THE SEARCH ENGINE UPDATE
November 20, 2000 - Number 89
By Danny Sullivan
Editor, Search Engine Watch
Copyright (c) 2000 internet.com corporation
About The Update
The Search Engine Update is a twice-monthly update of search engine news. It is available only to Search Engine Watch "site subscribers." Please note that long URLs may break into two lines in some mail readers. Cut and paste, should this occur.
In This Issue
+ Site News
+ Conference News
+ Yahoo Drops Free Submit For Commercial Categories
+ AltaVista Latest To Carry GoTo Paid Listings
+ Interesting Search Engine Articles
+ List Info (Subscribing/Unsubscribing)
Two major developments came in this week with Yahoo and AltaVista, so I've devoted this newsletter to them. Next time, I'll bring you highlights from the last Search Engine Strategies conference, which I didn't have time to finish because of these latest stories.
The date is in for the next Search Engine Strategies conference, February 15, in London. I'll let you know when the conference web site is ready, but like our last London conference, this will focus on European search engines and issues. Our first two day event is also going to happen in mid-March, in Boston, and it will feature a day for searcher issues in addition to the topics aimed at web marketers. We'll also expand and improve the advanced marketer workshops that proved so popular at our last conference in Dallas. The conference web site for Boston isn't up yet, but you can sign up to get emailed for when more details about both London and Boston are ready via the URL below.
Search Engine Conferences
Yahoo Drops Free Submit For Commercial Categories
Last week, Yahoo has dropped the ability for sites to submit for free to the commercial portion of its directory.
Sites wishing to be listed within the "Shopping and Services" or "Business to Business" areas of the web guide must now use Yahoo's US $199 "Business Express" service ($600 for adult sites). A free submission option remains for those submitting to other areas of the Yahoo.com site or to regional commercial areas at Yahoo's non-US English-language editions.
Yahoo becomes the second major directory to limit its free submission option. LookSmart made a much more expansive move earlier this year, requiring all commercial sites to pay a submission fee. In contrast, Yahoo's remaining free submission option remains much more liberal, still available in vast portions of the guide.
Yahoo said it was making the change so that it could affordably build out its commercial listings to be as comprehensive as possible.
"If we're going to be serious about organizing commercial information around the globe in English, I think having a program in place that guarantees we're going to look at every submission and respond is the right approach," said Srinija Srinivasan, Yahoo's editor in chief. "Business Express is a way for us to scale."
Yahoo first launched its Business Express program back in February 1999 and has been relatively cautious about expanding it. Since then, other search engines have rolled out a variety of paid listing, paid submission and paid inclusion programs, with relatively little public outcry.
The aura of greater acceptance is one reason Yahoo says it feels comfortable making its change, though the greater reason is its own familiarity in having run a paid submission operation for nearly two years, Srinivasan said.
"Most importantly, we're at a comfort level in having plenty of experience with the program, in understanding what works and what doesn't work, and the more we've been able to pay attention of our commercial directory makes it clear that this is the way to go about to building it out," Srinivasan said.
How should you react to the Yahoo change, if you are a site owner? First and foremost, you should always use the Business Express service, even if the free submit option is offered. Doing so will greatly increase the chances that your site will get listed. Many sites using the free system are not actually rejected. They simply aren't added because editors don't have time to review all the submissions they receive. The Business Express service guarantees that someone will review your site, and the vast majority of those using the system do get listed.
Any business, no matter how small, faces some basic start up costs. The reality is that on the web, along with domain registration and site hosting fees, Yahoo's and LookSmart's submission fees are now essential costs of launching a business. Even if money is tight, you really need to scrape together the $400 (OK, $398) to be listed in these two important services.
Having said this, it is important to understand that Yahoo has maintained substantial ability for people to submit for free. That's going to be a benefit to those at non-profit organizations, universities, to hobbyists and to others who really don't have a budget for publicity. Nor, as with LookSmart, must you be a registered non-profit organization. Instead, Yahoo's new approach is to charge based where a site is listed within it directory, rather than on whether a site is commercial in nature.
In other words, only when you submit to categories under these two areas of Yahoo will the paid submission option be mandatory:
Yahoo Shopping & Services Category
Yahoo Business to Business Category
For example, a landscaping firm aimed at consumers might submit here:
And a landscaping firm aimed at businesses might submit here:
In both places, only the Business Express option is available for those trying to submit to the categories.
Now let's say you have a research paper about light pollution and want it listed here:
Fine, you'll see both a free and a Business Express option.
Home hobbyist who runs a humor site about Pokimon? Here's a suitable category, where you'll have a free submit option offered:
Even a commercial business could still submit for free. Say you sell Pokimon merchandise, but your web site also goes beyond this and offers lots of information about the animated series, such as forums, mailing lists, history and a guide to characters. Here's an appropriate category, where you'd get the ability to submit for free, even though you are a business:
As you can see, free submit is very much alive at Yahoo. I'd hope that with the change, we'll also see it get more responsive in the non-commercial categories, which Yahoo suggests may happen.
