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How Provides Search Results
By Andrew Gerhart - March 18, 2002

The search engine landscape changes from month to month. Search engines and directories continue to change whose results they display, what advertisements they display, and more importantly what effect one search engine has on another's results. Throughout this article, we will discuss whose results particular search engines and directories are showing, and what this means for search engine optimization. We will also discuss the effect that a good ranking in one search engine may have in another search engine or directory. This article will be broken into weekly segments, starting with MSN.

MSN Search
MSN currently drives the largest portion of Internet traffic, coming out on top above all other search engines according the January 2002 report from Jupiter Media. Depending on the market that your web site is in and the keywords that you are targeting, MSN has the potential to be your largest source of referrals.

So, how do you get your site listed in MSN, and whose results do they display? For one thing, a good MSN ranking is not as easy and straightforward as an Inktomi or other search engine listing. MSN currently uses a mixture of results from other search engines and directories, as well as paid listings from their own listings. MSN, Direct Hit, Inktomi, Looksmart, and Overture results are all currently used for MSN search results. Where are each of the results displayed, and what impact do they have?

What results you see on MSN will depend on the type of search that you are performing. This is how MSN lists its results: If you pay MSN directly, you can acquire a "featured listing" at the top of the results; If you bid in the top 3 for the searched keyword on Overture, your listing will appear next; The next results are from the Looksmart directory, which costs money to submit to and is human reviewed; Direct Hit's Top 10 most popular sites for the search term are linked from the page; the last results are from Inktomi's database of web sites, which will cost you a submission fee per URL, and uses an algorithm for ranking.

We mentioned above that the results displayed depend upon the search performed. Let me explain. Have a look at this search on MSN for Chevy. You will notice that all of the results that we mentioned above are displayed. First are the MSN featured (paid) listings, followed by the Overture (sponsored) listings, and then the Looksmart directory listings. If you dig deep enough you will find the Inktomi listings, but certainly not until you get past the first 100 results.

Now have a look at this search on MSN for Used Chevy Cars. Notice something different on the search results page? The MSN featured listings are no longer there, and neither are the Overture sponsored listings. At the top of the search engine results page is a link to Direct Hit's most popular web sites, followed by the results from the Looksmart directory. For this search, you only have to dig into the mid 30's to find the Inktomi results, which are classified as "web pages".

This last search performed on MSN was for NJ used Chevy cars. As you can see from the results page, the only results that are now being displayed are the Inktomi search listings, with a link to the Direct Hit most popular web sites at the top of these Inktomi results.

As you can see, a listing on MSN is probably going to cost you some money. A featured listing can be bought from MSN, although the price is not advertised.

For a sponsored listing, you will have to visit and perform a search for the keyword. On Overture's results page you will see the prices that each web site pays per click under the web sites returned in the results. To appear as a sponsored result on MSN you will need to bid in the top 3, which may cost a good deal of money depending on the keyword search and how competitive it is. Following the above examples, it will currently cost you $0.47 per click to be ranked #1 for the keyword "Chevy". For the keyword search "data recovery" you will have to pay close to $12.00 per click on Overture to be ranked in the top 3. Twelve dollars per click!

A Looksmart directory listing will cost you $299 per URL for an express submission that will be reviewed in 2 days, and $149 for a basic submission that will be reviewed in approximately 8 weeks.

An Inktomi account will cost $39 for the first URL submitted, and $25 per URL for every additional URL between 2 and 1,000.

How does this affect a search engine optimization campaign?

The affect of MSN's big list of paid listings has a different impact depending on the keyword market that the web site is targeting. If your website targets some highly competitive keywords, a mix of strategies and avenues will probably return the best results. It may be beneficial to pursue an Inktomi account, a Looksmart listing, and possibly an Overture account for the keyword search. For a moderately competitive keyword search it may be enough to only pursue a Looksmart and Inktomi account, as this will put you in the first listings, which are the Looksmart directory listings, as well as the secondary results, which are returned from the Inktomi database. When targeting a niche market, or targeted keywords that are 3 or 4 words in length, it will most likely be sufficient to open an Inktomi account as Inktomi results are usually the only results returned for these searches.

Like it or not, a solid ranking in MSN will probably end up costing money, whether it be $25, $400 or more.

The next installments of this article will deal with AOL, Yahoo, Google, AllTheWeb, AltaVista, AskJeeves, and Netsape.