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Tuesday, 31 May 2011

How I became a dmoz.org editor and got a site listed

Becoming an editor of the Open Directory at dmoz.org

I was recently accepted as an editor of the ODP (Open Directory Project) at dmoz.org. Given the significance of the directory, its historical connection with Google, and its prominence in SEO discussion, I want to share my experience to help others understand the project better. I don't speak for the ODP. This is very much a personal article about my own experiences.

First, I must warn that if you're looking for a way to trick the ODP into admitting you as an editor in order for you to disadvantage competitors, or to list spammy websites, then you're wasting your time. The editor of a given category does not have the final say over what is listed there, or the manner in which each site is listed. There are strict rules and the editing history of the directory is scrutinised by a huge network of editors whose powers increase up the hierarchy. They are a very active and very experienced body of people and they do not tolerate abuse. The directory is under constant, human review. That's what makes it so special.

If you take anything away from reading about my experience then it should be these points:

  • If you have expertise in a particular niche and are prepared to help the ODP establish a definitive, high quality category in that niche then there might just be a place for you as an editor.

  • If you have a good site in that niche then you may even be able to get it listed very quickly - by approving it yourself as an editor of the category.

  • If your only interest in dmoz.org is to get sites listed for you or your clients, or to try to disadvantage your competitors, then you will fail because other editors will undo your work. Don't waste your time.

Having been in digital marketing for many years, for me becoming a small part of dmoz was like being admitted into the mysterious inner sanctum of the internet. I had never tried applying before - I thought there was no point: surely they wouldn't accept me, because I'm a digital marketer with possible vested interests. (Even if they did accept me they surely wouldn't let me submit a site I had any affiliation with. Wouldn't that be some sort of conflict of interest?)

But over time my attitude towards dmoz was transformed and I think it was that transformation that helped me succeed in becoming an editor. Having spent a lot of time exploring certain categories in the Open Directory, it became clear to me that it was by no means definitive. Dmoz.org was not perfect. Some of the sites in the categories I'm interested in no longer existed on the internet. At the same time, some of the latest, most relevant and useful sites weren't yet included.

Something was missing. The ODP needed help. They needed somebody who knew what made a good website in those categories. They needed somebody who cared about the quality of websites about those subjects. They needed me!

I applied to become a category editor, disclosing my affiliation to a website in that category. Within a few days I was accepted as an editor and the site I disclosed and submitted was there waiting for me to list it in the directory. I call that a good user experience provided by dmoz.org - but particularly so when compared to the experience of people with more selfish motives, whose subconscious line of thought probably goes something like this:

I want this site listed. I haven't bothered to try to make it useful for people - in fact it's just a mirror site stuffed with ads. But here's the site - along with a spammy, keyword-stuffed title and description. I haven't bothered to look at what makes a good listing either. Just list it.

"Become an Editor"? Why would I do that - except to get this site listed? I don't care what's in the directory - just list this site now. If it's not listed by tomorrow I'll probably try submitting it another few times.

This is hardly quid pro quo. There's no give and take in that approach and so it's less likely to benefit anybody.


Getting your site listed on dmoz.org

Most people have a topic they're passionate about and that they have some expertise in. Whatever yours is, you're no doubt eminently familiar with the best websites on your subject. In fact you probably operate or are affiliated with at least one of those sites in some way. As an enthusiast, like me you care about the information and resources that are available to other enthusiasts. You would not recommend a bad, spammy website about your passionate interests to another enthusiast. So hopefully you wouldn't want to try to use the ODP to unfairly favour a pointless site in search results - right?

Blogs and forums are awash with complaints about how long it takes to get a site listed on dmoz. But the reason it sometimes takes so long to get a site listed may be largely due to volume. There are a huge queue of worthwhile sites waiting to get listed. The queue of poor sites submitted by spammers is at least as large. Somebody has to go through all those sites. That's a big job and the ODP needs help from people who can recognise a good site in the context of its niche.

At the bottom of most categories there is a link that says, "Become an editor". That's because the ODP needs more editors. If you have an area of expertise and an interest in building a really good directory then that could mean you.


Which category should you edit?

The most important consideration is which category you have the most expertise in. But you won't get accepted as an editor of a huge, high level category right away. First you need to prove your expertise and good intent by editing some of the smallest categories in the directory. So rather than editing Regional : UK you should be looking to start with something like Regional: Europe: United Kingdom: England: Hertfordshire: Arts and Entertainment.

Dmoz editors are actively looking for good websites about their subject category. I've seen several websites get listed on dmoz without anybody even submitting them. The editor knew their category and found the site themselves.