"Understandably, we're going to concentrate our support in the places where we don't have a [paid submission” program," Srinivasan said.
Nevertheless, I can't stress enough that you should use Business Express whenever possible. If not just for saving you time, it may also ensure that you get in the best possible category.
Consider this situation. Let's say you sell Pokimon merchandise and find that the category I mentioned above is one of the top ones that Yahoo lists. Ideally, you'd like your site to be listed there. You submit using the free option -- and wait. Time wasted. Now let's say you get lucky. A Yahoo editor reviews your site, sees it's commercial. You then get a message saying that you really belong in the in this subcategory of Shopping and Services:
You also get told that you'll need to use Business Express to submit there. Thus, you lose time, plus you still have to pay a fee.
I think we'll see this type of scenario emerge. Now consider this alternative. Instead of using the free option, you went ahead and submitted to the non-commercial category but did choose the Business Express route. Now, the Yahoo editor reviews your site within seven days, which almost certainly saves you time. The editor might still decide to shift your site to a Shopping and Services category. However, if your site is indeed appropriate for the non-commercial category you originally selected, I think they'll be less inclined to move you so. You certainly won't seem like somebody just looking to avoid paying the submission fee. It's also possible (slim, but possible) that Yahoo might choose to list you in both categories (especially if you picked a Shopping & Services one as your alternative).
Overall, if you've never been listed in Yahoo, always use Business Express. If you are already listed and are trying to obtain another important listing, consider using Business Express. If you have a great area of your site that you think is non-commercial in nature and should be listed, then go the free route, assuming your site already has a main listing.
Also, if you've been waiting to get listed with Yahoo and previously submitted within the main categories I mentioned, don't try using the email support option for help. Instead, you must now resubmit and pay the Business Express fee.
By the way, hoping for a paid option to get site information changed? Lots of people ask me if Yahoo will ever allow this, but there's no good news here. Yahoo has no immediate plans, though it won't rule out the idea entirely.
"There's no change on the changes, Srinivasan said. "I'll never say never, and we'll still keep twirling that around."
One last comment. Yahoo is not yet making it mandatory for sites submitting to its country-specific English-language sites outside of the US to use Business Express for commercial listings. However, you might assume this is the case, if you don't submit carefully. If you cater only to a particular country, just be sure to submit specifically to the regional listings. Here's an example.
Say I go to Yahoo UK and to submit my aerospace company. I find this category suitable:
When I try to submit, I'm told I must pay the Business Express fee. That's because this category is for global companies. However, if you look at the top, you'll see links with little UK and Irish flags that take you to UK and Irish specific listings. For example, the "UK Listings Only" link and flag takes you here:
From this category, you'll find that you can indeed submit for free, if you desire. But don't -- save yourself time and go the Business Express route. FYI, Yahoo seems likely to make Business Express mandatory even for its non-US sites in the future, but it has purposely kept it only in the US, for the time being.
You'll also find the same scenario is true for regional US listings. For example, you could submit your shoe site to this category for free, and it would be perfectly acceptable:
However, Business Express would probably save you time and ensure you got in quickly.
How Yahoo Works
Recently updated and expanded, it will take you by the hand through the issues of proper category selection, submitting to multiple categories, using the email support option for free listings and other issues.
In case you forgot your password, this will help you access the page above and the LookSmart one, below.
How LookSmart Works
More details on submitting to LookSmart and its paid submission program
Yahoo Business Express Help
More information from Yahoo about its express service.
Business Express: Frequently Asked Questions
New page at Yahoo specifically about the Business Express change.
Pay For Placement?
Articles with more background about paid submission programs at Yahoo and LookSmart can be found here.
AltaVista Latest To Carry GoTo Paid Listings
AltaVista is supposed to begin carrying paid links provided by GoTo.com today on its main site, making it the latest major search engine to be co-opted by the paid placement service.
GoTo currently has paid links appearing live at Netscape Search and AOL Search, and they should appear at Lycos and HotBot within the next two weeks, GoTo says.
Three GoTo paid links are to appear in a "Sponsored Listings" section that will appear at the bottom of AltaVista's search results page. In addition, AltaVista will also carry five links "above the fold" or at the very top of the branded listings it provides to those using its free internet access service, reaching the site through the Compaq keyboard link and other means.
The deal firmly establishes GoTo as a premier provider of paid listings to major search engines. It has also made the ability for site owners to "buy their way to the top" widely possible for the first time in the search engine market.
