SearchPaid SearchPaid Inclusion Confusion

Paid Inclusion Confusion

Stumped by XML paid inclusion? Here's a primer to what's involved and why you should care.

Ever since Inktomi introduced XML paid inclusion as “Index Connect” in March 2001, there has been quite a lot of confusion among marketers, the press, even search engine optimization/marketing (SEO/SEM) professionals as to what exactly XML paid inclusion is and how it should be used as part of an effective, efficient search campaign.

With XML inclusion, unique site pages are converted into data (XML format), which is inserted directly into the search engine databases via a feed. Marketers use XML paid inclusion primarily because:

  • Great content is not currently found by search spiders due to dynamic Web sites, Web publishing tools, and site structures.
  • Content that is found and indexed is poorly formatted and does not represent the pages optimally.
  • Site content changes regularly, requiring freshness.
  • Most important, the site values targeted traffic and wishes to use its rich valuable content to drive that traffic.

Adding to the XML inclusion confusion was many SEO and SEM agencies sold paid inclusion traffic under confusing or even misleading descriptions. Marketers were confused and often did not appreciate many facets of XML paid inclusion. Some interactive media agencies even sold the traffic bundled with other types of search and nonsearch traffic without disclosing the source of the traffic to the marketer.

To add to the chaos, other search engines rolled out XML paid inclusion with different XML specifications, additional fields, and update frequencies. Then shopping search bots (e.g., MySimon and DealTime) adopted XML formats for their listings, too, adding even more fields, such as price and stock levels.

The industry can reverse and control this chaos and bring fairness, equity, and order to the XML paid inclusion marketplace in two ways. Education is the first solution. It will help all existing XML marketers tremendously while alerting additional marketers to the power of XML paid inclusion. Second is for the search engines that offer the XML feeds to realign their sales channels and the rules associated with them.

In this column and subsequent installments, I’ll tackle the education task. I’ll also bring the education mission to all the conferences at which I speak. Additionally, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) Search Engine Committee will facilitate the educational process with a cross-country road show series in major cities.

Industry players are taking steps to regain control of the situation. This month, Inktomi — now wholly owned by Yahoo and still the largest XML paid inclusion provider — made some significant changes to its sales channels by consolidating its reseller channel to three players (from 18). The company plans to deal with some customers directly, leveraging the Yahoo sales team and its existing Index Connect group and wants to get firmer control of its customer relationships and reseller network.

Unfortunately, this process, in the short term, is causing more confusion as resellers shuffle to serve the market. Remaining direct resellers for XML paid inclusion are Marketleap, Position Technologies, TrafficLeader, and iProspect. According to Frederick Marckini, CEO of iProspect, as a professional services firm, iProspect only implements XML paid inclusion for clients “under contract.” The company won’t accept XML projects àla carte.

Many of the resellers being eliminated from direct participation in the program have formed alliances with the remaining resellers and retained modified direct relationships to Inktomi. Clients will not be impacted in these cases.

Some examples:

  • Did-it.com (full disclosure: I’m the CEO) has teamed up with Marketleap and will continue to work with Inktomi’s direct channel to serve its clients.
  • NewGate will also continue providing XML services as well by “tracking the results of paid inclusion programs, and understanding how those programs can be adapted and improved to maximize their value for our clients.”
  • Performics “maintains relationships with all the premier XML paid inclusion and directory inclusion Web outlets.”

Many of these value-added XML agencies (VAXAs) offer sophisticated toolsets for creating, managing, and optimizing XML feeds. In some cases, these VAXAs have platforms marketers can use to manage feeds even if they’re being billed directly by Inktomi, AltaVista, or another XML provider. That way marketers and VAXA team members make feed enhancements, implement return on investment (ROI) tracking, and assure quality feed management.

If the years of conflicting messages, poor vendor experiences, or Inktomi channel realignment have left you confused as to your best options, you are not alone. To make sure you have the most efficient XML paid inclusion campaign, here are the skills you need to have, either in-house or outsourced:

  • XML feed creation. XML feeds can be created through a database dump from your site with elements such as URL, title, description, keywords, and body content exported in standardized format. Alternatively, a spider can be sent into your site to create the XML document, based on what the spider finds on each page. The best solution depends on your site and its organization.
  • XML feed hosting. Each engine must pick up your correctly formatted XML feed from a URL. That URL can be on any server — yours or an agency/reseller’s. If you are not creating, managing, tracking, and optimizing your feed, your reseller or agency must host and manage your feed, as the engines will not track ROI or optimize feed content.
  • XML feed enhancement for clarity and quality. Often, the raw data in an XML feed does not accurately describe the pages in the feed. Titles may not be unique or may be poorly formatted for optimal placement and quality.
  • XML feed ROI tracking and automation. Each feed element (page) will have its own post-click behaviors based on the inbound mix of keyword phrases. Similarly, XML feeds follow the Pareto Principle (or, 80/20 rule) — a small percentage of your listings will generate most of your traffic. Tracking the ROI and traffic levels of each feed is critical.
  • XML ROI enhancement. You wouldn’t leave your Overture or Google campaign untouched for months. Similarly, your ROI, profit/value, and traffic-level data are the foundation for an ever-improving XML campaign. Most important are your high-traffic listings and high-importance pages. A professional copyeditor can edit feeds, with training. If significant, those edits can also be applied to the actual landing page to improve general organic traffic quality.

As you might guess, only the largest, most sophisticated Internet marketers have all these skills and capabilities in-house, and even they tend to call upon the experts frequently. However, an XML paid inclusion campaign’s success depends on tapping these skills and capabilities. Inktomi and the other XML engines, resellers, and specialized VAXA agencies each provide at least some of the aforementioned services. Evaluate your needs carefully, and match your mission with the skills of the agencies, resellers, and your in-house team.

The benefits you can achieve with a successful XML paid inclusion campaign are well worth coordinating your technology, marketing, and strategic teams. Get your internal and external teams together, and use your site’s content to drive quality traffic and profit.

Don’t miss ClickZ’s Weblog Business Strategies in Boston, June 9-10.

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