So the first and most important thing you can do to get your site into dmoz.org - and keep it there - is to aim to build one of the best websites in your niche, with unique content and resources that are of value to people interested in the topic. (Follow that up by promoting it in all the usual ways).

If the "build quality content" approach sounds familiar perhaps that's because the pursuit of quality, relevant, original content is also the only sustainable approach to search engine optimisation and other digital marketing campaigns. The bottom line is that quality content makes it easier for you to get links - including a link from dmoz.org.


How important is a listing on dmoz.org?

Maybe not as important as you think and not as important as it used to be. Not every dmoz listing has value and some are more beneficial than others. But obtaining a listing is potentially very important. In many cases it is the most important link you can get. Your competirors may have a link there already, constituting a potential advantage to them. And if they haven't got a link there yet, you need to assume they will do. So it must be your goal to build a site worthy of a listing on dmoz.org, and to get it submitted or noticed by an editor and listed. (A dmoz.org listing may be particularly beneficial to young websites that have yet to attract other good inbound links.)

Here are two good reasons why a link on dmoz.org is likely to be a good link:
1. A listing on dmoz.org means a link from a page on that domain and dmoz.org has enormous authority in its own right. The dmoz.org index page has a page authority of 94 out of 100. That's like saying it has a Google PageRank of around 9 or 10. Domain authority is also 94/100. There are almost 50,000 domains linking to dmoz.org - with more than 1.5 million links.

2. As mentioned above, ODP listings include anchor text - potentially including relevant keywords (usually the real title of the site). The site description also helps search engines determine the keywords that are relevant to your site, although to a lesser extent.

The Open Directory Project draws a lot of negative comments. But before you evaluate what dmoz.org has done for you, ask yourself what you have done for dmoz.org. Have you submitted only the best websites and taken care to find the most relevant category? If you're so unhappy with the directory then why don't you make a genuine attempt to make it a better place by applying to become an editor - working in the interests of the directory and users of the internet, rather than just your own interests?

If you can contribute positively to the ODP in the spirit of quality, pride and teamwork, then you might just get more back than just having your site listed. You could take pride in helping to build the world's largest and arguably most important online directory. And you get to help other people who care about your interests to find the best websites when they search using Google and other search engines. Because - rightly - the Open Directory can have a significant impact on search results.


http://blog.benacheson.com
@BenAcheson


14 comments:

Anonymous said...

The DMOZ is a complete failure. We submitted our site 5 years ago. We get significant traffic and do over $1M in sales a year, yet 5 years later, we still aren't listed in DMOZ.

Ben Acheson said...

Hi Anonymous,

A site not being listed doesn't mean dmoz is a failure.

If you can provide a little more information I may be able to help.

If you know the niche, did you apply to become an editor yourself, with the intention of giving something back to the ODP?

As discussed in the post above, that's probably the most effective solution. If there's a "Become an editor" button in the sub-category you submitted to, then there may be a shortage of editors there. There may not even be an editor at all for that category at present! Some of the deeper categories may have been without an editor for years.

It can be difficult to determine the best category for your site and it's well worth taking the time to do this. Wrongly submitted sites get passed around internally by editors, which means a longer wait.

If you'll reply back here with your domain name (not a link please) and if it's a quality site, then I'll see what I can do to get it listed in the right category.

I can't promise anything - all I can do is submit it internally - but internal submissions appear above public submissions in the queue, and are generally of a higher standard and are more trusted. So you should have significantly more chance if I submit your site for you.

I'm happy to do this for a quality site for two reasons:

1. I want to make the ODP better.

2. I want to help people understand the ODP.

The ODP has strengths and weaknesses. It's literally human. It's not perfect. But if you're willing to contribute your niche expertise then you can help make it a better resource.

Again, I stress that if you are an expert on the websites in your niche then a better option would be to apply to edit the relevant sub-category, or another one that you know really well. Be very specific: you won't be granted permission to edit other categories - let alone major categories - until you've proven yourself as somebody who is working to make dmoz.org better, rather than just serving your own interests.

Just to re-iterate, I don't speak for the ODP. I'm just an editor speaking from my own persional experience. These views are my own.

Paul Townson said...

An interesting post. I had a website listed on DMOZ ten years ago. It was really a personal blog (before the word existed!) about my wife's pregnancey. A few months after the nipper was born I didn't have the time (for obvious reasons) to update the site and in the end the site fell in to disrepair and I forgot about it. At that time the site was listed very quickly and there was even some dialogue between me an the editor, I was quite impressed.
But.... I sent a new site of mine for consideration some time ago to DMOZ and have heard nothing back. It's a specialist site for the
"Top : Home: Gardening: Plants" section and I was disappointed to see at the bottom of that page "Last update: Monday, July 7, 2008 " Does that mean that the last site was added or deleted from that category three years ago?
I have recently undergone an alternative therapy for skin cancer which was very successful about which I am building a site, so when that is complete I would be interested in becomming an editor in the "Top : Health: Conditions and Diseases: Cancer : Skin" as I see that at the bottom of that page it says "Last update: Thursday, July 26, 2007" !
I was wondering, is the number of editors increasing, decreasing or stable? because if the delays are measured in years rather than weeks (at most) there must be something amiss.

