How LookSmart Works

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The articles below appeared in the Search Engine Update newsletter and have important information not yet added to this page. Please review them to find out about any new developments. Further below, you will also find a list of other articles about this search engine that may be of interest.


This page focuses on being listed in the site, from hereon referred to simply as LookSmart. The LookSmart site is primary aimed at those searching for sites in the United States or for English-language sites that appeal to a worldwide audience. Some limited information about country-specific LookSmart editions appears in the Country-Specific Editions section of this page.

It’s important to understand that while some people do go directly to the LookSmart site to search, the company really sees itself as a search provider. LookSmart is more interested providing its listings to other search engines than driving users to the LookSmart web site itself. In fact, the LookSmart site really operates as a showcase for potential advertisers and portal partners.

Given this, the reason to get listed with LookSmart is primarily because you think its partners can send you important traffic. More about LookSmart’s partnerships, including its most important partner MSN Search, can be found below.

The bulk of this page is about getting listing in LookSmart’s human-powered directory. This is because it is the directory results that are the primary information seen by those using LookSmart or its major partners. Information about the crawler-based listings that LookSmart uses is also touched upon.

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Cost Of Commercial Listing

If you operate a commercial web site and would like a single page from that web site (such as the home page) listed within LookSmart’s human-powered results, you must use LookSmart’s LookListings program.

In this program, you’ll pay a non-refundable $29 set-up fee to have your listing reviewed by an editor. If accepted, you’ll then pay LookSmart $0.15 for each time someone clicks on your listing, for the first 5,000 clicks per month. Any clicks over the 5,000 mark in a month are more expensive and priced depending on the business category your listing falls into.

For example, an auto listing is charged $0.15 per click for the first 5,000 clicks generated in a particular month and then $0.23 per click for all clicks over that level. An online gambling listing would also pay $0.15 per click for the first 5,000 clicks. Above this level, it would be charged the highest category CPC rate of $0.75 per click.

Here’s another way to look at it. Let’s say you have an auto listing that generates 1,000 clicks in a month. You’d pay:

$0.15 x 1,000 = $150

Now let’s say you generate 5,000 clicks in a month. The pricing per click stays the same, though you pay more simply because you got more clicks:

$0.15 x 5,000 = $750

Now let’s say you generate 6,000 clicks in a month. The first 5,000 clicks will be at the flat rate of $0.15, then all the clicks over that (1,000 in this case) are charged at $0.23 per click. It works out like this:

$0.15 x 5,000 = $750
$0.23 x 1,000 = $230
Total: 6,000 clicks = $980

Finally, take the same situation as above, but let’s say you are an online gambling site. Now you’ll pay $0.75 for your excess clicks, making the total charge like this:

$0.15 x 5,000 = $750
$0.75 x 1,000 = $750
Total: 6,000 clicks = $1,500

What if you have listings that fall into different business categories? For instance, maybe you sell books and tickets to sporting events. Book listings will cost $0.23 for each click over 5,000 per month, while ticket listings cost $0.30. LookSmart recommends that you create different accounts for different classes of listings. All your book listings would go into one account, while all your ticket listings would go into another.

There’s also a monthly minimum spend requirement for your listing. This means that your click charges must be at least $15 per month. You either spend this much per month with LookSmart on clicks or the company will charge the difference, to meet the minimum spend.

For example, say your clicks cost you $10 in a particular month. LookSmart would then charge the difference, $5, so that you would be billed $15 in total. If your clicks cost $15 or above, then there are no additional charges. By the way, at $0.15 per click, this means your listing needs to get 100 clicks per month to meet the $15 minimum.

Submission Preparation: Good Title & Description

For success with LookSmart, you want the title and description of your listing to contain the main term or terms that you want the listing to be found for. For advice on writing good titles and descriptions with your key terms, see the Submitting To The Yahoo Directory page in Search Engine Watch, in particular the sections on Title and Description. Though this page is written about Yahoo, the same basics tips are applicable to writing well for LookSmart.

