Just as troubling as the loss of the Go Guide was to those who used it and worked on it is the uncertain future for one of the Net’s grand old search engine franchises, Infoseek. And as we know, that’s not the only one on the wane.
Leading search engine analyst Danny Sullivan points out that although the situation in the search space looks bleak today, “we have lost search engines before.” [See The End for Search Engines?] But, oncedes Sullivan, it is troubling that so many services, including NBCi , Excite, and Altavista, are struggling all at once. On the flipside, MSN, AOL, Yahoo, and Lycos are still feisty players, and Google is stronger than ever.
Sullivan implies that the new era will entail a much heavier dose of paid search listings, but that this may provide opportunities for marketers. We agree. For my previous thoughts on the changing trends, recall this trilogy of Traffick articles:
- Scientists Baffled by Strange GoTo Phenomenon
- Why Search Engine Marketing Works
- Why Search Engines Must Continue to be Referees
One sea change we haven’t yet quite come to terms with is the new Inktomi regime, in which site owners pay on a per page basis to guarantee a presence in the Inktomi web index. It doesn’t seem like there is a consensus on how effective this is; more than a little grumbling can be heard from unhappy webmasters. As long as Inktomi’s staying power in the industry, and its standing with partners, is in question, we would take everything with a grain of salt. (Remember, Yahoo! dumped Inktomi for Google.)
We test-drove the Inktomi pay-for-indexing scheme for our site, paying to list ten pages. We didn’t see much action at first from any of the usual Inktomi partners (such as Canada.com, Hotbot, or AOL), but suddenly this week, a couple of our pages were getting 50 hits a day from AOL, and Inktomi seems to be the reason. This may not be scientific, but that’s the best we can tell you right now about the Inktomi “lottery.” A “lottery ticket” for ten pages to be indexed (and refreshed every 48 hours) by Inktomi will run you $110. If you can score 350 page views a week from AOL for a year, it’s almost worth the money.
Or is it? Let’s do the math. That comes to around 16,000 annual impressions. What would 16,000 impressions cost if you were to run banner, newsletter, or similar advertising on a CPM basis? At a CPM of $10, it would only cost $160, not far different from the Ink scheme, for that many impressions.
However, we’re saying that we might actually get 16,000 clickthroughs a year from Ink, not just impressions. Let’s say you were paying .06 per click on average for 16,000 clicks to your site. This would come to $960! Seen in that light, the Inktomi scheme is clearly a bargain for many marketers, and would seem to blow impression-based advertising out of the water. After all, these are clickthroughs and they are search engine driven and hence to some degree targeted and pre-qualified visitors. Not all webmasters, of course, will get lucky enough to have Inktomi give them first-page rankings on AOL searches for popular keywords. We think it’s probably worth risking $110, but we wouldn’t go much higher than that. If you happen to sell high end items like luxury world cruises, adjust your thinking accordingly and spend up to $500 on the Inktomi plan if you have to. And of course, don’t take my word for it – listen to a variety of SEO gurus, like ClickZ’s Paul Bruemmer, as the situation unfolds.
In their Inktomi placement, some savvy marketers will likely want to submit pages whose content is updated regularly. The frequent refresh promised by Inktomi means that frequently-changing pages will place well on some keyword searches in some weeks, and not so well in other weeks. At least you might not be stuck permanently in page eight of the search results on your coveted keyword, as is the case with some infrequently-updated web indexes. Since the whole index is theoretically changing as pages are refreshed, crafty search engine optimizers won’t be able to gauge the best means of maintaining a first page ranking for certain coveted keywords. Though they might not like it, the major search indexes are getting better at keeping SEO professionals off balance, and this should offer a more level playing field for everyone.
The search company most people associate with pay-for-placement is GoTo.com. Yet its future is far from secure, either. Major competitors like Yahoo! and Google are now offering programs that encroach slightly into GoTo-like territory. One of the controversial aspects of paying for traffic at GoTo – and a controversy that will not die – is the problem of fraudulent clicks. Anecdotal accounts of such problems are mounting, and most of them are attributable to questionable affiliate partners that GoTo made deals with in the days before they had major portal partners like AOL and Lycos. Our take – as it has been for some time – is that GoTo no longer needs the majority of its fly-by-night affiliates. They should dump them and focus on further entrenching themselves in the search results of reputable branded partners. Unless they signed a stinker of a deal, GoTo is going to be reaping major revenues from the AOL partnership alone.
Some advertisers have been hoping that GoTo would offer the advertiser a choice of which partner sites a listing would appear on (for example, yes to AOL and Lycos but no to AltaVista and CNET). But that’s probably a long way off. In spite of the bumps in the road, it seems that many advertisers have figured out that pay-for-performance advertising of the kind GoTo offers can provide a healthy return on the investment.