Free Listings Gone At LookSmart

In mid-May, LookSmart ceased accepting free submissions to the US-edition of its directory. The company says that this is not yet a permanent move.

"We are in the middle of price testing on the Express Submit product," said spokesperson Liz Connaghan. Previously, LookSmart tested paid-only submissions for commercial sites for two days in April, then returned to allowing commercial sites to use its free submission option.

Currently, there is no free option at all for any type of site. Instead, sites must choose either a $199 "Express" option that promises to review and possibly list a site within 48 hours, with a refund if the site is deemed ineligible, or a $49 option promising a turnaround time of eight weeks or less, with no refund.

LookSmart is a very important directory, especially given that it powers the main results at MSN Search and provides Excite with most of its directory listings. Consequently, it is still extremely worthwhile paying to use the more expensive express service. Even if you are on a tight budget, you should still strongly consider using it because of the potential traffic you will quickly gain.

If you absolutely cannot pay the higher rate, then you may wish to keep checking back at LookSmart. During its testing, LookSmart has offered a non-express option for free, for $25 and now for $49. Given this, there is a chance you may find that the price drops or returns to being free. However, I'd strongly advise spending the extra money to use the faster express option. That price hasn't changed since it was first launched, and there's value inherent in getting listed quickly.

Should the change be made permanent, LookSmart would become the first major directory to use an all-paid submission model. This raises issues about whether some sites will be excluded because they cannot afford to pay. I appreciate having the paid submit option, because it makes life much easier for those trying to get sites listed promptly. However, I'd also like to see some type of free submit option remain, complete with a commitment to also process relevant sites this way in a prompt manner. The balancing act LookSmart faces is how to offer both, without everyone simply choosing the free option. One palatable solution may be to require businesses to use a paid submit service, while non-commercial sites can use a free option, a discounted express option, or both.

From a searcher's point of view, a paid submit system means that the money generated can help support a staff of professional editors catalog the web. Some people prefer this to the Open Directory model of making cataloging affordable by using volunteers, which has allowed some categories to be manipulated by editors with their own agendas. However, there's also a danger by tapping into the cash which paid submit offers, a directory may also loosen its editorial control. LookSmart says it has no intention of doing this.

"This is one of the reasons submissions are handled by editorial staff," said Kate Wingerson, LookSmart's editor in chief. "They don't have any pressure on them to feel they have to accept sites." She added that LookSmart would continue to add any site it considered important as part of its normal editorial process, regardless of whether it had actively submitted to the directory or paid a listing fee.

If you submit to LookSmart, one slight change is that you no longer need to select a category. You can go straight to a submission page, enter your site details, and then LookSmart's editors will list your site in one or more categories, as appropriate.

However, I would suggest taking the time to research the appropriate category for your web site, then submit from within that category. When you do this, the category you selected will be passed on behind the scenes to the LookSmart editor that processes your submission, and they'll consider using it. Since the category you are listed in can influence the traffic you receive for particular queries, it is worth making this extra effort.

Should you find that you wind up in a category that doesn't seem right, don't be afraid to follow up with LookSmart and politely explain why you belong in another location. The editors may not have understood properly how your site should be classified, so you may be helping them.

"We do get customer service enquires after the fact," said Kristin Morse, LookSmart's director of ecommerce. "It's in our best interest that users get categorized where they belong." She cited an example of a company that was listed among cabin rentals. The company explained why, while they had cabins, they were more appropriately listed in a hotel category. As a result, the category was changed, Morse said.

Submission of sub-sections of your web site is also still acceptable. For example, if you had a web site that dealt with inline skating, you could submit the site's home page to the inline skating guides category, while also submitting a subsection about safety to the inline skating safety category.

LookSmart Express

New details of the submission process can be found here, and you can submit from this page if you choose not to navigate to a particular category. By the way, some readers have asked if I am aware that a quote from one of my previous articles recommending the service is prominently placed on the page. I am, and I am comfortable with them citing this, since it was part of a review and still reflects my opinion that using the option is beneficial.

How LookSmart Works

Some additional details about selecting the right category at LookSmart can be found here.

LookSmart Launches Express Submission Service
The Search Engine Update, Feb. 3, 2000

More details about LookSmart's express submission option, from when it launched.

Growing Pains At Volunteer Directories
The Search Engine Update, March 3, 2000

Discusses some problems that have happened with using volunteers to process submissions.