Ben Acheson said...

Hi Paul, Thanks for your comments. Your experience illustrates my point about dmoz.org beautifully.

Some categories have been without an editor for a long time. If you submit a site to a category without an editor then clearly it's unlikely to get listed in the ODP until somebody volunteers to edit that category and is accepted. If you know the websites in that category really well then you may well be the solution to that problem. Make it your objective to edit that category and bring it up to date by listing the best websites currently available. Demonstrate your ability to do this in your application to become an editor.

You're unlikely to be allowed to edit a high-level category at first. Major categories are edited by the most experienced editors.

You need to prove yourself in a smaller niche - and then move up the category hierarchy. That takes time - and a little work.

Rather than "Top : Home: Gardening: Plants" you should drill down to the deepest level category you can find that you have expertise in - and apply to edit that. You'll have a lot more chance of becoming an editor that way. Start small and grow. Be realistic in your expectations and submit a carefully considered application.

Good luck with everything. Please come back and let me know how you get on.

Paul Townson said...

Thanks for the reply Ben.

Ok, you have piqued my interest
Actually, I didn't include the subsection of the category I was interested in which was 'Shrubs'
Top : Home: Gardening: Plants : Shrubs (266)
There are 5 types of shrubs listed in the category, Buddleia (my niche) is not listed. In my application for listing I did suggest adding Buddleia to the other 5 in the section, but haven't heard anything back.

The shrubs listed are:
Camellias
Lilacs
Plumerias
Rhododendrons
Roses
(no Buddleia)

Whilst I think it would be interesting to be an editor for DMOZ, I do have a couple of questions that I think others might be wondering as well, if you could possibly answer them it would help me (and maybe others) to make a decision.

1.) What is the work load like? I understand that if your niche is a very popular one it would be considerably higher than a less popular niche (shrubs/Buddleia?) but if you could give an indication of say how many hours a week you, or other editors you know spend sifting through the submissions it would be useful.

2.) Is it possible to be an editor of more than one category? (I should imagine so but..)

3.) Do you 'report back' to a senior editor at the next level up from your niche category?

I suppose what I'm asking is, how much commitment is expected from DMOZ of a niche editor?

Any additional information would be interesting.

Thanks again.

Paul

Ben Acheson said...

Hi Paul,

It's my pleasure to try to help. Please note that I'm just an editor - I don't speak for the ODP.

It does rather look as though a new sub-category is needed there for your niche.

I recommend applying to edit one of the existing sub-categories, in order to establish yourself as an editor. The deeper you go, the more chance you have of being accepted. So go right down as far as you can go, - to the deepest sub-category you can find that you have expertise in. For example:

Top : Home : Gardening : Plants : Shrubs : Roses : Hardy_Rose

(Last update: January 2007! only two sites listed!)

You'll see that very deep categories like these are more in need of editors. It's likely an expert could do a lot of good there by clearing the queue and adding the very best websites that are currently out there. Inexperienced editors can do less harm in these minor categories too: another reason you're more likely to be successful).

Once you're an editor you could raise the question of the new sub-category with other editors in the forum. (If you could work your way up to editing the "Shrubs" subcategory then you would be able to create a sub-category yourself.)

The workload is entirely up to you. But I think the more you put in, the more you'll get out. In particular I suspect that adding lots of high quality new sites - might make it easier to progress up the hierarchy of categories.

If you worked your way up to editing a larger, higher category then there would be multiple editors helping at that level. Bigger categories need lots of editors.

Editors usually start out with one small category, then take on additional categories over time. Editors have the ability to edit all their sub-categories. "Meta" editors can edit any category - not just the ones assigned to them.

It's more of a community than a hierarchical structure of roles. But as described above, more experienced editors have increased editing privileges. I've had helpful feedback from several of the more senior editors - mostly in the editors forum.

If you make a mistake in your edits then other editors soon notice it and contact you to help you understand how you can improve as an editor. Similarly, being an editor doesn't mean you can add, change or delete whatever you like. There are guidelines, and if you abuse your position your edits will just be reversed. Needless to say, anybody who persistently attempts to abuse their editing privileges is likely to have them revoked.

brad said...

