Pay for Play in Search Engines: What You Need to Know

Pay for Play in Search Engines: What You Need to Know

 Websites are significant investments. Making the best use of online media to increase qualified traffic to your website is essential to leveraging your investment. Every major search engine and directory now offers - indeed, many require -- payment for inclusion. This can be a relatively inexpensive way to expedite your time to market online, greatly improving the odds that users looking for your site will find it.

Why Search Engines Count
Search engines are fundamental to successful website marketing. Forrester Research reports that 93 percent of worldwide web users access sites through a search engine. Jupiter MediaMetrix reported last year that 42 percent of searchers typed a product, brand or company name into a search engine to find a site, nearly twice the 23 percent who went straight to a URL.

Also, many users type that product, brand or company name into the address line of their browsers instead of a URL to let the search engine operating in the background, for example MSN Search in Internet Explorer, locate the site they seek.

Clearly, you want your website to appear on search results pages, preferably the first one. But should you pay to get in more quickly? Understanding how search engines and directories obtain results will help you decide.

Which Matter Most?
While you may have heard a lot about the "Top 10" search engines, the most used are Google, AOL, MSN and Yahoo, according to industry scorekeepers Search Engine Watch and Neilsen/NetRatings, and the Wall Srteet Journal. These Big Four consistently account for better than 92 percent of search activity.

Given the size of their directories, drilling down through multiple layers of categories is time consuming and inefficient; to solve this, portals provide search functions to pull information from their directory listings. They base results on the relevance of the category and description to users' searches. Yahoo's "Web Sites" results are from the Yahoo directory, while its "Web Pages" results are those of its new search engine.

Google, like all search engines, uses algorithms to identify web sites relevant to searchers' requests, and to quantify their relevance. Rankings in Google depend most on the relevant website content and links to user searches, but Google's algorithms also give more weight to links from major portals, such as Yahoo and vertical industry sites. This adds a second powerful incentive to be listed in Yahoo's directory, in addition to the portal's popularity.

What to Pay For
To receive the benefits of being in the top search engines you need to start by getting listed, or "indexed," in Yahoo and Open Directory Project, as well as the Inktomi and Google databases. Of these, only the Open Directory Project and Google are free of charge.

Yahoo requires all commercial sites to pay a $299 fee in order to be considered for listing, and to pay the same fee annually to remain listed. The charge increases to $600 for site containing adult content. All sites already included in Yahoo before December 28, 2001 are exempt. While Yahoo offers no-cost reviewing for non-commercial, non-profit sites, this can often take so many months that it is worth paying the $299 to have such a site reviewed within the seven days promised those who pay. However, be aware paying the fee may set you up for the recurring annual fee.

Yahoo determines rankings by the relevance of the category string and description, but offers no quick, easy or paid way to make changes.

MSN serves up search results from the Inktomi database, not a public search portal on its own but a central storage vault for website data, that provides search results to much of the top search media, other than Yahoo. Inktomi charges $25 per page per year and promises to retain subscribed pages when its spiders add new pages to, or "refresh" its database. This is important because this database holds a finite number of pages; some may be dropped with each "refresh."

If your site has important information on dynamic pages, i.e. those generated from databases, subscribing to Inktomi makes accessible your data that would otherwise be overlooked by most search spiders. The number of pages you subscribe is up to you; certainly every page that adds to your site's ROI should be included, for example, those about your products.

Further Leverage
Paying for inclusion in key databases is an essential first step in attracting qualified traffic to your site, but doing so only gets it into the databases. If you want to ensure above-the-fold visibility, you can engage more aggressive search engine marketing tactics such as keyword bidding and search-term driven advertising. Results from Overture, formerly called GoTo, now appear in Yahoo! and MSN Search. Google AdWords provide premium visibility for text messages on Google and its partners, including AOL Search, as well as Google's contetn partners and AdSense member sites. Managing these programs can be complicated and require continuous monitoring, but are often productive. Based on user searches, these forms of online advertising deliver far more qualified traffic than conventional banner advertising, when executed with skill.

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