Inktomi Getting Serious with Paid Listings Business

Search engine giant Inktomi is making strides to beef up its appeal to marketers, through efforts to expand its paid inclusion program.

The Foster City, Calif.-based company — best known for its search engine technology, which it provides to many of the top names in Web portals — is stepping up its focus to provide pay-for-placement services in the engines it hosts.

For one, Inktomi is busily striking reseller agreements for its Index Connect product, recently signing 24/7 Media’s Website Results, iProspect and Inceptor to its roster.

Through the company’s Index Connect and Search Submit products, retailers like Amazon.com, Nordstrom.com and Crutchfield.com can have their wares appear under the appropriate keyword in Inktomi-powered searches. If, for example, Amazon runs out of inventory on a particular item, or decides to switch out an underperforming product in favor of another, the listings can be updated on the fly.

Additionally, the clients don’t need to go through the auction process to secure placement in a keyword, like they generally have to do with market leader GoTo.com — it’s handled automatically through a media buy with Inktomi.

“This effort is another step toward building direct relationships with content publishers to improve the quality of content available to users,” said Tomi Poutanen, business development manager at Inktomi search solutions.

As Inktomi rises in prominence in the field, it’s also going to come into closer rivalry with market leader GoTo.com, and smaller players like LookSmart and FindWhat.com . Those are companies that have made their names as providers of performance-based, pay-for-placement search engine services — whereas Inktomi is viewed largely as a technology vendor.

But it’s that technical expertise that the firm is hoping to leverage in its pitch to marketers. More than just recruiting advertisers to sign on to keyword buys, Inktomi is seeking to woo e-tailers with its Index Connect and Search Submit technology, which allow for up-to-the-minute, bulk registration of goods into its search engine.

“Inktomi’s paid inclusion program builds direct relationships with content publishers to improve the quality of content available to users,” said Troy Toman, vice president and general manager of Inktomi’s search solutions division. “With more than 100 Index Connect customers and more than 30,000 Search Submit customers, we are seeing extended benefits with our program. By driving high-quality visitors to customers’ sites while continuing to deliver highly relevant search results to users, Inktomi is effectively tackling the increasingly cluttered Web.”

It’s not the only one with such offerings — LookSmart rolled out a similar service several weeks ago. But with its greater clout in the technology space, and the fact that in many cases, it’s already doing business with e-tailers as their search engine provider, Inktomi stands to become a forced to be reckoned with.

And its rise as a direct seller of its paid inclusion could bring it into conflict with LookSmart and GoTo, with which it has technology and/or reseller agreements.

Meanwhile, the news comes as interest in search engine keyword buys is reaching an all-time crescendo. Since most players in the space sell keyword placement on a cost-per-click deals, the proposition appeals to marketers, who are seeing their budgets slashed and who need to aggressively justify their spending with a calculable return on investment.

Meanwhile, in setups like GoTo.com’s, marketers try to outbid each other for prime placement — generating increasing levels of CPC revenue for the technology provider, and their publishing affiliates that have licensed the pay-for-placement search engine.

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