What Is a Web Directory?

Search the human-organized web

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Although the terms search engine and web directory are sometimes used interchangeably, they are not the same thing.

How a Web Directory Works

A web directory—also known as a subject directory—lists websites by subject and is usually maintained by humans instead of software. A user enters search terms and looks at the returned links in a series of categories and menus, typically organized from broadest to narrowest in focus. These collections of links are usually much smaller than search engines' databases because the sites are looked at by human eyes instead of by spiders.

There are two ways for sites to be included in a web directory's listings:

  1. The site owner can submit the site by hand.
  2. The directory's editor(s) come across that site on their own.

How to Search a Web Directory

The searcher simply types a query into the search function or toolbar; however, sometimes a more focused way to find what you're looking for is to simply browse the list of possible categories and drill down from there.

Popular Web Directories

  • Yahoo: Yahoo has one of the most well-known directories on the web, along with its own search engine listings and many other search services.
  • Best of the Web: Established in 1994, the site bills itself as "the Internet's most authoritative collection of Web directories." Site owners must pay a listing fee to gain a spot here.
  • The World Wide Web Virtual Library: The granddaddy of them all, this is the oldest web directory online. Created by the man who invented HTML and the web—Tim Berners-Lee—it's been around since 1991. 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.
  • 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 top web directory are ordered by region and topic.
  • Hotfrog: This directory lists more than 120 million businesses in 38 countries.
  • Incrawler: This comprehensive directory accepts both free and paid listings.
  • Family Friendly Sites: Active since 1996, this is a human-moderated directory that keeps the web rated "G."
  • Enquira: You'll find local listings here, into which you drill down beginning with your state.