Many search engines are struggling for survival these days and all are monetizing the search every way they can. Sometimes we hear about it after the fact. Inktomi raised prices for Search Submit -- up from $30-$15-$12 to $39-$25 for one year depending on the number of pages. Yahoo! is in the news daily, cutting operating expenses and announcing new charges for subscriptions and services.

Many search engines have had problems while a few are holding up. Struggling are AltaVista, Infoseek, Excite (in bankruptcy) and LookSmart. Among those holding their own are Google, Overture, Fast AllTheWeb, AOL, MSN, and Mamma.com.

Making It in Tough Times
How can you remain profitable in hard times? Middle-tier search engines like Mamma have stayed afloat by eliminating frills and capitalizing on core assets. I asked Marketing Director Davide Molino what makes Mamma successful. He replied that they keep the staff small with reasonable salaries, keep the site simple, listen to employees in the trenches, and move fast to implement new ideas.

Having launched in 1996, Mamma grew slowly without fanfare. Its current reach through a network of sites is 8 million unique users per month. It followed the dot-com frenzy with a banner ad sales force and business development team in 1999, advertising  heavily offline and on TV. It established a niche and didn't get into providing services offered by most search portals at the time. But it did get into pay-for-performance listings (now called Mamma Classifieds).

Mamma's strategy seems to be paying off. It will provide search functionality for internet.com on their InternetNews.com and EarthWeb.com sites. Users selecting "Search the Web" will go to a Mamma.com search result page with the option to continue searching or return to internet.com.

What are Meta-Search Engines?
Not everyone is familiar with meta-search engines, the tools that query a number of different search vehicles to provide end results. These search tools do not maintain their own databases so they don't accept URL submissions, but you can get good mileage by being found through meta-search. If you type in a query, the engine will simultaneously search a series of other search engines and directories, compiling and displaying the results. The trick is to get listed in those source engines.

You get a snapshot of the top results from a variety of search engines with meta-search. Proponents claim these tools return fewer results with a greater degree of relevance. Critics complain that searches don't always query all the best sources and some don't allow refined searches.

Mamma displays data from five different sources (on average). Ixquick uses a "star system," awarding each Web site one star for every search engine that placed it in the top-ten for your search, listing each of the search engines and the Web site's place on the top-ten list.

Besides Mamma and Ixquick, other meta-search engines include Copernic, Dogpile, MetaCrawler, ProFusion, and Viv simo, to name a few.

Paying for Search Services
Most search engines and directories have devised various means for making money while providing search services. Paid search links were anathema in the beginning because it was felt they compromised editorial integrity, but they are now accepted as long as properly labeled. Yahoo! started the monetizing trend with its Business Express program, accepting payment for expedited entry into its database. 

Paying for timely consideration keeps the editorial product untainted while search engines make some money for survival. Besides Yahoo! Express, other paid inclusion programs include LookSmart's Express Submit, Inktomi's Search Submit and Index Connect, AltaVista's Trusted Feed, and FAST's PartnerSite. Those without paid inclusion programs include Google, Open Directory Project (ODP), and Northern Light  (Google has an advertising program called AdWords).

Looking Ahead
Information from a recent Search Engine Strategies 2001 conference indicates that the current industry focus is on (1) keeping the databases fresh by more frequent indexing, and (2) indexing more data of various file types from the deep Web. 

Many search engines are improving database freshness, crawling the pages that change frequently more often. FAST, which claims to be "the Internet's freshest and most up-to-date search engine," refreshes its database every 9 to 12 days. Inktomi re-indexes about 20 percent of its database ("Best of the Web") every 9 days. Google crawls the Web every 28 days, visiting news sites more frequently. Its Web index has grown to more than 3 billion documents including a complete Usenet archive.

Search engines are starting to integrate relevant information from multiple formats (Web pages, images, video files, MP3 files, Usenet messages, maps, news, and FTP files) into one search, showing all the results simultaneously. FAST started doing this in August.  Google and Lycos are not far behind.

Formula for Success
You have to listen closely to customers, fulfilling their needs and industry demands to succeed in the search engine world. It helps to have a good business plan that's updated regularly to reflect the business climate and to identify your niche and industry trends. Then be decisive and move quickly.
December 27, 2001





Paul J. Bruemmer has provided search engine marketing expertise and consulting services to prominent American businesses since 1995. As Director of Search Marketing at Red Door Interactive, he is responsible for strategizing and implementing search engine marketing activities within Red Door's Internet Presence Management (IPM) services.





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