AltaVista Opens Paid Inclusion

After months of talking about it, AltaVista finally unveiled a paid inclusion program last week. Similar to the program Inktomi began offering last September, this guarantees that submitted pages will be listed within AltaVista's web page index in a prompt manner and revisited on a regular basis.

AltaVista has hinted that it was going to offer paid inclusion since late last year and even accidentally posted pages promoting its "bulk inclusion" program when it introduced its "ransom note" Add URL puzzle system back in March. The company has finally followed through on this by launching its new "Express Inclusion" program.

The program allows you to submit up to 500 URLs, which will be visited on a weekly basis. This means that a brand new page submitted to AltaVista through the program should show up in about week, or changes to existing pages should be reflected in about a week.

Notice I said changes will show up in "about a week," not weekly. While the spider will revisit weekly, it could take longer than this for the changes to be reflected in the index. This is because the index might be refreshed before any new changes can be reported by the spider. Hard to understand? Consider this example:

On Friday, the paid inclusion spider visits your page. Then on Monday, you make a change. On Thursday, AltaVista refreshes its index, unaware of your change, because it happened after the paid inclusion spider made its visit. Now its Friday again, and the spider returns to your site on its weekly schedule and finds the changes. However, the changes don't appear until AltaVista again updates its index on the following Thursday.

In all, 10 days have elapsed from when your page was changed to when the changes appeared in AltaVista, despite the fact that the paid inclusion spider did visit you each week, as promised.

AltaVista says that it plans to continue updating its index each week, so in the worst case, you'd be looking at up to two weeks before the changes appear, should the spidering and index refresh cycles align badly. On the flip side, the cycles could also align so that you might find your changes appear in AltaVista in less than a week.

AltaVista's pricing is more expensive than Inktomi's paid inclusion program -- much more -- starting at US $78 per year for the first URL and dropping in price as follows:

URL 1: $78
URLs 2-10: $48.00
URLs 11-100: $38.00
URLs 101-500: $24.00

AltaVista actually sells its service on a six month basis, so you can get started with paid inclusion for half the prices shown on the list above. I've changed the figures to yearly pricing, so you can more easily compare to Inktomi's paid inclusion prices, where service is sold by the year.

Here's Inktomi's current charges, as sold through Position Technologies:

URL 1: $30
URLs 2-20: $15
URLs 21-1000: $12

As you can see, AltaVista's prices are easily double what Inktomi charges. To include 25 pages for a year with Inktomi would be $375, while at AltaVista, the same number of pages for the same time period would be $1,080 -- almost three times what Inktomi charges. In addition, you cannot swap URLs, as you can with Inktomi. However, there is no problem with completely changing the page content as often as you like, AltaVista says

Is AltaVista's program worth this premium? To AltaVista's credit, its crawler-based listings are the main information presented on its results page. In contrast, Inktomi's listings tend to be used by portal partners as backup to other results. For instance, you will get Inktomi information at MSN Search, but usually only for more obscure or unusual results. This means it is possible your AltaVista listings might get seen by more people. However, it's also true that Inktomi's results are distributed to a wide range of portals.

Still, more than $1,000 for 25 pages and no guarantee that they will bring in any traffic? Rather than that gamble, it might make more sense to put the money into AltaVista's separate paid listing program or into GoTo listings, which are carried on AltaVista's pages.

Remember, you can continue to use the free Add URL page to add new pages to AltaVista. Now called "Basic Submit," the downside is that you have to enter a ransom note message for each batch of five URLs that you add. In addition, the former weekly insertion schedule has now been downgraded to 4 to 6 weeks, to make the paid inclusion program more attractive. Of course, that's not out of line with the delay Inktomi has when using free Add URL pages to submit to it. The biggest drawback is simply the uncertainty. There's no guarantee that your pages will get picked up.

Before you panic, remember that AltaVista is also continuing to add pages for free, through its regular crawling. It also still promises to revisit pages in its index each month. That means you may already have plenty of pages listed, and they should stay there despite the addition of the paid inclusion program. Nor will those non-paid pages be downgraded in relevancy.

"We're not going to penalize in relevance the people who are adding through free Add URL," said Chris Kermoian, director of search and web marketing services for AltaVista. "We'll also still go through our standard crawling process."

At the prices being charged, the AltaVista program only seems worthwhile if you have new pages you absolutely must get listed right away or you have pages that you absolutely must get refreshed on a weekly basis. Neither situation is probably true for the small and medium-sized businesses that AltaVista says this program is aimed at, probably aren't in this category.

As for big businesses, another program for them that probably will promise better pricing is being considered.

"This is the first of the programs that we will be rolling out," Kermoian said. "We'll have more programs for larger sites later on."

Is it anything goes for submitting with the paid program? Nope. AltaVista says it won't accept pages that do things such as use invisible or tiny text, those that attempt to mislead, mirror pages, doorway-style pages with no real content or those that only link or redirect to other pages.

By the way, should you enroll in the program and then decide not to renew, your URL is not supposed to be dropped, AltaVista says. It simply won't be revisited as often as the program allows.

infoSpider is the company that is handling the paid inclusion system for AltaVista. infoSpider is also a sister company to submission services of WorldSubmit, ProBoost, and ProBoostGold. However, you needn't use any of these other services to take advantage of AltaVista's program.

How about non-US editions of AltaVista. How does the paid inclusion system work for them? I didn't get an answer back in time for the newsletter, so I'll let you know what I hear in the future. My assumption is that paid inclusion only inserts your pages into the global index that all AltaVista sites use for worldwide results.

Speaking of non-US editions, AltaVista is taking over direct control of AltaVista Canada, which has been run under license by Telus since its launch several years ago. The site will continue to operate and index pages like AltaVista's other non-US editions.

Back to US-based, there were two other developments of note last month.

First, AltaVista has dropped the "Directory" search option that was previously available. This makes it much harder for people to encounter the LookSmart listings that AltaVista licenses.

"The directory link won't be coming back," said AltaVista spokesperson Kristi Kaspar. "We've found historically with directories that people aren't certain exactly what to do with them."

Instead, AltaVista will continue to make directory listings available to those who browse links from its home page and in vertical search products that it may develop.

The promotion of submitting to LookSmart has also been dropped from AltaVista's Add URL page, with AltaVista's new paid inclusion program being promoted, instead.

Finally, the paid links area at AltaVista has continued to be a bouncing ball. It was briefly changed to being called "Sponsored Listings" in June, and I would have loved to see AltaVista stick with this clearer definition. However, it was changed back to being called "Featured Listings" later in the month.

"Featured listings is the title that not only seems to get a high clickthrough rate for us but also doesn't seem to bother the users," Kaspar said.

Meanwhile, the number of listings that appear there has continued to fluctuate. Sometimes there have been two links, sometimes three links, and sometimes there are no links -- even for queries where there are GoTo bids. I have no doubt we'll continue to see this fluctuate, as AltaVista continues to experiment.


AltaVista Express Inclusion

AltaVista Free Add URL

IMPORTANT! If you fail to include the ? at the end of the URL above, you will only get a blank page.

How AltaVista Works

I'll be adding the latest changes to this page later in July, but the explanations on how pages are ranked, how to submit via free Add URL, how non-US editions work are all still valid.

AltaVista reclaims Canadian portal
The Globe and Mail, June 20, 2001

More about the end of the AltaVista-Telus relationship in Canada. Sorry about the long URL.