The Overlooked Killer App: Paid Inclusion

Pay-per-click (PPC) search marketing doesn’t end with the auction-style engines Overture, Google, and Search engine spiders can miss much of your site, whether it’s dynamic or static. Paid inclusion ensures your site is “in there” and is a very powerful method of PPC search engine marketing.

Paid inclusion comes in four basic flavors:

  • Annual-fee directories. Yahoo charges $299 annually for commercial listings for express review and inclusion (inclusion not guaranteed). Know the methods and guidelines, and you can get great traffic.

  • CPC directories. LookSmart is primarily a directory. Being listed is key, as its directory data is syndicated to MSN, a traffic powerhouse. Marketers can deal with LookSmart directly or through a partner agency (there are many). Advantages of using an agency include tapping into its experience in maximizing return on investment (ROI) through the use of CPC directory listings in LookSmart and creative and keyword recommendations.
  • Per-URL programs. For small sites, the major search engine databases have an annual (or semiannual) fee per URL for inclusion. Following payment, the search engine spider visits that URL frequently (typically every 48 hours). Inktomi, AltaVista, Teoma, and FAST/Lycos have per-URL programs. Details are available at each site.
  • XML feeds. This is the last and possibly most powerful type of paid inclusion. It’s not for every site. To qualify, a site must contain hundreds of unique pages. XML paid inclusion is a CPC-based search engine advertising model that can be as effective as auction-style listings. XML-based paid inclusion is particularly powerful for large database-driven sites listing products, content, or services. Examples might include catalogers, e-commerce merchants, business-to-business manufacturers and distributors, travel, music, or auction sites.

    If you have lots of unique landing pages, XML paid inclusion may be for you. It’s available through reseller partners only (unless you are an extremely large marketer, such as eBay or Amazon). Reseller partners can implement XML feeds for Inktomi, AltaVista, LookSmart (separate from paid-inclusion directory listings), Teoma/AskJeeves, and, beginning in late September 2002, FAST/Lycos.

Time out! What the heck is an XML feed? XML is a data format representing a landing page URL. Just as a Web page has elements coded into the HTML, XML elements can be represented differently in an XML feed for the page (representing it to the search engine). These elements typically include URL, click-through URL (for tracking), title, description, body copy, and keywords. Each vendor has a slightly different naming convention and specifications for its XML feed, often based on its own database structure and how its algorithm for displaying search results works. Your reseller will tailor XML feeds based on guidelines from each engine.

The typical searcher often uses longer queries. Many contain more than three words. Within three different search engines, keyword distribution data tells a compelling story:

Words in Query LookSmart (%) (%) Teoma
1 27.00 12.76 38.04
2 33.00 22.46 29.59
3 23.00 19.34 18.13
4 10.00 11.89 8.00
5 7.00* 7.86 3.51
6 6.19 1.39
7 5.47 0.63
8 4.59 0.30
9 3.40 0.15
10 2.29 0.08
LookSmart does not report beyond 5 search terms, instead grouping five or more terms into one category.

Approximately 40 percent of queries in LookSmart have three or more words. About 32 percent in Teoma have three or more. Ask Jeeves has an even higher skew, nearly 62 percent, because of its natural language focus. Within FAST, the database that powers Lycos and others, the average is 2.5 terms. That suggests a similar frequency distribution to LookSmart and Teoma.

Paid inclusion, particularly XML paid inclusion, is very effective at matching longer queries to Web pages because it contains more information about a page than you could provide Overture or Google.

Which programs are right for you? It depends. The Yahoo annual fee is worth it to just about any business. Predicting ROI on per-URL paid inclusion is more difficult. You never know how many clicks you’ll get for an annual or semiannual fee. Part of how many clicks you get on a URL depends on how search-engine friendly the URL is. Smaller sites should first try per-URL paid inclusion on critical pages to get an idea of traffic volume and quality.

If you have a larger site, providers of XML-based paid inclusion worth considering are (my own company), Inceptor, Position Technologies (Inktomi only), TrafficBoss, TrafficLeader, and Website Results.

Obviously I tend to be biased toward my own service, but each company has its own philosophy, pricing, and technologies. Make an informed decision before selecting any partner, and be clear about your objectives for a paid inclusion campaign. Search engine databases house billions of URLs. Increase the odds of yours being found with paid inclusion.

Related reading