

Three CRUCIAL tips:

First, in each category, Yahoo currently lists sites alphabetically by TITLE. So if you can come up with a plausible title for your site that starts with a number or the letter A, B or C, go for it. If I'd known this when I started this site, I'd have called it! Note that if you are running a business, Yahoo asks that you use your actual business name (or your "doing business as" name) as your title. Some Yahoo categories now have "most popular" sites that are listed first, but at least initially it will be almost impossible for you to get into one of those slots, so alphabetically high is your best bet. Note however that most people find things on Yahoo by searching, not by drilling down in the categories, so it isn't the end of the world if your company name happens to be Zymurgy, inc.

Second, as noted above, unless your site name is alphabetically good, choose a category with as few entries as possible in it. Ask yourself, "will I be visible on an average browser's window without scrolling?" If at all possible, you want to be. Don't be upset if you can't achieve this; it is an advantage, but it's a minor one.

Third, even though Yahoo is depending much more on Google for search results, try to ensure that your most important keywords appear in the title, description or URL. Work them into the text in a natural way -- a list of keywords isn't acceptable! Because your title will often get edited, make sure the really crucial keywords are in the description. And if you can get a domain name that has your major keywords in it, even better, because they can't edit your URL! But don't go overboard stuffing keywords. You want something that reads well and is descriptive.

For example, here is my original entry in Yahoo (just recently they edited it again for no good reason!):


Description: shareservice that automatically registers your site at major search engines. Use it for free, pay only if satisfied.

Even though the Yahoo staff edited down my description, it still has a lot of important keywords in it. Keep in mind also that Yahoo searches for strings, not words, so if you can embed keywords inside other words, even better! Looking at my description again, you see how I did that:


Description: shareservice that automatically registers your site at major search engines. Use it for free, pay only if satisfied.

While I wish that it said "registers your website" and somehow had the string "url" in the description, after I convinced Yahoo to change my description, I got 2-3 times as many clickthroughs than before. So spending some time crafting a good description is definitely worth it. This advice also applies to many of the indexes as well.

Yahoo Stores

If you open up a store on Yahoo (Yahoo Shopping), many of the above techniques can be used to improve your search engine results. The most crucial thing to remember is this: put all your most important keywords in your store name and store description (not just in your item descriptions!). This is very important because of the way Yahoo store searches work. A search will find your product if the search keywords are in the product description, but if those same words are also in the store name or description, you will also be listed in the "Merchants" category right at the top of the page! Since you have control over your store and product titles and descriptions, you have a great opportunity to get a better listing with Yahoo stores. Most Yahoo store owners don't understand this -- profit from their ignorance.

My thanks to Wilbur Smith for pointing this out to me!

Whew! Well, that's all my advice. You may also want to read Yahoo's advice on how to submit to them, which is cunningly hidden on their website. Try looking at their Submit a Site Help.

Best of luck to you! Now, here are links to all the Yahoo sites:

International (Country) Yahoos
  • Australia & NZ
  • Brasil (Portuguese)
  • Canada
  • China (Traditional)
  • China (Simplified)
  • Denmark
  • France
  • Germany
  • Hong Kong
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Korea
  • Norway
  • Singapore
  • South-east Asia
  • Spanish-language
  • Sweden
  • Taiwan
  • UK & Ireland
Regional (Metro) Yahoos
  • Atlanta
  • Austin
  • Boston
  • Chicago
  • Dallas / Fort Worth
  • Los Angeles
  • Miami
  • Minneapolis / St. Paul
  • New York
  • S.F. Bay Area
  • Seattle
  • Washington, D.C.

And of course, the original Mother of all Yahoos!

How to change your listing if you are already in Yahoo

Here is the link for the Yahoo Change Form. Simply go and fill it out. The standard "Read everything three times and follow it to the letter" rules apply. You can also use this form to get listed in a second category. I must admit that I've not had much luck getting listings changed recently. If you find something that works, let me know.

The "Secret" Yahoo email address

Yahoo has made available a special email address that you can use to let them know of problems with your listing (or with getting listed). While not exactly top-secret, it isn't widely known, so I am telling you this with the understanding that you not abuse it.
I cannot emphasize this enough! Read these instructions slowly and carefully. I've used this technique. It works. But beware - Yahoo checks to see if you've "followed the rules" and won't help you if you haven't.
To get extra assistance with a new site listing, submit the site normally, and if the site isn't listed within a few weeks, then do a resubmission. If the site still doesn't appear after a few weeks (and you've followed my advice above to the letter!), then e-mail for assistance. You must send the exact URL that you submitted, but you do not need to send the categories you submitted to or the actual dates you submitted on.

If you need a change to your listing, submit the change, wait at least 7-10 days for processing, then e-mail if a change doesn't appear. With change requests, in addition to the URL, Yahoo needs the exact date of the change request -- so write it down when you make the request.

This email address is not a way to get priority service, and Yahoo will likely get really pissed off at you if you abuse it. And the LAST thing you want to do on the net is get Yahoo angry at you! Typically it will take them 7-10 days to act upon your email, if in fact they do. If they don't, then do not under any circumstances email them again. Instead, restart the submission or change process from the very beginning, making sure you adhere to all their restrictions, and if you still don't get results, try the email address again.

