Working the Net  

By Nat Bender

A Piece of the Action

Trying to figure out who you have to pay off to get your businessesí web site listed on the search engines? By now you have probably received spam from vendors offering to submit your web site to the top four thousand free search engines at an "incredibly reduced" rate of $99 or some such tidy sum. While this may sound like a good deal, the reality is that a business web site manager will have to pay for the privilege of being listed with the top ranked search engines.

Since top ranked Yahoo switched to a system of paid inclusions for business listings (non-commercial sites can still submit free), the idea that well formed meta-tags, coherent use of html and a bit of persistence will take your commercial site to the first page of competitive listings has died. Listings for businesses donít have to be free (some still are) and not all listings are created equal.

"The joke is that there aren't thousands of relevant search engines. The majority of Web surfers around the world use only a handful of portals for all their searches," writes Brian Livingston in late August, advising readers of not to pay search engine submission agents. "Nearly three-quarters of all search-engine referrals come from the top four services--Yahoo, Google, MSN and AOL Search--according to figures released in late May by StatMarket, a rating service."

Based on where the "hits" are coming from, here are my personal recommendations for three "musts," and two "should tryís" and a few "why notís" of the paid search engine listings. You can decide how far to go along with these recommendations based on your own budget (see chart).

Musts

Canít write an Internet "must" list without including Yahoo!, (www.yahoo.com) the premier directory listing service. First, click through the directory as a searcher and find the appropriate category where you believe your customers will come from. (HintÖlook for your competitors.)

Look for the "suggest a site" link on the bottom of the page and click through. You will have to go through the Yahoo! Express program, which guarantees a review of your site (not guaranteed inclusion) within seven days for a $299 one time, non-refundable fee. If your profit margin is low and thereís no money to spend on directory inclusions thatís fine. But Yahoo! Is still the number one player amongst the search engines and a great place to be. I have one client who quadrupled the number of visitors to his site after being successfully listed in Yahoo!

The second on the must list is Inktomi (www.inktomi.com), which provides content to many search engines including AOL, iWon, MSN, HotBot and NBCi. Inktomi provides a subscription service called Search/Submit that is sold through resellers such as Position Technologies and Network Solutions.

With Search/Submit, Inktomi indexes your URL every 48 hours to insure that your content is indexed properly. Any changes you make to your site will show up on the new search pages. This means that all Inktomiís partner sites will have the most current information about your site.

Resellers such as Position Technologies (http://www.positiontech.com) charge $30 for the first URL and $12 for each additional URL for Inktomiís Search/Submit program. This pricing guarantees listing for one year. Pricing for Search Submit is going to increase in the near future, according to Danny Sullivan, editor of SearchEngineWatch.com. "I can't say exactly how much, because Inktomi's still determining this," says Sullivan. "However, suffice to say, if you've been thinking about the program, it's better to do it now rather than later."

If you really canít afford even the price of submitting your home page and a few pages of your web site, you can try to submit for free through www.hotbot.com, but Inktomi penalizes free url submissions in their rankings, blaming inaccurate submissions generated through the freebies.

According to the most recent Media Metrix (www.mediametrix.com) numbers, LookSmart (www.looksmart.com) reaches 77 percent of all Internet users. LookSmart provides results for MSN Search, along with Alta Vista and I-Won. The sheer amount of traffic MSN receives ranks LookSmart on my "must" list.

LookSmartís "Express Submit" program promises to review any web site submitted and provide a yes or no answer within 2 days, as to whether it will be listed. The price is now $299. Or, if speed to market is not a major issue with your company, use "Basic Submit" and wait up to eight weeks for $149.

Should Try

After submitting your siteís home page to search engine leader Google (Google.com) for free, take a look at their Premium Sponsorships, where you are buying your site top placement on a users search result page. Essentially, you choose keywords and categories and when a user enters a search term such as "meat hooks," your promotional tag line appears at the top of their results page, allowing the user to read a short text message and click through to your site if they desire. Pricing for this program is done on a case by case basis, with a host of variables deciding your pricing plan so you have to check their site and contact a rep to get exact pricing.

