Paid Inclusion: It's All About Relevance (Really!)
Many different forms of search engine marketing exist, with paid inclusion being perhaps the most frequently misunderstood component of this rapidly growing category. Even marketers who work every day in the Internet industry regularly interchange and confuse paid inclusion with pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. And when paid inclusion has been brought up in media circles, ranging from the The New York Times to BusinessWeek, it has sometimes been in a critical context, due to a misperception that paid inclusion somehow detracts from the relevance of search results.
In reality, relevance is the single greatest attribute of effective paid inclusion, both for marketers and consumers. If executed properly, paid inclusion can greatly improve the relevance and reach of search (whether it be algorithmic search, or a search service that is primarily driven by paid listings), delivering a better experience for users and a greater return on investment for participating marketers. One need only consider how paid inclusion works to see how it improves the relevance of search, ultimately improving bottom-line returns for marketers.
Paid Inclusion as a Business Solution Paid inclusion serves as an important medium for marketers that have large product databases, who want to increase their online sales, and want to achieve targeted return-on-investment (ROI) metrics. As the complexity of online product databases and Web sites continues to rise, and given the challenges of algorithmic search in indexing such sites, the importance of paid inclusion will grow with it.
As a business solution, paid inclusion works by complementing the algorithmic search technologies that power and determine the ranking of search results from nearly all of the Internet's major search engines. Under the paid inclusion model, merchant advertisers provide companies that deliver paid inclusion services with direct access to their internal product databases. On their own they would be largely inaccessible to algorithmic search technologies, making them inaccessible to the search engines themselves.
For marketers with hundreds or thousands of products in their respective databases, paid inclusion offers a way to deliver all of their product information and pricing in a reasonable way to the major search services. For consumers, paid inclusion increases the quality of their searches on Yahoo!, Lycos, and others because they get access to all of the updated product and availability information from large, product-rich retail companies like Office Depot, REI, or Nordstrom, instead of just their top 100 products.
Imagine using a search engine that regularly provides out-of-date or incomplete product information. Search engines, on their own, have real limitations, especially in accessing comprehensive and updated product availability and service information from deep or database-driven retail sites. Some of the Internet's large search engines crawl the Web on a comparatively infrequent basis, meaning that product and availability information can become stale. To address this, commerce providers and marketers leverage paid inclusion to ensure that their sites are crawled more often (sometimes several times per week) than a search engine would do independently, ensuring more comprehensive and up-to-date results to search queries. As a result, it can legitimately be said that paid inclusion is a great service for marketers and consumers.
The reality of today's search market is that, every search engine utilizes some form of inclusion techniques, pulling from a variety of sources, including internal content pages, a database of natural search results, and sponsored or direct results from super marketers like Amazon or eBay. The question is not 'if' this is done, but 'how,' so legitimate paid inclusion's focus must continue to be on providing leadership in contributing to a search process and ultimate results that are as complete and relevant as possible. From a marketer's perspective, both paid inclusion and PPC advertising are important avenues to get products in front of consumers. And both of these methods play significant, yet unique, roles in adding quality to the search experience from a user perspective. Companies like Overture and Google have done a remarkable job of building quality programs and leadership in the PPC sector, an industry in which marketers bid for guaranteed placement in major search engine results.
Paid inclusion will continue to emerge as an important component of search, particularly as the number and complexity of Web-based product databases increases. When in top form, search should enable Internet users to find highly relevant results at lightning speed. As we move toward the future, faster and faster access is a given, so the differentiator for search engines will be relevancy, and paid inclusion services will be one of the primary enablers of the relevancy that users and marketers demand.