Buying your way onto search engines
Practical Internet, 2001
(Please note that some information included in this article is now outdated, so for the latest situation, please contact us.)
You can now pay to get your site listed on some of the top search engines and directories. Clive Hawkins assesses the options available and how they can benefit your online presence.
Finding and attracting targeted business leads for your e-commerce site is vital for your online survival, and making your site visible on search engines is one essential consideration. However, this can be hard to achieve and is by no means guaranteed to succeed, yet a top listing can generate significant traffic from potential customers.
Until recently, all the top search engines and directories accepted new submissions for free - even though it could take months for your site to appear - but now they are having to adapt in the face of economic pressures. As the number of web sites continues to increase at a tremendous rate, the search tools are under growing pressure to perform, even though advertising revenues are falling.
Consequently, as a way to increase revenues, many search engines are starting to offer site owners the chance to pay for a listing. You now have a choice. You can still submit for free to many search engines and directories, or choose to pay a fee in return for a listing appearing sooner, or even a guaranteed top position. But which of these different options will give you the best value for money?
Paid submission for a faster review
‘Pay-for-submission’ is a recent development with some of leading web directories, such as Yahoo! and Looksmart. These resources rely on human editors to review and add new sites to their listings, but they now face an unmanageable number of submissions on one hand and a squeeze on revenues on the other. In view of these pressures, paid submissions help to focus their efforts and raise money by adding sites.
On Yahoo! (www.yahoo.co.uk), commercial UK sites can still submit to this directory for free and hope for the best. Alternatively, you can pay for the ‘Business Express’ option, whereby for a one-off fee of $199, they guarantee to review your site within one week.
Take note, though, as this does not guarantee that it will be added! You still have to follow their submission procedures and provide a well-written description. You must also make sure that your site complies with Yahoo!’s strict conditions for acceptance, otherwise your fee will be lost with no compensation.
Most paying sites, however, do get listed on Yahoo! and once on, your site is there for good. Using this paid submission should now be seriously considered because Yahoo! remains one of the most popular search tools and your investment here can be repaid quickly with valuable traffic to your site.
Paid inclusion for regular updating
Another recent development has been the ‘pay-for-inclusion’ option on search engines. This was introduced at the end of 2000 by Inktomi, the search engine that supplies results to, amongst others, HotBot, AOL and MSN. It was designed to filter out the huge amounts of ‘spam’ being submitted, whilst also raising some extra revenue. FAST is also following suit and it is likely that others, such as AltaVista and Lycos will too.
Currently, you can still continue submitting your site to the participating search engines as before, or you can pay a small fee per page through one of Inktomi’s partners. This will then guarantee that the Inktomi ‘spider’ will visit your site every 48 hours for one year, ensuring that your URL is added to the index and that your listing is kept updated.
The advantage is that you can have your website visible within days on a number of major search engines for only a small cost. However, remember that your site must still be optimised so that it will rank well for your chosen search terms, otherwise your expenditure will be wasted.
Paid positions to buy a top ranking
‘Pay-for-position’ websites are those where the distinction between a search engine and an advertising tool becomes blurred, yet they are becoming increasingly popular as they offer a measurable and highly effective way to attract targeted traffic.
GoTo (www.uk.goto.com) is the best known ‘pay-for-position’ search tool and it has become more popular in the UK because it supplies results to top search engines such as Freeserve and AltaVista.
You simply choose the keywords that your customers might use and then bid money for them. The site that bids most for a term will be ranked first, and so on. You can add a title and description related to each search term bid, whilst the flexible account management tool allows you to make alterations when necessary.
You can bid on as many terms as you want from as little as 5p. The beauty of this service is that your account is only debited once someone clicks on the link to visit your site – and then it’s down to you to convert a prospect to a customer.
This also gives you a highly accountable advertising tool where you can track your customers, budget the amount of money you spend, and measure the ‘cost-per-lead’ and its effectiveness in generating new business.
Paid panels to target your message
Another option to consider is advertising panels, or small banners that appear in relation to a keyword search. This is not a new concept, but one that has been recently introduced for companies with smaller budgets who want to pay to achieve a top ranking.
Google (www.google.com) is one of the best offers. You can buy a small panel that will appear to the right of the search results, once your targeted keywords are searched for. Up to 8 panels can be listed, ranked in order of popularity. Costs will depend on the frequency a search term is used, but range from about £5-£12 per thousand ‘hits’. For those websites that can’t otherwise achieve a top ranking through optimisation, this scheme is an alternative way of gaining visibility with your target customers.
Yahoo! also offers a ‘featured sites’ panel where you can pay for a top listing within a category. You can only appear in a section where your site is already listed, but if your site is included on a page with lots of others, this is one way to stand out.
The benefits of paying for results
As the economic realities of the Internet start to impact on search engines and directories, there can be benefits for your website if you have the budget available. Choosing the best option for your market can be difficult, yet all the paid routes described here should be considered.
Paying for your site to be listed means that you can achieve visibility almost immediately, rather than wait for several months by using the traditional free submission route. These days, an investment in Yahoo! and Inktomi can be the only way to ensure inclusion and you should build these costs into your budget. However, remember that you will still need to optimise your site and directory description to get the most for your money.
With the growing number of pay-for-position tools, the best recommendation is to test their effectiveness for your market. Set aside an initial budget and measure the results before deciding whether to continue. It may take some management time to get the best for your site, but as these techniques are now becoming more widespread, it is a method that you should familiarise yourself with and get the most from marketing your site online.
Clive Hawkins runs the web search workshop (www.websearchworkshop.co.uk), a search engine placement consultancy helping small and medium-sized companies in the UK attract customers from search engines and directories.