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The Factors, Fate, and Fallacies of Paid-Performance
By Eric Lander - September 05, 2001

I am always one to point out the greatest source of information. Having said that, Danny Sullivan's article entitled "GoTo Speaks Out on FTC Complaint" is the basis of information that I will be providing in this week's featured (and highly opinionated) article; as well as the addition of my points of view from an SEO professional standpoint.

Sullivan's article can be found at: http://clickz.com/article.php/878271 and I would highly recommend reading that article prior to reading on.

The often-debated world of SEO has many areas of refined expertise, many avenues in which one can suggest or pursue, and essentially solutions for budgets of all shapes and sizes. It is also well known in recent times that the results of paid inclusion programs are nearly second to none.

Ask yourself a few questions though:
• W hat is the purpose of a search engine?
• Why would any Internet browser query the most popular search engines?
• What information do they expect to provide?

These questions are not brought up for the necessity of debate, as they are often on the minds and tongues of many SEO experts. However, the answers to these questions should influence the search engines themselves and the matters in which they conduct business. The way we perceive the nature of search engines and their markets can greatly influence the answers to those questions too… In that mind set, I offer this:

Factor One: Money.
Why is anyone in business? To make money. Search engines are no different; they are sites generating traffic and providing a lot of click-through. At one time, it can be assumed that the bulk of revenue generated through search engines came from the selling advertisement spaces within their interior pages. As time progressed and the general user base of these engines and all site began ignoring banners; their novelty and profitability soon wore off. Enter GoTo.

GoTo became a pioneer in the paid inclusion systems that can essentially dictate a web presence in today's game. Not only were they serving up targeted content to their users, but they were making some serious money on their click through traffic as well. It's obvious then to understand how this has taken off to become more than just an industry fad.

Factor Two: Privacy
The clients of these pay-per-performance programs should approach every one of these searching portals with the utmost level of caution. The reason a client would approach any one of these solutions is to gain more targeted traffic to their websites and products. An obvious and well-formulated approach to online marketing. But online marketing is not what many consider to be the source of content resulting from an informative search query.

If pay-per-performance programs like the one pioneered by GoTo should be a primary source of marketing initiative, I offer this. Lets hypothetically say that Topsitelistings.com wanted to bid on the key phrase of "search engine optimization" and become an inclusion partner.

Enter immediate defacement of credibility. Yes, you heard correctly. A search for the above phrase, (http://www.goto.com/d/search/?type=topbar&Keywords=search+engine+optimization&x=16&y=10) yielded an immediate warning that "Your search has generated some sexually explicit results". Really. And here I was thinking that SEO was an online marketing tool that was a necessity for all online organizations. How foolish I must have been! Now, correct me in the event that this is misleading... Is this an immediate way to lose credibility for any listings that may exist beyond this page? Of course it is... And for the cost of $3.25 per click through, I'll personally advise against any decision in that direction.

Factor Three: Hidden Intentions
As I began to rant into above, search engines are beginning to utilize some of the best of hidden agendas on their sites. As Sullivan pointed out in the article listed far above:

Lycos searches showcase "Featured Listings". These are simply three GoTo financial supporters. I mean, paid inclusion partners. While not necessary completely deceiving in nature, there is no ability to understand just what a "Featured Listing" is. I think it may be safe to assume that one would expect to find highly relevant content edited and reviewed by a critical editor review.

"Next, we are shown "Popular" Web sites and are even given a short explanation of what these are: "3 Web sites reviewed by Lycos Editors match your search." Unfortunately, that's not true. The first numbered listing may have been chosen by an editor, but the second two are simply more paid listings from GoTo. There's nothing "popular" or editor-selected about them."
- Danny Sullivan, GoTo Speaks out on FTC Complaint

Conclusion…
I would never say that GoTo is something to avoid. There is no denying that GoTo supplies 75% of the search engines with one form of listings or another. But a strong case can be made against wanting NOT to be listed under certain characteristics, such as the case mentioned above as "Sexually Explicit Material".

Additionally, there needs to be a lot of legwork done on behalf of GoTo if they would like to continue being the premiere pay-per-performance listing provider. They will need to ask their strategic partners to be a lot more upfront about their display of paid listings as well as be cautious when classifying content.

<personal opinion>
Search engines were initially created to provide users with informative content regardless of financial background or monthly budgeting. Lets try to keep it that way. It is bad enough that some of the most successful organizations go without being seen because of the inability to afford demanding costs like that of GoTo's.

You may have noticed that throughout this article you see an immediate first-person perspective in delivery of language. That is intentional. My personal opinions on these matters are not always the same as Orbidex Inc.'s and certainly not the same as other more refined SEO experts within this and other organizations. But I do believe some truths can be extracted here, and welcome any comments on anything I have provided above or in the past. Without the user support of you as a reader, Topsitelistings.com could never have become what it has.
<personal opinion>