LookSmart also operates the Zeal volunteer-based directory, as explained further below. Zeal is a way for LookSmart to obtain non-commercial listings. However, even those submitting commercial listings to LookSmart may benefit from taking the Zeal member quiz. It teaches how to write a description that is more likely to be accepted without change by LookSmart editors. See the Zeal section below for more about this.

Finally, LookSmart provides editorial guidelines for submitting, and these provide other advice on how to submit correctly.

Submission Form

The LookListings submission form asks for five key types of information to create your commercial listing: URL, Title, Description, Tracking URL and Relevancy Keywords. More about each element is explained below, along with any specific tips to consider.


Provide the URL of the particular page you want listed.


One of the key ways LookSmart will rank listings for a particular query is whether the query terms appear within the title of the listings. Those that include the query terms are more likely to come up first.

Because of this, you’ll want to incorporate the most important term or terms you want to be found for into your title, which can be 65 characters long (including spaces). The terms must be relevant to your URL. In addition, if you are submitting a home page, LookSmart may restrict you to using only your company name.

For example, here’s a title you might submit for your home page if you wanted to be found for “running shoes” and your business name was “” – Running Shoes Store

As mentioned, the terms in your title need to be relevant to the URL you submit. In the example above, if the page associated with this title is mainly about running shoes, then the title should be OK. However, if the page is about running shoes and other shoe products, then LookSmart editors might be inclined to change your title, probably shorting it to simply “” This is especially so if you submit the home page of a web site that sells multiple products or covers multiple topics.

Should this happen, don’t worry. You can still fall back on your description as a way to make the listing relevant to the key terms you want it to be found for, if the terms are removed from the title.


Another key way that LookSmart will rank listings for a particular query is whether the query terms appear within the descriptions of the listings. As with titles, listings with descriptions that include query terms are more likely to come up first. They can be up to 170 characters long.

Given this, if you wanted to be found for terms such as “hiking boots,” “running shoes” and “athletic footwear,” you’d want to incorporate these terms into your description, but in a factual way that describes what you offer without using marketing language. Here’s an example that would likely be accepted:

Purchase athletic shoes, running shoes, hiking boots
and other footwear plus try the cross country trail finder

Tracking URL

This is a completely optional bit of information you can provide. Let’s say that you want to list your home page with LookSmart, but you’d also like to make it easier to understand when someone comes to the home page via a LookSmart listing. A tracking URL does this. It lets you enter a URL that might go through a measuring system or which might be appended with special tracking codes.

Relevancy Keywords: This is another optional element. LookSmart allows you to indicate up to 10 terms that you’d like associated with your listing. Relevancy keywords are not magic bullets that will propel your listing to the top of the results, for the terms you indicate. Instead, they simply provide more ordinary text that’s associated with your listing.

This means that if you can’t work an important term into your description, the relevancy keywords area is where you should include it. For example, if you wanted to be found for both “running shoes” and “running shoe,” working those both into a description is difficult, because they are repetitive. Instead, one term might go into your description while the less important term would go into your relevancy keywords area.

Having said this, LookSmart does say that if a term is particularly important, then you should include it in your relevancy keywords even it if also already appears in your description. The additional appearance may help you rank better. However, only include the term once in your relevancy keywords. Repeating it twice or more isn’t supposed to help you.

Relevancy keywords can be between one and three words long. Here’s an example of what you might do, to go along with the title and description examples already shown:

Repeat key terms in the description:
athletic shoes, running shoes, hiking boots

Add new terms not already in the description:
rock climbing shoes, running shoe, walking shoes, sneakers,
skateboarding shoes, moccasins, backpacking boots

Be aware that while LookSmart uses relevancy keywords for ranking purposes, its most important partner MSN Search does not. Given this, don’t worry much about the relevancy keywords option. The crucial thing is to ensure that the terms you want to be found for are in your title (if possible) and description.

Budgeting & Payment

After filling out the initial submission form, you’ll next have to set a budget for your account. This must be at least $15 per month. The budget prevents you from spending more than you want in any given month. For example, if you set a budget of $30, then when you hit $30 in clicks in a particular month, your listing will no longer appear unless you raise your budget.

