Add to this the fact that most human-edited directories are now charging marketers to have their sites reviewed, and it's no wonder that most marketers are confused.
Yahoo!, LookSmart and NBCi/Snap all ask for $199 just to have a site reviewed for inclusion. GoTo, the auction model search engine, pipes its results to major portals such as America Online. LookSmart provides listings to AltaVista, MSN, Excite, iWon, CNN, and about 370 Internet service providers. Thus, any of the millions of searchers at those sites would be presented with results pulled from LookSmart's database. LookSmart has smartly gone from single-point destination to a distributed directory available all over the Web.
Why would a search engine want to mingle LookSmart's results with its own? "LookSmart's listings complement our own search offerings, enabling us to deliver results that cater to each individual user's needs," said Vaughn Rhodes, senior director-product marketing for AltaVista Co. "Some users are looking for specific information, while others like to browse different categories and see what meets their needs."
It isn't just the old-guard engines such as AltaVista and Excite that are partnering with site directories.
GoTo.com, the search engine that uses the editorial-auction model for results placement, has a deal whereby GoTo search results appear on many other sites, some of which are major destinations, such as AOL and the Netscape Open Directory. "The number of searches on GoTo's database has increased significantly as a result of our affiliations with most of the major portals," said John Gentry, GoTo's VP-general manager of the affiliate business group. "We have greatly extended the reach and power of our business by enabling searchers at other Web sites to receive results from our database."
Elsewhere, Inktomi Corp. has been quietly claiming new turf, providing its massive database of Web sites to partners. It now has such wide distribution (read: clout) that it can charge marketers for the right to have their sites "crawled" by Inktomi bots.
The most confusing aspect of all this for marketers is understanding which directories and search engines are providing which listings and links to what sites, and making sure you have maximized your presence with the right mix of free and paid submissions.
What's a marketer to do?
First, accept that these alliances are not going away. Spend a day studying the major search engines and directories by forming test searches. Look at the various results. Follow the links. Read the FAQs.
Second, bite the bullet and pay for submissions where it makes the most strategic sense.
Third, don't be afraid to ask for help. There are many companies that will devise a portal linking strategy for you or review your current portal presence for holes.
And last but not least, you don't have to rely solely on portals. Build a network of links pointing to your site from other sites. You'll end up less dependent on portals and fee-based listings.
Eric Ward creates vertical URL announcement, submission and linking plans for major Web site launches. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.