XML Paid Inclusion: Marketing Winner, Search Spam Killer

Over the next few months, XML paid inclusion will become really hot. Yahoo will discontinue use of Google’s algorithmic results in favor of Inktomi’s algorithmic search index. That means within a very short period of time, Web traffic patterns will change quite dramatically.

If you had good levels of inclusion and reasonable position for important relevant phrases in Google but mediocre natural inclusion levels and poor rankings in Inktomi, your traffic will seem to have fallen off a cliff as soon as Yahoo makes the change. That addictive organic traffic from Google (which may or may not be interrupted — Google changes algorithms every month or two) comes, to a large extent, from Yahoo. Yahoo’s renewed focus on search has driven more traffic through Overture’s paid listings and the algorithmic listings currently served from a Google index.

Depending on your Inktomi organic inclusion and relevance status, the traffic drop for organic-based algorithmic traffic will probably be 25-40 percent. That is, unless you’re doing XML paid inclusion.

Another reason to consider XML paid inclusion is reported data. The engines and several studies indicate the average number of keywords in a search query is rising. More searchers use longer phrases when seeking answers and information. I’ve seen figures that indicate 45 percent of searches comprise three or more keywords.

Searchers are getting smarter. They understand the better they describe what they’re looking for, the better search engines are at finding it. Overture’s and Google’s paid-placement campaign management systems have already adapted to this reality. They include broad match or extended broad match as keyword-targeting options.

Some searchers just prefer the algorithmic results and skip paid-placement listings altogether. Depending on the portals you deal with, anywhere from 70 to 90 percent of searchers typically skip sponsored results. Instead, “sponsor skippers” focus their attention and clicks on algorithmic results: “Web pages” on MSN, for example. These will soon be the main-body results at Yahoo.

Certain search engine optimization (SEO)/search engine marketing (SEM) factions believe XML paid inclusion is an incentive for marketers to generate search spam. They believe the ability to have an agency repair flaws in XML documents to improve relevance is an invitation to spam search results.

Quite the contrary. Paid inclusion actually controls search engine spam. Here’s why:

  • Marketers who pay for traffic on a per-click basis only want traffic that converts. Only relevant traffic converts. Manipulating an XML feed to drive irrelevant traffic is a money loser.

  • Paid-inclusion feeds are reviewed by search engine staff as well as by the agencies that prepare the feeds. Even if a feed is prepared by a tech team at the site/marketer, that team will know the each engine’s editorial guidelines. Multistage human review further improves relevance.
  • Organic search marketers (including affiliate marketers and others) have no incentive to keep relevance so high. They don’t pay for traffic on a per-click basis. Rather, they work to develop sites that rank well in search engines but too often don’t add value to the search engine index. Sure, organic search engine marketers who flood the engine index with pages and pages of content need some relevance to get some traffic convert, but there’s no incentive to maintain a high level of relevance.

For many commercial searches, particularly product-level searches, a test of results at a portal will find paid-inclusion results are very high in relevance and objectively measured “quality.” The same cannot be said of natural/organic search results, which are often plagued by spam.

I recently purchased winter boots. Before buying, I wanted to look for different styles. For the phrase “columbia boots,” three of Google’s top four listings were what I’d classify as affiliate spam. Similarly, in MSN’s Inktomi-fed “Web pages,” I got three affiliate spam results and one XML paid inclusion result in the Web pages section.

In both MSN and Google, the affiliate spam results were, of course, non-paid doorway pages with little useful information. If I’d wanted to buy, I would’ve had to click from the doorway page to the actual merchant. If more XML paid inclusion were in use, the results would be the merchants themselves. Affiliate arbitrage probably wouldn’t monetarily support XML inclusion, and the pages lack enough unique content to pass editorial review.

There you go: better quality results through XML. If the search engines don’t already see the potential to improve relevance through XML, they will soon. XML feed programs will expand. Even Google should take a close look at XML as a way to make money and stop search spam at the same time.

If you have a site with a high page count and those pages could convert targeted traffic into revenue, learn about XML now. You’ll be ahead of the game if you leverage this marketing vehicle appropriately and effectively.

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