What Is a Web Directory?

Search the human-organized web

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A web directory is a handmade list of websites. Also known as a subject directory, these lists create an organized method for finding websites.

An internet website directory is similar, but not identical, to a search engine.

Web Directory vs Search Engine

While the two are used to find content on the web, the primary difference is that links discovered through a search engine are gathered automatically while a web directory involves humans adding the links.

The result of a web directory is an easily digestible list of links organized within common categories. A directory makes it easy to find websites by subject, whereas a search engine is useful for finding websites through keywords.

How a Web Directory Works

Alive Web Directory internet subject

Most web directories list websites by subject, which is why they're often called subject directories. A real person (not a software program) identifies which websites should be included in the list on a per-site basis, meaning that the entire directory is chosen by hand.

For content to be added to a web directory, the owner has to manually include the link, title, and any other information they want included in the listing. Depending on how the web directory works, the owner might also let other website owners request that their site be added to the directory. Web directory submissions might be a free option or, depending on the directory, something that requires payment.

When you come upon a website directory, there are usually two ways to find content: browse and/or search. Categories are often used to separate different sites and better organize the directory, but there's usually also a search engine built-in that lets you search through the whole website.

A search engine is really just any search tool that searches through a particular website. Some web directories include a search engine but the tool only works on that website. In other words, while Google might search millions of websites, a web directory's search engine searches only within its own website.

Should You Use a Web Directory?

You might wonder whether you should use a web directory or a popular search engine. After all, a search engine finds much more information because a web directory is, by definition, limited in what it lists.

The idea behind using a web directory is that you have trust in what the owner is listing. For example, maybe you'd prefer a hand-picked list of "The Best Online Games for Kids" rather than doing a broad search with a search engine, which could deliver irrelevant results or web pages with viruses, inappropriate games, etc.

Ultimately, the choice is yours. If you prefer to decide for yourself which websites you want to visit, a search engine is more helpful. However, if you're not sure where to look for the best cooking sites, or physics information, or news sites (or literally anything else), you might prefer a web directory.

Something to remember about deciding between a web directory and a search engine is that a search engine updates far more often than a person could ever update a human-managed directory. If you're looking for content that's just now emerging on the internet, a search engine is the better choice.

From a website owner's perspective, a web directory can be helpful if you're targeting users in a specific geographical location. You can submit your website to a directory under a certain location so that when users browse for sites listed there, they'll find yours.

Examples of Web Directories

  • Best of the Web: Established in 1994, the site bills itself as the "most trusted directory." Site owners must pay a listing fee to gain a spot here.
  • The World Wide Web Virtual Library: The granddaddy of them all, this web directory has been around since 1991, making it the oldest web directory online. It was created by the man who invented HTML and the web, Tim Berners-Lee. Volunteers are responsible for compiling pages in fields of their expertise, resulting in a directory that's widely regarded as among the highest in quality available.
  • Alive Web Directory: Thousands of websites are listed here, and their strict editorial process ensures that you'll find only the highest quality content in categories like kids and teen, news, regional, entertainment, business, arts, science, sports, shopping, society, internet, and others.
  • Martindale's The Reference Desk: This enormous collection of reference resources covers everything from language, science, and geography to economics, agriculture, travel, and much more.
  • Jasmine Directory: The numerous subjects on this internet directory are ordered by region and topic. Visitors can submit URLs for a fee.
  • Hotfrog: This directory of websites lists millions of businesses in dozens of countries.
  • World Site Index: A search engine and web directory with a unique Latest Additions page. There's are strict submission rules and lots of categories to pick from. There are two tiers if you wish to pay to submit your site.
  • Incrawler: This comprehensive web directory accepts paid listings, organizes websites in dozens of categories, and includes a search tool.
  • Family Friendly Sites: Active since 1996, this is a human-moderated directory that keeps the web rated "G."
  • Jayde: This web directory markets itself as a business search engine, but you can also browse manually through the dozens of categories, which include everything from government and industrial to energy, health, automotive, agriculture, retail, chemicals, telecommunications, and electronics.