You can't buy a better search engine listing in the major search engines. None of the search engines will do this, in part because Open Text's experiment with it in mid-1996 produced terrible publicity. Listings have become like the editorial content of a newspaper. They're supposed to be independently produced and not influenced by an advertiser's wishes.
So what's an advertiser to do? Transform yourself into a "content" provider, and suddenly you legitimize receiving preferential treatment.
That's what Amazon.com has recently done with Excite and Yahoo. The online bookseller announced agreements on July 7 with both services to help ensure that those looking for books will be directed toward Amazon.com.
Over the coming year, when you search for a book in either service, you're going to be seeing links to related books listed within the Amazon.com web site. Amazon.com is also going to produce book-related content for Excite.
This is just one of the latest pseudo-editorial deals that have been announced recently. Ticketmaster and Excite announced a similar partnership in June. WebCrawler's new "Shortcuts" that debuted in June are also another way of transforming advertising content into what seems to be editorial content.
To be fair, some of this "content" is going to be welcomed by many searchers. It will be very convenient to do a search for the latest Tom Clancy novel and get a link taking you directly to where you can buy the book online, for example.
But is this content, as we traditionally know it? Would Amazon.com produce the book review for your local newspaper? It's not likely -- that's what book reviewers are supposed to be doing. Readers are depending on them to be impartial.
Deals like that announced by Amazon.com should be seen less as "content partnerships" or "new services" and more as advertising deals. That's not necessarily bad. As mentioned above, many people will find it nice to get direct links to Amazon.com's book sales information.
But the search-enhancement is one-sided: a query is not being sent to other online booksellers to find the best price. That makes deals like these less a service for users and more a service for the advertising-content partners.
Amazon.com making book
News.com, July 8, 1997
Online services, Web sites rake in retail bucks in marketing deals
@Computerworld, July 11, 1997
Yahoo Press Release
Yahoo, July 7, 1997
Excite Press Release
Excite, July 7, 1997