Hi my name is Brad Bledsoe and I am a local Realtor on the Treasure Coast of Florida. I would love to get listed on dmoz.org. in the real estate - Palm City, Port Saint Lucie or Sewells Point directory. I have tried many times to submit my website but have seen no response. Is there an editor out there that would be willing to take a look at our site. I can't hurt to ask right?
Thank you for all that you do and your consideration!

http://www.bradbledsoe.com

Brad Bledsoe - Preferred Realty Executives
Serving the Treasure Coast of Florida. Find listings, area information, buying and selling tips, and foreclosures.

Ben Acheson said...

Hi Brad,

Thanks for posting to my blog. I love to hear from readers.

First, I'd urge you to study my original post carefully.

The relevant dmoz.org category may not have an editor at at all present (note the "Volunteer to edit this category" link at the bottom)

So the best thing you can do is to apply to the ODP to edit the category yourself.

As an editor of certain categories, I can suggest your site to other categories and it will appear nearer the top of the queue, which helps. But if there's no editor then there's nobody to approve the site. That may have been the case for some time, so your site may also be buried in a big backlog of other sites.

Take a really good look at the category and make a carefully-considered application to become an editor there. Don't rush it. The better your application, the better your chances of becoming an editor.

You should also take another look at your site in terms of usability, look and feel, content and basic coding best practice. The better your site, the better your chances of getting listed.

It's also important to select the most relevant category. I've suggested your site here:

www.dmoz.org/Regional/North_America/United_States/Florida/Localities/P/Port_Saint_Lucie/Business_and_Economy/Real_Estate/

Good luck with becoming an editor. I hope that like me you will try to make the directory a better place.

Please come back and let me know how you get on...

Adi Gaskell said...

Interesting story Ben. Obviously you may not have historical information to work with, but do you still get good quality submissions to Dmoz?

It seems to have fallen off the radar from its heyday a few years ago.

Ben Acheson said...

Hi Adi,

It's good to hear from you.

I certainly still see a significant number of extremely high quality submissions to dmoz.

tim said...

Great post Ben. Inspired by your experience,I've decided to volunteer myself. I've invested a couple of hours in submitting a well thought out application and await the response. I'll let you know what happens.

tim said...

Thought you might be interested in an update Ben.

I Submitted my application on the 02/02/12. By 16/02/12, I hadn't heard anything back from DMOZ so I asked for a check on my application on here: http://www.resource-zone.com/forum/index.php?showforum=10

It seems my initial application submission hadn't even reached dmoz and therefore no confirmation email was sent to me.There's a problem with some email accounts receiving dmoz.org emails and the forum reply also pointed out the benefits of applying for a smaller category, as a new editor. I put in another revised application, this time with a different contact email address, confirmation came through ok this time.

On the 26/02/11 I received a 'Congratualtions' email from dmoz! Thanks for the post Ben-worked for me ;-)

realityhandbook said...

Hello Ben!

It's nice to see a human-curated link directory. There has come to be too much reliance on fixed algorithms and scores. (I suppose in the end, a "human" is really just weighted scores of neurons and we're no different from machines...but the jury is still out on that question...)

Anyway, I'm seeking to have a link to my not-advertised, simply formatted, and non-commercial site of my lucid dream logs, essays, and letters:

http://realityhandbook.org

As evidenced by the sheer amount of material on the site, I've spent a lot of time trying to sincerely document some really unusual stuff that happens in my dreams. It's more than a "blog" and I invested effort migrating the material away from LiveJournal and into an easily-crawled site that the Internet Archive could easily crawl.

But after years now of waiting to see if archive.org would act on its claim that "this page has not been captured yet, wait a few months and it will"...there's nothing in it but an old copy of the front page. They apparently have stopped accepting submissions, and expect dmoz (and Alexa, or other metrics?) to be a gatekeeper of "popularity".

I do not want to register to be a dmoz editor. I merely wish to pass the "spam test" and make it into either the lucid dreaming category or the dream log category. My opinion of many of the links in those categories is that the stuff there is more likely "Inauthentic Text" or some kind of commercial spam.

If you or anyone with clout can help me kick off the process of feeling confident that if I died and my server went down that all this documentation of outlandish circumstances wasn't for naught...I'd be very grateful and try to do what I could to return the favor!

Tim said...

Four months have now passed since I was accepted as a dmoz editor for my chosen cat. I'm pleased to report that daily visits to my own site, which I self-submitted as one of my three application sites, have increased by 72.6%. Obviously, some of the increase will be attributable to other non-dmoz listing factors, such as new pages, other accumulated links and simply the ongoing slow growth of the url age. However, there is a clear uplift in the daily average visits level from the point of inclusion in my cat and this has been maintained. In my experience, a dmoz listing still has real value and volunteering to edit is also a rewarding and interesting thing to do.