Idealab, an incubator of such new media startups as eToys and CitySearch, is turning the search engine paradigm on its head with the launch of a new site. GoTo.com, unveiled at the TED Conference in Monterey, Calif., over the weekend, makes all of its result positions available for purchase by Web sites.
Through an auction setup, sites may bid on the cost per click-through they will pay for a keyword, the term typed into a search form by users. The prices ultimately paid will be listed next to each search, and each listing will be ranked according to who paid the most for that particular keyword.
“My contention is that search results get better” when the listings are paid for, said Bill Gross, chairman of Idealab, Pasadena, Calif. Comparing the scheme to the yellow pages, Gross makes the assumption that advertisers who can afford to pay for such spots and ads are more relevant to the consumer’s quest.
“How much money you pay is a better indication of the site,” said Gross. Traditional searches rank sites by a variety of relevancy indicators, usually after a software “spider” has analyzed their content.
GoTo will also rank paid and unpaid sites according to user and editor input. Jeffrey Brewer, who helped co-found CitySearch, will be the company’s chief executive officer.
The new search engine was tested with 1 million users in January; 80 of the top 100 online advertisers approached for the beta test agreed to participate.
Now in its official launch, advertisers will be able to sign up for keywords at the site and submit their bidding price there. Gross expects that the cost-per-click rates will be lower at first, under 10 cents per click, until more advertisers are involved and the market becomes more competitive.
Run of site and keyword banners will be sold along the lines of existing search engines. GoTo will be branded to users through a radio and billboard campaign, as well as through online media, all beginning in March. A search for an ad agency is in its final stages, with all shops based in Southern California, said Gross, who added that the campaign will center around the concept, “Don’t Search, GoTo.”