In addition, the budget controls how much money will be debited from your account, when your initial deposit runs out. For instance, if you have a budget of $30 per month, then each month, $30 would be charged to your account, to cover anticipated clicks. If you didn’t use all your money, then that would “roll” over into the next month. For example, if in one month you used only $20 of your $30 budget, then the remaining $10 would rollover for use in the next month, and an additional $20 would be charged to your account, to bring it up to the full $30 budgeted amount.

After setting your budget, you’ll have to provide credit card details for your account. Once you’ve done that and submitted, your listing will then go off to an editor for review.

Getting Accepted, Rejected Or Altered

You should hear back from LookSmart via email within three business days about whether your listing has been accepted into the directory. Your listing should also show up on LookSmart itself by that time and on other partners, such as MSN Search, within five business days.

Once accepted, you’ll also be able to log in to your account at LookSmart to monitor the clicks your listing has received. You can also change your budget and view your billing history. For additional charges, you can edit your listings, as explained further below.

If your site is not accepted, LookSmart retains the submission fee. However, the vast majority of sites are indeed accepted, so you shouldn’t worry much about losing your money. If your site is of decent quality, you’ll probably get in. Also, if you are rejected, LookSmart will tell you why and allow you to appeal the decision within 30 days. Look at the feedback they send you, make the suggested changes and send in your appeal. That should help you get in.

Should you find your title or description changed in a way you dislike, don’t be afraid to follow up with LookSmart and politely explain why different wording might be better. The editors may not have understood properly how your site should be described, so you may be helping them.

Multiple Listings & Editing Listings

You can list more than just one page of your web site with LookSmart, and there can be great advantages in doing so. This is because by having a variety of listings, you make it possible that you’ll come up for a greater range of terms. This is explained in more depth in the Multiple Listings Advantage section of the How MSN Search Works page, within Search Engine Watch.

It’s also possible to edit a listing for a $19 fee, if it has been a month or more after it was submitted (before that time period, you have a limited ability to change it for free).

It’s perfectly acceptable to tweak and change your listing in order to try and make it rank better for particular terms. However, as the aforementioned Multiple Listings Advantage section of the How MSN Search Works page explains, it may make more sense to simply obtain a new listing rather than to keep changing an existing one.

Zeal & Non-Commercial Listings

Zeal is a volunteer-built directory of the web similar to the Open Directory that LookSmart owns. Listings compiled by Zeal editors are combined into a unified directory used for all LookSmart results, whether those results appear at Zeal, LookSmart or one of LookSmart’s partners.

For non-commercial sites, this means that if you get listed with Zeal, you’ll then find your listings appearing in places such as MSN Search for free, since these are powered by LookSmart. This is a real plus, because anyone can sign up at Zeal to contribute a site.

Of course, you will need to pass a short Zeal Member quiz before you can contribute. This ensures that you understand how to write descriptions and categorize web sites according to official guidelines.

Be sure to actually read the guidelines, rather than dive into taking the test. If you fail, you can retake the test as often as you like. However, each time counts into a cumulative score. This means constantly failing will make it harder to ultimately succeed. Because of this, it’s best to ace it the first time out.

By the way, commercial site owners might consider taking the quiz just to better understand what directory editors in general are looking for in terms of titles and descriptions. Though this is a Zeal test, the guidelines are generic enough to be applicable to other directories you might encounter.

If you learn to submit in the style editors like, you are less likely to have your submission altered. The “corrected” version of your quiz is helpful to see the nuances about what’s considered marketing hype, the importance of correct punctuation and many other description optimization tips. The Zeal quiz is a wonderful (and free) teaching tool. Better still, you can also read the Zeal guidelines.

It would be nice (and easier) for site owners if anyone could submit a site for Zeal editors to review, without having to first pass a test on issues they’ll never face, because they don’t intend to be part of the Zeal editing community. Nevertheless, making people pass the test to submit does ensure that the volunteers aren’t overwhelmed by spam and that submissions are written in a manner to be processed quickly.

