Free Search Engine Submission Is Still Alive!

Both Yahoo and LookSmart have recently increased their submission prices, while AltaVista not too long ago followed Inktomi‘s lead in offering a paid inclusion program. FAST is expected to bring out its own program shortly. Meanwhile, paid listings have gained ground at every major search engine. Is it any wonder that people are feeling that free search engine submission is dead?

Well, it’s not. Despite the multitude of paid participation programs being offered, it is indeed possible for Web sites to get listed for free. However, it’s also necessary for Web site owners to recognize that by spending money, the listing process will be easier for them.

Let’s hear some concerns, then examine more closely the situations raised. One reader, after seeing the LookSmart and Yahoo increases, wrote:

It seems we’ve gone past paying a premium for “fast” service and entered the realm of unrealistic search engine listing costs. For myself, and I’m sure many small commercial sites, LookSmart and Yahoo (at $300) will have to live without my listings. One wonders about the long-term ramifications on what these search engines will deliver to their searching clients.

Unfortunately, Yahoo and LookSmart aren’t going to be hurting without your listings. That’s because plenty of other businesses rightly recognize that even with the cost increases, getting listed in both directories represents excellent value. These are essentially one-time fees for unlimited and very targeted traffic, if you’ve done your submission properly.

I have seen some comments on forums suggesting that it’s time for a mass boycott of search engines that charge for submissions. However, I think many of these people forget what it was like before such programs were available. Prior to when Yahoo rolled out its Express submission option in February 1999, there were huge outcries about how long it took to get listed with the service.

Indeed, some webmasters were literally begging Yahoo to institute a submission fee for better service. Since it has done so, times have definitely improved. For example, when speaking, I used see plenty of hands shoot up from the audience when I asked how many people had been waiting for months to get into Yahoo Now, few hands go up.

It is absolutely correct to be worried that submission fees could have an impact on the quality of listings. To me, the biggest worry here has been when LookSmart has done deep categorization of a particular company’s Web site, causing that company to sometimes have so many matching listings for a term that other sites are crowded out.

The other thought is that by charging a submission fee, these directories might miss some important sites that can’t pay to submit. However, this is where the “how many florists do I need” argument comes in. If a directory already lists 100 online florists, are users hurt because they don’t have 101? In all honesty, probably not. But if you are that 101st florist, a submission fee makes it possible to get yourself added.

Despite all these points, there are definitely sites that should get into the directories for free. Both Yahoo and LookSmart make this possible through their noncommercial categories. If you have good, solid noncommercial content, then you can submit to either place for free and have the opportunity to get listed.

Noncommercial content? Let’s say you sell something, such as American flags, which are in high demand right now. Your Web site is commercial in nature, so submitting the home page is likely to be seen as commercial content. However, let’s say you’ve spent the time and energy to build a section of your Web site about the American flag — how it originated, how it has looked over time, maybe even a section on flags around the world. This flag resource section is noncommercial in nature. In it, you are giving away information freely, and so you are eligible to be considered for listing in the noncommercial areas of both Yahoo and LookSmart.

Another reader cries out:

50 percent increase without any warning!! This is very expensive for the small businesses I develop sites for. I pushed the $199 service before, since 40 percent of searching traffic comes from Yahoo. However, many of my clients will not be able to afford it at this new high price.

Again, a reality check is important. Directory submission is an essential cost of doing business on the Web. If your clients can’t afford it — and if they have no noncommercial content to promote — then they simply aren’t going to appear in the main listings that these places generate. That’s probably going to hurt them much more than the directories.

How about a reality check for the directories? Yes, the directories are easily worth a $300 submission fee for many businesses. However, some may find it hard to come up with this money all at once. Perhaps the time has come to consider payment plans — say a $150 initial payment, followed each quarter by a $50 fee until the entire sum is paid.

Sure, that will be harder for the directories to implement. However, such an option might go a long way toward making small-business sites feel less pressure. I asked Yahoo about this idea when talking with the company about its recent price increase. There are no immediate plans to do this, but Yahoo said it was something it would consider, if there was enough demand. So, if you like the idea, let Yahoo (and LookSmart) know.

Another reader writes:

I have two small sites that I maintain. I don’t make a lot from these sites. I submit to search engines using all the information about manual submits, correct meta codes, page titles and key words to get my sites found. Now, how do the little people with little businesses get their sites found too on the Internet without paying $200 here, $200 there and $40 here and $40 there. Gosh, isn’t there a way for all us little people, or is the Web only for those who can afford [it] anymore? I did get my first site listed back in October 2000, but my newer site, which I started getting listed in May 2001, is having a heck of a time. No Yahoo, Northern Light, AltaVista, crawlers, etc.

OK, let’s assume you have no noncommercial content you can submit to the directories. Despite this, the crawler-based search engines, such as Google, should still be picking you up. Some of them do have paid inclusion fees, but these are not mandatory and all of the crawlers index pages for free.

One thing to remember is that you shouldn’t rely on “Add URL” pages. These have been so abused by spammers that the crawlers don’t depend on them much for new finds. Instead, they are much more reliant on link crawling. This means that if you build relevant links from good Web sites, you are more likely to be found by the crawlers and included in their listings.

To help everyone further with obtaining free listings, I’ve just added a five-part instruction guide on search engine submission to the existing submission tips area of Search Engine Watch. It will take you by the hand and explain exactly how free submission options remain on all the major search engines for anyone with noncommercial content.

The guide also explains where fee-based submission options exist and why budgeting money for these will be to your great advantage, even if you are a little business. In the offline world, no one says that small businesses should be exempt from business costs. The same is true in the online world. One of the costs all businesses will have to bear is search engine submission fees if they want to get their commercial content listed in key places quickly.

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