If you are submitting registrations for other people, Yahoo asks that you not use this email address more than 5 times a week (for 5 different sites, of course), and you must in all cases go through the normal process before using it.

You can also ask for reconsideration by mail or phone. I have had reports that, as a last resort, after all else fails, calling and leaving a message on their phone can sometimes generate a quick response. But this should only be something you do after all else fails, and you should mention the steps you've taken in the phone message.
Yahoo! Corporation
701 First Avenue
Sunnyvale, CA 94089-0703

Telephone: +1 408 349 3300 -- 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM PST
Fax: +1 408 349 3301


LookSmart is very similar to Yahoo in scope (though they can't yet match Yahoo's level of traffic).

In the spring of 2002, LookSmart decided to move from a "pay to apply" model similar to Yahoo's to a "pay-per-click" model, with a fixed cost of 15 cents per click. They infuriated the entire webmaster/submissions community when they forced all existing accounts, even ones people had paid for, into the pay-per-click model (albeit with a credit of $15.00 worth of clicks a month for 20 months).

Initial reports are that websites are not receiving the clicks that LookSmart says they are sending. This means the actual cost per real click is much higher than 15 cents, and so LookSmart has become a very bad deal indeed. Plus, they're sending out deceptive emails implying that people are being charged for clicks even if they haven't upgraded.

My advice: avoid them like the plague.

If you already have a LookSmart account that has been converted to pay-per-click, my suggestion is this: wait until early July (the deadline) before accepting conversion of your account, and set it to the mininum $15.00 a month of clicks (so you don't get charged real money). LookSmart tries to convince you that you need to give them a credit card number; don't! It apparently is possible to activate your new account without one.

When your clicks run out, drop them. But under no circumstances give them another nickel.

LookSmart's behavior is unforgivable. I expect them to curl up and die relatively quickly.

Finally, note that there is apparently still somewhat of a backdoor that can get submissions into LookSmart's directory for free; this involves the volunteer-organized directory. If you become a volunteer editor and pass their test (read their guidelines carefully, it's a cheat-sheet for the test!), then you can submit sites to Zeal, and sites submitted to Zeal often appear in LookSmart. Obviously, this is not something you'd want to abuse, but it seems like a good way to get deserving sites -- but only noncommercial sites -- into LookSmart.

Zeal's user guidelines, which contain a style sheet for how to format submissions to Zeal, contain lots of tips that can help you make more effective submissions to other directories, so it's well worth spending some time and reading them; join Zeal as a member to gain access.

The Open Directory Project

The Open Directory Project, formerly called NewHoo, is an "Open Source" directory much like Yahoo, but edited by volunteers. As ODP is now the directory listing source for Google, Netscape, AOL Search, and many other search engines, so it's a must to get listed in. A listing in ODP boosts your Google pagerank almost as much as a Yahoo listing does!

Note however that ODP's current search facility does WORD searches, not string searches, so that the keyword embedding technique does not work. So your description for ODP should avoid pluralized words unless they are likely to be in search queries. On the plus side, you can have longer descriptions than on Yahoo, but the category editor may edit you down.

Like Yahoo, Open Directory asks that you only submit your homepage URL, to the most appropriate category (initially, Open Directory allowed multiple URL submissions, but they have changed their policy recently).

Here is how to submit to Open Directory:
The current "official" waiting period for Open Directory is 3 weeks. If you don't get in after 3 weeks, you may resubmit if you want to. I've been told by some editors that becoming a volunteer editor (and doing good work) can help you get your own sites into the directory (in particular if you volunteer for a category where your site would fit, because you can then add it), but I wouldn't recommend becoming an editor just to get your site in; instead become an editor if you really want to help them out.

Disney has announced that they are shutting down (formerly The Mining Company) is a very good index that combines site listings with reviews and editorial content. Each category is run by a guide, and they decide if you get in. Several of the guides have told me that the easiest way to get their attention is a direct email, as opposed to using the "Feedback" link on the pages.

Here are some tips, courtesy of a user who has asked me to refer to him as "Deep Miner"

1. Find the specific sub-category within that site that is appropriate to place a link. guides want DEEP links, not your homepage perhaps, but maybe a specific article you wrote. So look through their sites and then pick and choose articles you've written and submit for inclusion into a specific sub-category that matches it.

2. Offer a link back. Put a link to their site even before contacting them and said, "I find your site such a great resource that I've listed you in our links page." Guides want traffic too, so this reciprocal linking is a bonus to them.

3. I don't think it's as hard to get listed as Robert thinks, since I've done it for a few purely commercial sites that don't offer much content but their site is basically a brochure. You just have to approach it so that there is incentive for the guide to list the site. These guides are almost always more responsive than search engines and portals, since there is a specific person by name with an email address, all of which is made clear at the site.

Permission is granted to reproduce this article in online and email newsletters, as long as you provide proper attribution. Just email to let me know, and send me a copy of the final newsletter. For your convenience, a text-only formatted version of this page is available.

Next step on the site tour: Paying for clicks - and Google Adwords

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