Buying Your Way In - Part 1

It used to be the case that a developer could build a web site and, upon completion, submit the site to a handful of search engines. Within a month or two the site would start popping up in searches and traffic on the site would begin to rise. All the developer had to do was to recoup their time.

Sadly, this is no longer the case. In fact, in some situations, a search engine submission budget can eclipse the cost of developing the site. However, before discussing the cost of getting (and staying) listed in the major search engines, we first need to address the question, "What are the major search engines?"

According to Neilson NetRatings (NNR) and Jupiter Media Metrix (JMM), search engine market share breaks down something like this:

Search Engine NNR JMM
MSN 28.6% 37%
Yahoo 17.7% 34%
Google 26.4% 28.9%
AOL 18.7% 22.4%
Ask Jeeves 11.2% 15.7%
InfoSpace 6.8% 8.9%
Overture 5.7% 6.9%
AltaVista 4.7% --
Netscape 4.3% 8.2%
LookSmart 3.7% 9.2%
Lycos 3.2% --
Dog Pile 2.6% --

These stats don't take into account recent changes, such as the fact that Google's results now appear on AOL. Additionally, they don't address "cross site" search results, instances in which one search engine will embed the results of another. Overture's paid listings, for instance, appear on sites such as MSN and Yahoo.

These search engines use several different databases, lists or indices of web sites on the Internet. In fact, they often use several different databases within a single set of results. In other words, if I search on MSN for "Cape Cod," I may get matches pulled from LookSmart, Inktomi, and Teoma.

The databases mined by the major search engines listed above include:

In addition, DogPile and InfoSpace are meta search engines. They actually search other search engines so their results will contain results from many of the databases listed above. It is important to note, however, that their search results usually come from the first page of each search engine, which is usually where all the paid ads are located.

Except for Open Directory, all of these search engine databases have pay for placement and/or pay for inclusion pricing models. However, of these, several still accept submissions for free. They include AltaVista, Fast, Google, and Inktomi.

Your first reaction may be, "Great, that gets me into most of the popular search engines listed at the beginning of this article." Well, it does and it doesn't. First, AltaVista and Fast don't command that wide of an audience. Though you definitely want your site in their databases, this isn't going to gain your site exposure to the vast majority of the Internet.

Also, you want to get your site in as many search engines as possible because you don't want to put all your eggs in one basket so to speak. Put simply, no one -- and I do mean no one -- can guarantee your placement in any search engine. Tactics that help your site's position in may hurt it in another. Therefore, it is advisable to submit to as many search engines as your budget allows.

Second, though Google itself is very popular and its search results used on various sites, its search results often appear below those of other search results, such as its own sponsor links or Overture's pay-for-placement links. Consequently, though you may be in the Google database and may come up high on Google's site, someone else may come up first on Yahoo or AOL even though those sites use the Google search results.

Confusing isn't it?

Finally, there is, to the best of our knowledge, only one place where you can still get into the Inktomi database for free. Most other sources have been converted over to pay-for-inclusion models. In fact, sites that we've recently attempted to submit to the Inktomi database via the free submission page have yet to get indexed. This seems to suggest that Inktomi is in the process of (or has finished) converting over to a pay-for-inclusion model.

As a result, it appears the days of free submissions are waning -- at least for a time. After all, who knows? Perhaps Google's startling success, based more on the quality of its searches as opposed to dot-com mania marketing, will pull reluctant search engines back into the free arena. For the time being, however, web site owners, especially new web site owners, need to consider buying their way into the search engines. In our next article, we'll discuss how to go about doing just that while getting the best bang for the buck.

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