Companies Debate Search Protocol

Yahoo! introduced a paid-inclusion search program last week, while Ask Jeeves eliminated its version. Interestingly, the companies gave the same rationale for their decisions: to upgrade the consumers’ search experience.

And the tweaking continues, as companies take advantage of the burgeoning search market, which, according to Forrester Research, is expected to grow 47 percent to $2.8 billion next year.

Yahoo!’s paid-inclusion offering, or Content Acquisition Program, ensures participants their Web pages will be included in the portal’s search results. The Sunnyvale, Calif., company said it would improve relevancy by providing up-to-date content from paying sites.

Conversely, Ask Jeeves vp of product management Jim Lanzone said the Emeryville, Calif., company’s 18-month-old Index Express paid-inclusion program at times negatively impacted relevancy, calling it a “failed experiment.” When you combine paid and unpaid content, “You’re mixing apples with oranges,” he said.

Still, Yahoo! maintained it will continue to deliver unbiased results, regardless of whether a company pays or not.

Despite the debate, many clients and agencies are embracing paid inclusion. “It gives you better control over the content messaging,” said Colin Veach, senior manager of search at Drugstore.com in Bellevue, Wash.

“I don’t think [consumers] give two hoots about whether it’s paid or not. People [don’t] look at search engines as some sort of oracle of unbiased truth,” said Ron Belanger, vp of search engine marketing at Aegis Group’s Carat Interactive in Boston. “People are looking for information, consumer goods. If a client is paying 15 cents to have you click on their link, and it’s relevant to you, that’s a better user experience than not paying for an unbiased result.”