Search Engines...Directories...What's the Difference, Anyway?

The answer used to be simple. We used to be able to say, "Yahoo and Open Directory Project are directories. Excite and Lycos are search engines."

In those long-ago days, had you gone to Excite, you would have been presented with a search query box. That would be the simple way to tell that it was a search engine. Had you gone to Yahoo, you would have seen a page full of categories, and that was how you would know it was a directory.

In these days, however, most of the search engines and directories are a sort of hybrid of the two.

What is a search engine?

A search engine uses a program (or "spider") that crawls through all the pages it comes across. All the words on all those pages are analyzed and stored. When a searcher queries the search engine, the search engine applies an algorithm to determine relevancy, searches its databases, and returns a list of those documents in which the words are found. AltaVista is a search engine.

Thus, the actual words on your site -- text, title, and meta tags -- are important for getting a high ranking. If you so much as add a sentence to your site, the change will affect its search engine ranking upon respidering or reindexing.

What is a directory?

Rather than using robots, a directory is compiled by human beings. The human "editors" review potential listings, determine what they are about, and list them in an appropriate category, along with what they believe to be an appropriate title. Open Directory Project is a directory.

Changing your site will not affect your ranking in a directory, unless it is a drastic change. For instance, if you have a site about poodles, it would be in the "Poodles" category of a directory with an appropriate title and description, such as:

Poodles - A site devoted to the breeding, raising, and enjoyment of poodles for fun and profit.

Naturally, if you decide to remove the poodle information from your site and sell bathing suits, the site will be moved from the poodle category and into the bathing suit category with a title and description appropriate for the overhauled pages.



Copyright © 1998 - 2010
Michelle Anderson
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Updated March 14, 2010