Ask the Search Engine: Paid Placement vs. Paid Inclusion

What's the Difference Between Paid Placement and Paid Inclusion?

by Stephen Baker, FAST Search and Transfer

Paid placement, or pay for placement (PFP) is a model whereby advertisers, webmasters, search engine optimization specialists (SEOs), etc. pay to have their pages/content included and ranked artificially higher than other results in an index of similar or competitive content. The ranking mechanism is typically keyword driven where the marketer purchases or bids on certain keywords or key phrases to return a specified URL.

Typically, the higher the bid, the better the ranking of the result, generally regardless of relevancy. Paid placements are generally marked as such by being referred to within results as "Features Listings," "Sponsored Links," etc. The key PFP services include Overture, Google, Ah-ha, and LookSmart.

Paid Inclusion, or pay for inclusion (PFI) is a different model than pay for placement. PFI allows web marketers pay to have guaranteed inclusion and refresh (in the case of crawler-based services) in the index. The services are usually priced on a per-URL basis and typically guarantee a year of inclusion. For volume submissions, greater than 1,000 URL's, for example, the marketer often pays on a cost-per-click basis.

Paid inclusion only guarantees scheduled index inclusion; it has no effect on ranking. However, most of the crawler-based engines do consider refresh rate in the ranking algorithms. The key players in the PFI market are FAST, Inktomi, AltaVista, and the LookSmart and Yahoo directories.

Webmaster/Web Marketer Point of View

PFP services are positioned as search engine marketing services, allowing the clients to manage search-engine marketing campaigns. PFP services provide the Webmaster with many tools to manage their PFP campaigns, including editorial services, to help select keywords/phrases and create teasers, and budget management tools which allow the webmaster to create a monthly spend budget tied in with bid-price and number of impressions. PFP services guarantee certain rankings based on a monetary basis.

PFI Services provide reporting tools, such as click through logs, impressions, keyword lists, etc. that allow the Webmaster to understand how searchers query the major crawler based engines. This is valuable data as it enables the Webmaster to more effectively create content for their site, based on the business goals and objectives of the site.

Since PFI services are usually fixed cost per URL, the budget concerns are minimized; a Webmaster pays a fixed-fee per URL and is guaranteed inclusion for a year. PFI services guarantee freshest content is available within the index, with ranking based on relevancy rather than monetary basis. With FAST PartnerSite, a hosted (ASP) site search application is included with the service. This enables the Webmaster to kill two birds with one stone to improve site navigation through the site search application and achieve broad search engine audience reach by being included in the FAST index.

For both PFP and PFI there are two things to keep in mind:

1. Reach. Choose the services that provide the Webmaster with the desired audience reach and demographics.

2. Spam. Both services employ and enforce strong spam filtering algorithms and policies, so inclusion will not be guaranteed if spam is submitted.

Searcher Concerns with PFP and PFI

Search results are definitely becoming confusing for the end-user. Unless clearly marked, the searcher has no idea if they are receiving a result that has been paid to be ranked higher or one that has been ranked by a crawler based engine's un-biased algorithms.

Some search engines, such as Lycos and Google, very clearly identify which results are paid for and which are not. Sites that incorporate both PFP and PFI listing must be responsible in this respect, if they are to provide a quality search service and user experience. That said, the PFP and PFI engines must also be responsible about how they handle paid-for content.

Search Engine Responsibilities

For search engines, it's about the business model. Running a crawler-based engine, for example, requires thousands of servers, multiple data centers with fault-tolerant systems, tons of bandwidth to continuously crawl and facilitate queries, and a killer operations staff; the associated costs can be very high.

Before the banner-ad meltdown, search engines, such as FAST, used to share advertising revenue with portals based on the keyword banner inventory sold against search results. Now, with search engines driving the majority of e-commerce traffic, web marketers have an incentive to partner with the search engines for search engine marketing services.

That said, we search engine operators need to be responsible as well. One of the reasons why banner-ads failed was because of spam. Most banner ads are run-of-site and not very targeted; hence, the users grew resistance to them, often not noticing ads on web pages. If PFP and PFI providers are not responsible about editorial control, the same user indifference will happen.

For PFP engines, the challenge is to monitor the key phrases that marketers are bidding on and the abstracts that are submitted. There is also the risk of "Perceived Relevancy" where the searcher is shown non-relevant results, both geographical and content, because the bid-system is allowing too many low-quality/non-brand-name customers into their index.

For PFI engines, the "Perceived Relevancy" problem is less of an issue because we use static rank (link analysis) and dynamic rank (keywords, etc.) to determine relevancy. The challenge, of course, is to remain very strict on spam detection and elimination. The day that a query for e.g. "US census statistics" provides e-commerce results is the day that PFI has failed.

Put another way, FAST has over 600 million docs in its index. It is not likely that there will be more than 10 or 20 million PFI docs, or less than 3% of the content. If these 3% of the docs account for over 50% of impressions, then we will have failed.

If PFP and PFI services are not responsible, users will receive non-relevant results for their queries and click-through rates will drop (just like banner-ads) and portals/search destination will lose valuable search traffic.

Coming back to the searcher, it is too easy to tell them to use a PFP service if they are looking for shopping/e-commerce content and to use one of the crawler-based engines for unbiased results that might include PFI content. However, this is not enough. It is the responsibility of the search engine and the portal to provide quality search.

This means two things: First, only providing PFP/PFI data for highly relevant/targeted queries; and second, incorporating brand recognition into PFP/PFI relevancy calculations.

Stephen Baker is Director of Business Development & Marketing, Internet Business Unit, for Fast Search & Transfer. FAST powers Lycos search results, several regional search engines, and its own search engine.

Google Launches News Search Beta

Google has launched the beta of its News Search, enabling users to search more than 100 leading English-language publications including The New York Times, CNET and the Herald Tribune.

Like most "beta" programs launched by Google, the interface is solid, and results look similar to the Google News Headlines service. "Google News Search groups related stories together and presents them in an easy-to-read format in the search results page," said Google spokesperson Nate Tyler. "Google updates its index of news sources approximately every hour throughout the day."

Tyler says possible future enhancements include more international news sources, and search interface enhancements based on user feedback.

Google also announced four new international domains: Chile <>, Argentina <>, Panama <> and Austria <>.

Google News Search

Search Headlines

NOTE: Article links often change. In case of a bad link, use the publication's search facility, which most have, and search for the headline.

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About the author

Chris Sherman is a frequent contributor to several information industry journals. He's written several books, including The McGraw-Hill CD ROM Handbook and The Invisible Web: Uncovering Information Sources Search Engines Can't See, co-authored with Gary Price. Chris has written about search and search engines since 1994, when he developed online searching tutorials for several clients. From 1998 to 2001, he was's Web Search Guide.