Just over a year ago, I wrote how AltaVista's paid inclusion program seemed to be giving a boost to some content submitted through its trusted feed program. Now it appears what was then explained as an "index blending" problem has returned.
When compiling today's Search Engine Update newsletter, I ran a check on an unusual term at both AltaVista and AllTheWeb, to see if the two services are finally using the same database. That's long been expected in the wake of their acquisition by Overture (which itself is now owned by Yahoo).
I didn't find that the same database is yet being used. However, the comparison did make me notice how listings for Drugstore.com and PriceGrabber.com at AltaVista made it into the top results. For the query I was doing, it was odd for them to do so well.
I then did some further checking on terms that I can tell Drugstore.com would like to do well for, given that they appear in the title tags of pages that I can tell from URL coding were submitted through the AltaVista Trusted Feed program.
Result? I found that for many of the terms I checked, Drugstore.com was doing very well indeed. In addition, while I was only checking on Drugstore.com, it was notable how often PriceGrabber also seemed to come up, along with a few other companies. Here's a rundown on findings:
- nicotine gum: ranked 1 out of 34,475 results
- inhalers: ranked 1 out of 41,577 results
- shampoo: ranked 1 out of 754,738 results, (PriceGrabber at 2, PETCO at 5, Babyuniverse.com at 10)
- toothpaste: ranked 2 out of 237,831 results (PriceGrabber at 4, PETCO at 6th)
- pancake: ranked 2 out of 425,177 results (PriceGrabber at 4,
- garlic: ranked 2 out of 1,277,416 results (PriceGrabber at 6, PETCO at 7)
- pillows: ranked 2 out of 1,298,102 results (Office Depot at 3, PriceGrabber at 6,
- batteries: ranked 9 out of 3,429,892 results (ThomasRegister at 2, BizRate at 5, PriceGrabber at 6)
- tape: ranked 10 out of 7,221,623 results (ThomasRegister at 2, BizRate at 4, PriceGrabber at 5
- ice cream: ranked 18 out of 1,557,527 results (PriceGrabber at 11, ThomasRegister at 2)
Of course, it should be noted that Drugstore.com did manage to get top rankings for the first four terms on that list at Yahoo-owned Inktomi for pages that do not appear to be part of any paid inclusion program. In other words, at Inktomi, it succeeded "naturally."
The pages do have the words "sespider" as part of their URLs, but that seems to be a sign that the pages may have been set up to be spider-friendly for success with natural optimization rather than submitted for paid inclusion. In addition, they show no signs of cloaking or over-optimization, so it underscores that even without paid inclusion, commercial content can and will show up in "unpaid" listings. Indeed, Drugstore.com gets a top ranking for nicotine gum at Google, which lacks paid inclusion entirely.
Unlike last year, AltaVista didn't offer up a specific reason why this particular paid inclusion content seemed to be doing so well. To be fair, they only had about three hours to review the findings and come back with a response. That was mainly to stress that paid inclusion isn't providing a boost, and that the goal is to continue fine-tuning things to get the balancing act correct.
"The objective remains to provide the highest quality results possible. We are constantly monitoring these results to ensure that all sites within our index are treated in a fair and balanced way and we'll continue to improve upon our technology to make sure that this happens," said Yahoo spokesperson Diana Lee.
I'd also stress that I haven't gone through to judge the relevancy of these listings. AltaVista's results, even with the well-performing paid inclusion URLs, could be more relevant than searches on competitors such as Google or Teoma.