Submissions aren’t added instantly by Zeal “contributors,” the status given to brand new members who pass the Zeal quiz. Instead, another higher level Zeal member or LookSmart editor will review the submission and approve it, usually within about a day. Those who earn enough Zeal points can become the “Zealot” of a category that they’re interested in, with the ability to do instant adds and other basic category management activities. “Expert Zealots” have earned the privilege through the quantity and quality of their work to manage entire categories.

New sites will show up on Zeal as soon as they’re approved, generally within a day or less. It can take up to a week before they show up at LookSmart and even longer for them to show up at LookSmart partners, depending on how often they update their databases. However, you should expect to find your new site live with LookSmart partners within a month or so.

No Zeal members, regardless of their level, can add sites to designated “commercial” categories, which are clearly marked and make up about 30 to 40 percent of the directory. If you try, the system is supposed to prevent the submission. Instead, it is only LookSmart’s professional editors who should be adding listings to commercial categories. In addition, only LookSmart editors can interact with the “paid” listings in the directory.

How about the non-commercial categories? Can commercial sites reside in these? Yes, within limits. The Zeal commercial content guidelines explain situations where it might be appropriate to list commercial content in Zeal’s non-commercial areas. In general, “deep” links to content within sites that do more than sell products and services are likely to be accepted. As for hobbyist sites, your affiliate links or banner ads aren’t going to prevent you from being listed, assuming that your site offers some original content rather than just being a collection of banners.

By the way, one of the things I love about Zeal is that it makes it very easy to discover whether a listing was paid for or not within LookSmart. For example, if you go to the SciFi/Horror Movie Sales Category, you can then select the small “Manage” link near the top of the page. This provides details about the listings, available to anyone, not just Zeal members. You’ll see that all the paid listings are flagged with a small purple icon, while those which are unpaid have a slash through the box.

“Manage” mode also lets you do some other things. LookSmart editors can assign “priority” ratings to web sites that are listed. This is often done to make sure that official sites are listed first or to make better sites appear at the top of the list, instead of following alphabetical order. When viewing a category after having selected Manage, you can use the “Sort by” drop down box to see sites listed in priority order.

In addition, if you click on the title of a listed web site when in manage mode, you’ll be able to see additional details, such when it was listed, last edited and who was involved in the process.

Crawler-Based Listings

LookSmart shows information it has found by crawling the web after any matches from its human-compiled listings (or in place of them, if there are no human-compiled matches).

These crawler-based results come from LookSmart-owned WiseNut and appear in the “Results from the Web” area of the LookSmart results page (human-compiled results appear in the “Results from the Directory” area).

There is no way to submit directly to WiseNut crawler, despite the Submit a Site page that’s offered. This page merely offers way to get you listed in LookSmart’s human results, which in turn MAY help get the WiseNut crawler to pick you up.

Overall, the best way to get listed (and to rank well) is to follow the general tips described on the Submitting & Encouraging Crawlers and Link Building pages.

To date, WiseNut’s listings are not being used by MSN Search nor any major LookSmart partner.

Finally, LookSmart also owns a company called Grub, which has technology used to crawl the web. That technology may eventually get absorbed into part of the WiseNut search engine. More about Grub can be found in the Help LookSmart Crawl the Web article from Search Engine Watch.


MSN Search is LookSmart’s most important partner, and more about how it uses LookSmart data is described on the How MSN Search Works page. LookSmart also has other partners. The LookSmart Opens Deep Listings Option To Small Businesses article from Search Engine Watch lists some of these and looks at some differences between what they display as opposed to searching at LookSmart itself.

Country-Specific Editions

LookSmart maintains several editions of its directory for different countries in the world. You’ll find a list of these at the bottom of the LookSmart UK home page.

Submitting to the site does not get you listed in these other editions. Instead, you must submit separately to each edition that seems appropriate for your site. Be aware that pricing may be completely different than at

Also be sure to read the Countries And Languages page for general tips on selecting the right domain name and language to help your site be accepted by country-specific editions.

Zeal, mentioned above, is the volunteer directory owned by LookSmart that feeds non-commercial listings into the US/global version of LookSmart. There are also some country-specific versions of Zeal that provide non-commercial listings to country-specific versions of LookSmart. Zeal editions are listed below:

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