At the beginning of this year, none of the top ten most popular search engines had any type of paid placement program. Now, four of them do (AOL Search, AltaVista, Lycos, Netscape Search). The remaining six (Excite, Go, iWon, MSN Search, NBCi, Yahoo), still do not, but that's likely to change. (NBCi does carry paid listings, but not as prominently as the four previously named).
The numbers are even more dramatic when you go to the top fifteen search engines. Of these, 60 percent have a prominent paid links program. GoTo powers six of the programs, while the three others run their own. If metacrawlers were included, GoTo would have an even bigger presence.
I've written before about GoTo's changing distribution strategy, but it bears repeating for those bidding at the service. GoTo's goal is no longer to drive traffic to its own site. Rather, they are well along a path of distributing their links to others. This means that to get the most traffic, you'll really need to focus on being among GoTo's top bidders. While GoTo presents 40 results per page, its partners pick up much less. That means being in the top 40 isn't enough, especially as the traffic to GoTo.com itself will begin to drop over time. Instead, you'll need to be much higher up. Here's an at-a-glance guide where your listing will be carried, based on bid position:
Top two bids: AltaVista, AOL Search, HotBot, Lycos, Netscape Search, Search.com, major metacrawlers
Top three bids: AltaVista, AOL Search, HotBot, Lycos, Search.com, major metacrawlers
Top ten bids: Major metacrawlers
In other words, if you are one of the top two bidders for a particular word, you'll have the widest distribution. Drop to position three, and suddenly your link won't appear on Netscape Search for that word, since it carries only two GoTo links. Drop to positions five through 10, and it's pretty much only the major metacrawlers will carry your link.
There are some exceptions. HotBot and Lycos aren't live, of course. When links do go live there, three are to be displayed above the fold, then additional ones may be integrated into the regular results. For example, HotBot will apparently use the number four bid as its number 10 result (and presumably, won't label this as a paid link, but we'll see).
NBCi is also experimenting with GoTo links as "Search Marketplace" listings that appear after NBCi's own editor-approved directory, user-submitted LiveDirectory and Inktomi crawler-based listings. GoTo links are also being rotated in more prominent spots at NBCi, while the service tests them.
GoTo links are also supposed to be rotated in various spots around AltaVista, in addition to their above the fold placement. GoTo results also appear in the metasearch listings at the bottom of Ask Jeeves result pages.
Finally, some partners such as CompuServe simply use GoTo's results as their primary listings, rather than supplementary ones. There are also many smaller sites that carry GoTo listings. So, even if you aren't in the top 10 spots, you'll still get some traffic -- just not as much as you could if presented prominently on the most important services.
As a consequence to the higher traffic GoTo is now generating, some of its advertisers are seeking out more targeted terms, so that they can affordably be distributed across the network. After all, with increased competition to be in the very top spots, bids for particular words can easily exceed a few dollars. Fortunately, GoTo says that its search term suggestion tool available to advertisers does collect queries from across its network. In other words, when you use it, you are seeing what terms are most popular not just at GoTo, but also at Netscape Search, AOL Search and its other partners, mixed in. That should help you have more faith that unusual terms aren't just oddities that rise to the top because of GoTo.com's own relatively low traffic.
The major search engine deals announced are just for the US. However, you might see GoTo paid links appear at its partners non-US editions, in the future.
"We are in discussions with our affiliates about extending our relationship with them in the UK. We're also planning to expand internationally, and we'd expect many if not all our partners would want to work with us in other countries," said GoTo's executive vice president Harry Chandler.
When the AOL deal was announced, GoTo valued it as a $50 million multiyear agreement. No amounts were given for the recent deal with Lycos, but Chandler described it as "not dissimilar" in size to AOL and the AltaVista deal simply as "significant" in terms of expected revenues generated for both parties. The ability for search engines to maximize revenue from the search pages without having to create a paid listing system from scratch is a key part of GoTo's continuing success.
"When search companies look at their revenue per page, which is a key metric, and they look at adding GoTo results, the nature of the amounts is attractive," Chandler said.
It's also the reason GoTo is expecting to land some additional major players in the future.
"The top search engines are one by one coming to the conclusion that this is a good idea," Chandler said. "We expect more, and a number of conversations are occurring."
AltaVista Branded Results
You can see how the top five GoTo results have been integrated into this version of AltaVista distributed through some of its partners. Implementation on the main site will be different.
How GoTo Works
I haven't updated the page with the partner data yet, but the basics of bidding are there. Also, links to the recent articles about other GoTo partnerships, GoTo's UK launch and its change in distribution strategy are right at the top of the page.
Pay For Placement?
A guide to paid placement at the major search engines and links to articles on the subject.
AltaVista Latest To Carry GoTo Paid Listings
SearchEngineWatch.com, Nov. 16, 2000
Shorter online version of this article with a chart showing who uses GoTo links, who has their own paid links system and who remains without them.
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