LookSmart Aims To Mend Fences

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Nearly two months into its new pay-per-click listing program, LookSmart has posted a letter on its web site from chairman and CEO Evan Thornley to answer questions and concerns from customers. The letter, made available last Friday, has also been circulated to various search engine forums.

In the letter, Thornley defends the higher pricing of the new LookListings Small Business program as necessary in order for LookSmart to build distribution partners, explains that "grandfathering" old customers to exclude them from new pay-per-click fees would have "disadvantaged" attracting new customers, discusses reporting problems that have made some people question LookSmart's statistics and pledges to use a more "personal approach" rather than a "big company" tone in resolving issues and in communications with customers.

The letter concludes with a FAQ section that answers the most common questions LookSmart says it has been hearing, such as about reporting problems, stressing that credit cards will not be charged if "free" accounts are activated without increasing their budgets and noting that accounts with multiple listings can have budgets set for each listing.

The letter is part of a new effort by LookSmart to win over critics and calm some concerns that have cropped up since the LookListings Small Business program was unveiled in April. The company is also planning a survey in the near future to better understand complaints and needs of small search engine marketers, it says.

"We've seen a really good uptake in the product and a positive response from the majority of users," said Robert Goldberg, LookSmart's senior vice president of sales and marketing. "Most of the negative feedback is from a small and important user base, which is SEOs. We've started a large outreach program to understand the issues that they are facing."

Two of the biggest issues LookSmart says it has been hearing about are relating to reporting and budgeting. Here's a further look at those:

Reporting Issues

LookSmart says that companies have been complaining that LookSmart's tracking system will show a large number of clicks to their site which cannot be verified when the companies reconcile against their own traffic logs. LookSmart says its "batch processing" of clicks before reporting is to blame.

What's happening is that LookSmart is processing clicks through a fraud detection system, to clear out robotic clicks or those from the same person who might be purposely clicking excessively on a listing. However, it doesn't do this processing each day. Instead, a couple of days may go by, then an entire "batch" of clicks is processed and posted to your account. That makes it seem that there was a sudden "spike" in your traffic, when in reality, it was simply that traffic from several days was suddenly posted all at once.

"Our goal is to do it each day, so it's nice and even and the trend line is something they can plot," said Tony Mamone, LookSmart's vice president and general manager of small business services. "We're working as quickly as we can, and my guess is that it will be sometime in the next couple of weeks."

Budget Issues

LookSmart says that a number of people with multiple listings in one account apparently didn't realize that they could assign a budget to each listing. Failure to do this means that a "popular" listing could eat up all the free or paid clicks in an account.

In contrast, by setting a budget for each listing, you can prevent one listing from using up all the credit and ensure that other listings in the same account have a chance to appear.

LookSmart says it has now been made more prominent in the account management system about how to assign budgets to each listing and help files providing further explanation are being drafted.

A longer, more detailed version of this article is
available to Search Engine Watch members.
Click here to learn more about becoming a member

Update for our Small Business Listings Customers
LookSmart, June 1, 2002

The letter from LookSmart chairman and CEO Evan Thornley.

LookSmart Changes To Cost-Per-Click Listings
The Search Engine Report, May 6, 2002

Explains how the new LookListings Small Business program works and covers complaints and concerns that have arisen from it.

LookSmart Hit With Potential Class Action Lawsuit Over Submission Program
The Search Engine Report, June 3, 2002

A proposed class action lawsuit claiming breach of contract, fraudulent business practices and misleading advertising has been filed against LookSmart over a recent change in how the company sells some of its commercial web site listings.

Seething Over the Search for Cash
Wired, May 23, 2002

Recent article about complaints over the new LookSmart program, ironically noting that the same company LookSmart uses to highlight the success of its new program also wishes MSN would drop LookSmart and use a "cheaper listing service," since his expenses are now higher.