AltaVista Paid Listings Q&A

Note: AltaVista's Paid Listings program was discontinued as of July 22, 1999.

AltaVista Paid Relevant Links

The article below was written before the public system opened, and it will no longer be updated. Instead, information on the paid program will eventually be integrated into the How AltaVista Works page.


Ready to purchase paid listings on AltaVista? The program is still being developed, but this Q&A should help bring you up-to-speed on what to expect.

Who has paid links now?

Existing banner advertisers at AltaVista were invited to participate in an auction that was held from April 7 through April 14, for placements running from April 19 through May 9th. A second auction began on April 19 and ended May 5. Placements from the second auction will run from May 10 through May 30. As of May 1, about 140 advertisers had bid for about 900 terms, according to AltaVista.

Are paid links only open to banner advertisers?

No, AltaVista has every intention of opening the auction to anyone. There are going to be additional "manual" auctions among existing banner advertisers for placements for the coming weeks. But by late June or early July, AltaVista is promising that an automated system will be in place to accepts bids from anyone, with a credit card payment option.

Can I get started sooner?

You could begin a banner ad run, which may allow you to participate in the current auction. Contact DoubleClick for details on banner advertising. Otherwise, fill out the interest form at the AltaVista web site. Here's the link:

What is this interest form? Does it guarantee I'll be able to bid on my terms?

It's merely a form for DoubleClick to gather names. It doesn't mean that you're in any sort of queue for a future auction. Instead, anyone who fills it out should be informed when the automatic auction system is available. You'll still need to go back and enroll in that system. Fill it out the form, but also monitor the AltaVista site for news. I'll also keep you informed on developments.

Who's DoubleClick and why are they involved?

DoubleClick is the agency that oversees placement of ads on AltaVista. It has been given the task of also overseeing the paid placement program.

How many paid listings are there in the results?

AltaVista displayed up to two paid listings per search term as part of the first auction. For the second auction and possibly subsequent ones, only one paid listing per term will be shown.

"Why the change? We want to provide a quality user experience first and foremost until we work out some design issues on this side. We will be migrating back to two listings in the future, most likely around the automatic auction time period," said AltaVista spokesperson Eileen Quinn.

What looks to be a leaked planning document from AltaVista indicates that more than two listings per search term might happen in the future. See below for details about this document.

Where do these listings appear?

They are placed in a box just above the crawler-based results -- these are the ones that are numbered 1 through 10. The listings look just like the crawler-based results, except that the first one begins with the letter A and the second begins with the letter B.

Who controls the title, description and URL that are used?

You do -- so write a title and description that you think will be enticing, and feel free to direct users directly to a relevant portion of your web site.

Can I buy any listing?

Yes, as long as you are considered relevant in some way for that term. If your site has nothing to do with MP3, then you shouldn't be able to purchase that term. AltaVista says it is still working out guidelines on relevancy and situations involving bids on trademarked terms that an advertiser doesn't own.

The leaked document provides more details about what may not be acceptable.

Is there a minimum spend? How can I know I won't exceed my budget?

AltaVista says it is working out a system so advertisers can budget how much they wish to spend. For instance, at GoTo, you designate a budget amount before hand. If you hit this amount, your listing no longer runs and someone else moves up. In this way, you don't exceed your budget while GoTo can continue to make money off the term.

The leaked document indicates that AltaVista would take your bid and multiply it by 20% of the normal number of searches for the term. That would be your maximum commitment.

How much do terms cost?

There's a minimum cost of 25 cents per term. That's how much you agree to pay AltaVista for each person clicking on your link. However, the final cost depends on the outcome of the auction. As people bid against each other, the clickthrough price rises. Bids must be made in 5 cent increments. An existing advertiser said that most terms they bidded on did not exceed $1.

Are bids tied to exact words?

Yes. You need to bid for each exact term, at the moment. In other words, if you bid for "dog," you won't be found for "dogs" or "dog collar." You need to bid for each individual term of interest. In contrast, will consolidate plurals and singulars. A bid for "dog" means you would also appear for "dogs," but "dog collars" would remain a separate bid.

The leaked document seems to indicate singulars and plurals will be combined at AltaVista, and that you can only bid on one or two word terms.

I want to bid on terms for my clients. Is there an agency discount?

Apparently not, at the moment.

AltaVista has paid links??? When did this happen?

This article explains all:

AltaVista Launches Paid Listings
The Search Engine Report, May 4, 1999

What is this leaked planning document you mentioned?

It looks to be a summary of AltaVista's future plans for paid listings and also covers advertising policies. I have no idea if it actually comes from AltaVista, but it certainly appears legitimate. You can find it at the web address below, where it was posted in May. Here are some important points from it.

  • "AV shall begin with no more than 2 "Relevant Paid Links" on a given search, however we may increase this over time for certain categories or for all searches"
  • Auctions would run from Wednesday to Thursdays with placements running from Monday through Sundays
  • "AV has the option to establish a higher minimum bid for premium or specialty keywords or terms."
  • Existing rules forbid banner advertisements from free email sites, competing search engines, tobacco ads, Systran Translation competitors (they power AV's translation service), Amazon competitors (and Amazon has exclusive rights to keywords such as books, bookstores, booksellers), travel sites that compete with and most alcohol ads.

The document can be found here: