AltaVista Drops RealNames, Promotes GoTo Link

AltaVista was the first major search engine to add RealNames links to its listings, and but that partnership came to an end last week, and the links are no longer.

"RealNames has been dropped, and we have no plans at this time to bring them back," said Vaughn Rhodes, senior director of product marketing for AltaVista.

RealNames links have been on AltaVista since May 1998, but the two companies failed to agree on a new deal to keep them at AltaVista, according to RealNames.

"We could not reach business terms, so we did not renew our contract," said RealNames spokesperson Katie Greene.

RealNames also inadvertently lost another major search engine relationship with the closure of, when that service switched over to using GoTo's paid listings rather than its own in-house results, last month.

RealNames links continue to be offered at Google, iWon and MSN Search. In addition, RealNames remains the default database that Internet Explorer checks, if someone enters a search phrase into the browser's address bar. These browser resolutions make up half of RealNames resolutions.

"More people are using their browser rather than search engines to directly navigate to the sites they are seeking online. Last week, 52 percent of our total resolutions were from the browser line, or 12.4 million," Greene said. In contrast, AltaVista generated about 8 percent of RealNames resolutions.

For the web marketer, the AltaVista-RealNames partnership was initially a good deal. For a low fee, you could register a RealNames keyword containing the search terms you wished to target. Some AltaVista users who then searched for those search terms would select the RealNames link and in turn be shown several RealNames keywords containing that term. Many site owners found this an effective way to indirectly leap to the top of AltaVista's results and tap into traffic.

Over the past year or so, the fees to register RealNames keywords have risen. In addition, the ability to purchase guaranteed placement on nearly all the major search engines, including AltaVista, has emerged. This combination has made RealNames a less-important means of getting traffic for generic terms via search engines. However, it still remains a system worth examining for those who want to receive traffic for their brand names.

In other developments, AltaVista has integrated a fourth GoTo link into its pages. Last issue, I wrote of new "Featured Site" links that were appearing above AltaVista's regular crawler-based listings. Originally, there was only one link, which was sold via AltaVista's advertising department. Now, a second link has been added, this one coming from GoTo. It will be the top paid listing from GoTo for whatever you search for.

In addition, "Sponsored Listings" from GoTo continue to appear at the bottom of AltaVista's results page. These are now paid listings in position 2, 3 and 4 from GoTo.

While the change is a plus for those advertising via GoTo, it also sees AltaVista backsliding from a policy of openly labeling paid links on its service. The "Featured Site" heading doesn't communicate to users clearly that the links are paid placements. Of course, AltaVista is not alone in being unclear. iWon, HotBot, Lycos and Netscape Search also use language such as "Featured" or "Partner" results, rather than calling the listings what they are, "Sponsored."

The change at AltaVista also shows one of the glaring weaknesses of the GoTo distribution model. Having your links distributed to major search engines is now easy (if you have the money), but knowing exactly how and where they will appear continues to be confusing. One day, the top link from GoTo is at the bottom of AltaVista's results -- the next, without any warning, it shows up at the top of the page. It certainly threw off one Search Engine Watch reader, who wrote:

"It would be helpful if you could explain in one of the upcoming newsletters what exactly AltaVista is doing with regards to their 'Featured Listings'. According to your last newsletter, AltaVista was supposed to be selling these directly, but some of my clients' GoTo listings are appearing under the Featured Listings section at the top of the results."

The reader also asked, "Why should anyone buy a Featured Listing if the site will already be featured via GoTo bidding?"

One answer is control. If you want to be on AltaVista and only AltaVista, their internal program allows this. That can be especially helpful if you feel that AltaVista brings you visitors more likely to convert into customers. Of course, if you are also purchasing GoTo links, also buying AltaVista's own links for the same words probably makes no sense.

Meanwhile, the unexpected change at AltaVista also could produce problems for a GoTo advertiser at number four for a particular word. Suddenly, their listing makes it onto the AltaVista results for the first time -- and perhaps gets a traffic increase (and thus, a cost increase) they were not prepared for.




How AltaVista Works

More about Featured Site links and GoTo links at AltaVista.

Using RealNames Links

Illustrated guide to how RealNames links appear at its major search engine partners. I haven't yet removed the references to AltaVista and Go, but that will happen shortly.