Directories: Pro and Con


  • Directories contain fewer resources than search engine databases
  • Many directories rate, annotate, or categorize chosen resources
  • Directories increase the probability of retrieving relevant results


  • Arbitrary hierarchical arrangements
  • Infrequent updates
  • Subjectivity of rating and annotating resources

General Web Directories

General web directories are websites that selectively catalog and categorize the broad range of sites available on the web.

They differ from search engines in size, purpose, selectivity and organization.

They include far less than 1 percent of what search engines cover.

Content is handpicked and because they are handpicked, the sites chosen for the directory are usually of higher quality.

For search purposes, the directories may index a site only under the words in the category in contrast to a search engine which may index every word on a page.

Directories are most successfully used for general rather than specific questions.

Strengths of general web directories are:

1. they are selective

2. sites are categorized

3. allow for easy browsing

4. good for general questions

5. most have some searchability

6. browsing a general web directory can be a great way to get ideas for term papers

When to Use a General Directory:

1. When your question is a general one and you don't have something specific in mind. What defines "general" vs. "specific"? As a rule of thumb, you might think in terms of the number of concepts involved. For example, London is a general term, London museums is a little more specific but also general. If you are going to add a third term like London art museums, then you might want to use a search engine as your search is getting a bit more specific.

2. Start with a general web directory when you know you need to get more specific than what you have in mind at the moment, and you need to browse to narrow your search.

The Major General Web Directories

web directories are most useful when you have a general rather than a specific question

the content of directories is selected by humans who evaluate the usefulness and appropriateness

directories tend to have one listing per website and do not index individual pages

Yahoo! Directory

Google Directory

Open Directory Project

the largest of the general web directories with over 4 million sites

multiple terms are automatically ANDed so Eastern Europe will retrieve only those items that have both terms

the automatic AND can be overridden by an OR, e.g. cycling OR bicycling

a minus sign or andnot with exclude a term:, e.g. twins -minnesota will eliminate records containing the term Minnesota

prefixes can be used to limit results to records that have a particular term in the title, URL, or description, e.g. t:austria, u:cam, or d:gardening

you can use right hand truncation, e.g. german* will retrive variants such as german, germany or germanic

various combinations or these functions can be used in combination. However if you are looking for that degree of specificity, consider using a search engine

you can use the advanced search feature where you can limit your search to a particular category, to categories only or sites only, or to sites that fall into the categories of kids, teens, mature teens

Other General Web Directories

merger of Librarians' Internet Index and the Internet Public Library

contains more than 40,000 well-organized, annotated, "librarian-approved resources"

Search Engine Colossus

where to find other regional or country-specific search engines and directories

The Scout Archives


Specialized Directories

for some immediate expertise in web resources on a specific topic, there is no better starting point than the right specialized directory

these are also known as resource guides, metasites, cyberguides, webliographies

they provide a good starting place for utilizing internet resources as they are created by someone with some expertise in the field

they are however relatively small

The WWW Virtual Library

Search Engine Guide - Search Engines Directory

a collection of specialized directories

you can use a search engine like google and type in for example, geology "internet resources" and get a list of specialized directories

or you can type in for example geology pathfinder to get a list of printed resources for a subject as well as internet resources

General Web Portals

portals, or gateway sites, are sites that are designed to serve as starting places for getting to the most relevant material on the web

they typically have a variety of tools (such as a search engine, directory, news, etc.) all on a single page so that the user can use it as a "start page"

get the user quickly and easily to the most relevant web resources

general portals usually exhibit three main characteristics: a variety of generally useful tools, positioning as a start page, and personalizability

the overal thrust is to provide a collection of information so useful that it makes it worthwhile to go to that page first

My Yahoo!






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Hartman, Karen and Ernest Ackerman (2010) Searching and researching on the Internet and the World Wide Web. Sherwood, OR: Franklin, Beedle & Associates.

Hock, Randolph The extreme searcher's Internet handbooks: a guide for the serious searcher Medford, NJ: CyberAge Books, 2009.