Search Engines Eye Pay-for-Position Models

Search portals haven’t fared well in the dot-com meltdown because it was thought ad revenues would drop. But online media buying is expected to reach $4 billion this year with a 50 percent growth predicted for next year. Nevertheless, most search engines and directories are looking at their business models in search of other revenue streams.

The crawler-type engines are eyeing the pay-for-position model, while the human directories experiment with pay-for-consideration options.

We’re all familiar with the paid listings offered by GoTo.com and Mamma.com. This works well for these engines because the business model is stated upfront. Major engines have been reluctant to offer paid listings because it would tarnish the image of neutrality, and it could even decrease the integrity of results. The major engines are concerned with quality, and it would undermine the quality of searches to allow some web sites to pay for position. Many feel it would be inequitable, as well.

But the pressure is there as several of the major directories have begun to offer paid listings. In July, Yahoo expanded its pay-for-submission Business Express option to all categories within its directory. Before that, the $199 Business Express service was restricted to a small number of specific categories. I’ve recommended this service before and also that of LookSmart. Both are money well spent.

LookSmart was the first major search service to charge for commercial listings. For $199, its Express Submit service offers quick consideration, but it doesn’t actually guarantee a listing or better ranking. Recently, LookSmart also added a cheaper $49 version that takes longer for confirmation but allows smaller sites to participate. This service permits sites to be considered for inclusion in the index in a timely manner, but, again, the ultimate decision depends on LookSmart’s editorial team. I’m told few sites are rejected, however.

This new model has worked out well for LookSmart. It again became AltaVista’s directory provider and has gained momentum in competing against the Open Directory Project, which allows any search site to use its human directory for free.

Another player in the money game is Inktomi. As reported in SearchEngineWatch, Inktomi will launch a pay-for-consideration program later this year. It will likely be expanded to include Inktomi’s search engine partners and perhaps selected submission services. The service will permit web site owners to find their listings in Inktomi-powered search engines within 48 hours of submissions. The pages are crawled again every 48 hours to check for change, but the service will not boost rankings.

This type of paid service can help a site get into the index quickly, but it’s up to the webmaster to ensure the site’s content is relevant if it’s going to stay. Inktomi will continue its free submission option, but it may take longer to get listed this way. Again, pages will be dropped if they don’t satisfy the search queries.

So, is there a problem with the indexing services going to a paid model? It’s great for those who elect to pay to know their site will be listed promptly. However, if only paid submissions get listed first, and this results in a big backlog of free submissions, the database is going to be a lot less comprehensive than it should be. Search engines should represent a complete list of all important sites, paid for or not. It’s a dilemma to come up with the best model for making this happen.

One of the benefits of paying for quick consideration might be the reduction of search engine spamming, which is rampant, according to every engine I talk to. The free “add URL” systems most crawler-type search engines use leave the engines open to this abuse, diminishing the value of the relevant content people expect to find. These new pay-for-consideration models can ease the pressure on free submissions and perhaps allow for better representation. It remains to be seen what the effect will be.

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