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How to pay search engines to list your site
by Kevin Nunley
I must admit, it still seems too good to be true. Search engines are used by millions of people to find products, services, and information, yet they don't charge you a dime to have your site listed.
While TV networks and big city newspapers charge thousands for an ad, search engines, who have much larger audiences, still largely give away their coveted ability to attract hordes of customers.
That is changing. More and more major search engines are starting to charge sites to get listed. Paid Inclusion, as it is called, is taking off. Think of the one billion web pages that have been catalogued and you realize paid inclusion offers a huge profit source for search engines.
Does this mean the end of a powerful free promotion tool? Or are we seeing the start of an even better low-cost marketing strategy?
Looksmart.com, whose database powers the search results you get at Excite, MSN, AltaVista, and CNN.com, offers two levels of paid inclusion. For $79 the Looksmart folks will visit your site sometime over the next two months, then include your listing in their database wherever they feel it fits best. If you opt for the $200 Express Submit, your site is inspected within 48 hours and included.
Keep in mind that Looksmart, like other paid inclusion services, doesn't guarantee you a high ranking. Inktomi, the database used by AOL and others, also offers paid inclusion. They point out the real value is for people who want to get in the database fast or who have hard-to index sites. For example, if your site uses frames in a complex or creative way, you may have problems getting on search engines through standard free submission.
Inktomi earns inclusion fees that offset the cost of carrying sites that don't have a lot of search appeal and don't get much traffic.
Yahoo has perhaps the most famous of the paid inclusion programs. Notoriously hard to get listed on, 40 percent of all people who use search engines use Yahoo.
Because Yahoo is a directory rather than a true search engine, human workers have to visit each site before deciding whether it should be included in their catalog. That can take months and many fine sites never manage to get listed. Yahoo's paid Express Submission solves the problem for many sites.
You pay Yahoo's $200 fee, acknowledge (twice!) that you realize Yahoo is under no obligation to list you, then wait about a week for Yahoo workers to look at your site.
Recently we tried this service and were delighted when our MarketingHelp.Net site was added to Yahoo's directory in less than a week. Even companies with large marketing budgets say getting listed on Yahoo can dwarf all their other marketing efforts. The crush of prospects searching Yahoo can explode your site's traffic.
Keep in mind that Yahoo, like other paid inclusion programs, won't list your site if it isn't good. All the Yahoo values for good information and lots of links still apply. Inktomi takes this a step further by sending their bots back to check your site every few days. Inktomi computers note if your site has changed.
Does paid inclusion make search engines better or worse? Search engine administrators claim paid inclusion cuts down on pages that manage to get included by using schemes and tricks. When people pay to get listed under the "plumbers" keyword, you're more likely to find real plumbers who are serious about getting your business.
On the other hand, not every good site will fork over $200 to get listed. A policy of only paid inclusion would leave search engines lacking in quality and depth. We're likely to continue seeing a combination of paid and free submissions.
Meanwhile, at least one company is working on a program where you can use their software to easily set up paid inclusion at a number of search engines. They feel the days of free submission are numbered and are ready to pounce on paid inclusion the moment it becomes the expected method by millions of web site owners.