© 2015 Xiao et al.This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. Recent advances indicate that assigning or reversing edge direction can significantly improve the structural controllability of complex networks. For directed networks, approaching the optimal structural controllability can be achieved by detecting and reversing certain "inappropriate" edge directions. However, the existence of multiple sets of "inappropriate" edge directions suggests that different edges have different effects on optimal controllability - that is, different combinations of edges can be reversed to achieve the same structural controllability. Therefore, we classify edges into three categories based on their direction: critical, redundant and intermittent.We then investigate the effects of changing these edge directions on network controllability, and demonstrate that the existence of more critical edge directions implies not only a lower cost of modifying inappropriate edges but also better controllability. Motivated by this finding, we present a simple edge orientation method aimed at producing more critical edge directions - utilizing only local information - which achieves near optimal controllability. Furthermore, we explore the effects of edge direction on the controllability of several real networks.