Paid directory listings could hurt your Google rankings if the directory is merely selling listings. However, properly edited and managed directories cost time and money to manage and it is expected that a fee will be charged for listing submissions. Such directories are not selling listings but are charging a fee for editorial review.
Think directory links aren’t important anymore? Read How Links & Content Work Together in SEO Rankings (see # 2) by Julia Spence-McCoy at SiteProNews August 3, 2015.
Some directories which sell listings are easily identifiable because they have inappropriate listings for landing pages instead of websites or websites on spammy topics or selling items such as drugs. Some better directories but ones which still sell listings are usually identifiable because they will have appropriate listings but in inappropriate categories. The latter being only a little better but still lacking editorial review.
Directories which charge a fee for editorial review and actually provide editorial review are legitimate directories with value and will not be penalized by Google. More importantly, these directories will not penalize your website if linking to your website.
WebProNews Wrote about how some webmasters are now demanding that directories remove links and in some cases are even threatening lawsuits. I myself just received such an e-mail with legal threats from someone claiming to have purchased a company which previously submitted the link and now threatened me if I do not remove it. Since I am a lawyer, I don’t take kindly to threats and I will not remove the listing until the new owner can prove who he is. Otherwise, he can ask the original owner for the login information and remove it himself. The desire to remove listings from legitimate directories is a very foolish thought from ignorant people who read articles about Google policy but don’t understand what they are reading.
WebProNews wrote an article about Google blurring the lines of their paid link policy. The author looked at BOTW (Best of the Web). However, what the author really saw was some fuzzy lines at BOTW and some tolerance by Google for directories with fuzzy lines but which are legitimate directories.
WebProNews wrote, “As far as I can tell, if you have managed to get listed in Best Of The Web, the link will pass PageRank. The links I looked at do not include the nofollow attribute, which would prevent them from passing PageRank:”
There is nothing wrong with passing page rank from a legitimate directory because the payment made to the directory is not for the link but for editorial review. Consequently, payment is not for a link which passes page rank.
The question is what is Google trying to do? The answer is very simple. Google is trying to distinguish content from advertising.
From Google’s standpoint, a paid link is not a paid link if the payment is for something other than the link such as editorial review. Editorial review is a legitimate charge because it takes a lot of time and money to review every listing upon submission and periodically. Additionally, charging a fee is the best way to eliminate most spam submissions.
I maintain a niche legal directory (lawborhood.com) for websites which are related to the field of law. Most submissions are spam and unrelated to law. Many more submissions are related to law but may be inappropriate landing pages or placed in the wrong category. It takes a lot of work to properly maintain this directory. I charge a very small fee for editorial review. The amount of money I earn annually from this directory is equal to what I make in one hour as a lawyer.
Before you submit a listing and payment for editorial review to a directory, take a look at not one but many of the categories in the directory to make sure that the directory is well maintained. If you see misplaced listings, don’t spend your money. Assuming that you find a well-maintained directory charging for editorial review, will a listing help you to achieve top Google results? It will probably help a little as one very small part of a very big picture. It sort of like building one house when you’re building a community. A listing from a well maintained directory which is charging for editorial review will certainly not penalize your website.
If a payment is for the link, not editorial review, placement of the link is guaranteed if payment is made. This is advertising and is what Google is seeking to distinguish from content.