If the premium sponsorships seem too expensive, consider the AdWords program, modeled something after Goto.com. With AdWorks, you pay based on the position your ad shows in the usersí result page. Unfortunately AdWorks is only applicable to searches done on Google's site and not on any of their affiliate sites, such as Yahoo! The position of your ad is based upon the amount of clickthroughs. So if your site receives many clickthroughs, Google will rank it first in placement within the set of ads.

AdWorks pricing plan is based upon the placement of your ad. Current rates are $15, $12, and $10 per thousand ads shown for the top three positions and $8 per thousand for positions 4 through 8. So 100,000 ad viewings will cost a maximum of $1,500. Since this reaches user searching for goods or services related exactly to company, this translates into quality leads.

An innovator in paid search placements, GoTo (www.goto.com) may reach up to 75% of Internet users by placing results on InfoSpace, Lycos, Netscape, HotBot and AOL. For a $20 minimum monthly spend on a minimum bid requirement of $0.05 per clickthrough, GoTo.com offers advertisers the opportunity to "bid" on rankings of requested search terms. Careful advertisers who pick the right search terms have reported good results because the Internet users who found them on GoTo.com were the look ones they wanted to reach.

For a few hundred dollars, a month or two of experimentation of pitting GoTo.com listings versus Google.comís AdWords could pay off well for your web siteís performance.

Why Not?

If you still have a few dollars left in the online ad budget, consider buying into AltaVistaís (www.altavista.com) directory which is one of the largest search engines on the web and is selling six month entries into its directory at $39 for the first url, $24 for the next nine, and $19 for the next 89.

Find a specialty search engine that is industry specific from sites such as Search Engine Guide (www.searchengineguide.com). The one exception to the rule of working with the top ranked search engines is if your industry has a specific search engine that caters to members or customers, use that one. Find out about submission policies, paid placements and ad rates. Then find out about traffic and beware flat rate pricing for lesser known engines. If you are paying by impression or click through at least you know you listing is being seen or visited.

Budget

After clearing the inclusion barrier by buying into the primary search engine and directory listings, your businessí web site has a better chance at seeing a piece of the action. Buying paid placements linked to search results puts the site right into the line of potential customersí view, just the place to capitalize on prime location.

Dedicate a percentage of your companyís marketing budget to online promotions through search engine submissions and paid placements. Considering the billions spent on print and Yellow Pages advertising, targeted web listings and paid placements can help your company reach the right customers and carve out your own piece of the action.

Write to me at webmaster@yourbizpartner.com if youíve had successes or disappointments with affiliate programs, the topic of next monthís column.

Nat Bender is the Director of E-Business Services at the New Jersey Small Business Development Center (www.YourBizPartner.com), where he works with companies to integrate e-commerce into their business planning process.

 

 

BUDGETING CHART

 

Musts

Should Try

Why Not

Yahoo ($299),

Inktomi ($30 plus $12 per url),

LookSmart ($299)

Google (Ad Words),

GoTo (Self Serve)

AltaVista, Industry Specific

$750 for 11 page web site

Budget $500 to bid on a set of terms

Budget $250 for AltaVista and/or another $250 for something industry specific

     

 

Side bar:

Going Once, Going Twice, Coming to your site

All this talk about strategic paid placements is making me think about another good tip for marketing to targeted customers of consumer goods. For an insertion fee of a few dollars and a few percentage points of the sale, listing a product at auction site E-Bay (www.ebay.com) is a great way to reach consumers looking for your products.

Iíve heard good success stories about marketers who use their individual product insertions on E-Bay.com to invite consumers there back to their web sites. This is a simple html link on the listing, along the lines of "if you like this product, visit my web site at www.mywebsite.com to browse our complete inventory," and this is an acceptable practice to E-Bay.com.

Review the sellers guidelines at E-Bay.com and place a product or two on sale there to test the auction waters. You may find an additional marketplace and increased traffic.

 

 

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2001 The New Jersey Small Business Journal