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One of the many options available to promote a Web site on search engines is “paid inclusion.” Although there are several different kinds of paid inclusion (including pay-per-click and “trusted” or “direct” feed programs), this article deals specifically with the simplest form, in which an annual fee is paid for each page included in a search engine index.

Many people are unsure how paid URL inclusion works, and it is sometimes a controversial concept. It is perhaps easiest to understand by recognizing that in most cases there are two ways in which search engines that offer paid URL inclusion can find your pages.

‘Organic' Spider

Each search engine purports to be the most comprehensive source of information, and so each has an automated program (commonly called a “spider”) that goes out and indexes all the pages that it can find on the Web. This means that your Web site will eventually get indexed for free by each of the major engines that offer paid inclusion (provided there is one or more outside links pointing to your site that the spider can follow).

“Eventually,” of course, is the key term.

Paid Spider

When a search engine offers paid URL inclusion, it uses an additional spider that goes out and indexes specific pages that have been paid for.

In other words, whereas the “free” spider would eventually find your site, follow your links, and index all of your pages, the “paid” spider will index the URLs for which you have plunked down an annual fee (but it will do so immediately).

The Controversy

As you may suspect, these programs create much confusion. Since the pages that are paid for are indistinguishable from regular pages within search results, the FCC has recently raised some concerns, although the outcome of its involvement remains to be seen.

In addition, the fees for paid inclusion are annual. Even after a company has paid to have some pages included, logic would dictate that the “organic” spider would eventually index the pages anyway, making the renewal fees unnecessary.

However, it has been reported that with some paid inclusion engines, once annual fees are not renewed pages are removed for a period of time. From a business perspective, this only makes sense—engines that offer paid inclusion can't very well offer an “annual” fee only to have everyone discover that they only need to pay it once. From an ethical perspective, however, it's a questionable practice (and it remains unproven that this is the policy of any particular engine).

Advantages

Fast Inclusion

First, and most important, paid inclusion programs give you the opportunity to have your pages indexed and added to search results very quickly (usually within a few days). This compares very favorably with the month or more that it can take to wait for the “organic” spider to find your pages on its own (and if you have no incoming links, the “organic” spider will never find your pages).

Fast Re-Indexing

The paid inclusion spider will revisit your pages frequently (some even daily). This means that you can make tweaks to your pages designed to improve your rankings and see the results in days (rather than months). This type of turnaround can give you valuable insight into the ranking algorithm of each individual engine.

Disadvantages

Costs

The primary disadvantage of paid inclusion is the cost, although this factor naturally depends on the means of the company. The following details the first-year fees for a ten-page Web site on the most popular paid inclusion programs:

Altavista, $600*
AskJeeves, $192
Inktomi, $264
Fast/Lycos, $170

* This is the total first-year fee, although the program is billed in six month increments.

Total first-year fees for a 10-page site: $1,226

Reach

A second disadvantage, perhaps more accurately described as a limitation, is that Google does not offer paid inclusion (and maintains that it never will). Since Google currently provides the primary results for three of the top four engines (Google, Yahoo and AOL), engines that offer paid inclusion may account for a only fraction of your overall site traffic.

There is no way to add your pages to Google's index any faster by paying a fee, which means that you will be waiting for Google to index your new (or newly optimized) pages regardless of which paid inclusion programs you use. Only after Google lists your pages will they appear in Yahoo and AOL results.

Considerations

There are many factors to consider when examining paid URL inclusion. The following five are among the most common.

Are my pages already in the index?

Just because you can't find your pages when you enter search terms does not mean that your pages haven't been indexed. To see if your pages have been indexed, go to the engine and search for each of your exact page URLs. If each page shows up for the URL search but not for a search of any key phrases related to the page, paid inclusion will not help your rankings (your pages are already in the index and have been ranked according to their perceived value).

It would be much more beneficial to invest some time or money in optimizing your pages for better rankings (you can still consider paid inclusion afterward if you don't want to wait for the spider to revisit).

Is it a good investment for me?

Naturally, budgetary constraints can be a primary consideration. If you can't afford paid inclusion, then it obviously isn't an option. However, simply because you can afford it does not mean it is a good investment.

For example, a business that sells a very inexpensive product online that is counting on volume of traffic may not see a good return on its investment (again, three of the top four engines do not offer paid URL inclusion).

On the other hand, if your business has a high average dollar sale and you put a high value on each quality lead, you might consider immediate paid URL inclusion a no-brainer.

Do my pages change frequently?

If your Web pages are subject to daily or weekly changes in content, paid inclusion may offer some additional benefits. When your pages are spidered frequently, all new content is indexed by the engine soon after it is added to your pages. This means that your pages will begin to appear in searches for terms related to the new content much more quickly.

Are my important pages dynamically generated? Some search engine spiders have a problem finding and indexing pages that are dynamically generated (such pages often have a question mark somewhere in the URL). By paying to include the important pages of your dynamically generated Web site, you can be sure that they are in the engine's index, even if the “organic” spider would never find them on its own.

Do I need a guarantee that my pages will remain in the index?

Although it happens infrequently, one or more of your pages found by the “organic” spider may be inadvertently dropped from an engine at some point, usually to reappear within a month or two. This can happen for a variety of technical reasons. However, using paid URL inclusion guarantees that each of your pages will remain in the index for a year (and if your pages are dropped, the support staff at the search engine will work to put them back in as soon as possible).

Conclusion

Paid inclusion can be a valuable tool under the right circumstances. However, many companies are able to consistently maintain excellent search engine rankings without paying for a single URL. Only a careful evaluation of your business, goals and Web site can help you to determine whether it is the right option for your site.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
image of Scott Buresh

Scott Buresh is founder and CEO of Medium Blue, an award-winning search engine optimization company.

LinkedIn: Scott Buresh