The Business of Selling Words

Pat Sajak may sell vowels on “Wheel of Fortune”, but search engines let you buy whole words. And the business of selling words is growing quickly. Advertisers have noticed that search engines are the opening ‘hello’ in a consumer’s search for a product, so owning certain words is a quick and easy way to make the first contact.

I had the opportunity to play with a very cute new online gizmo that automates keyword searches across 19 search engines: About, AOL, EarthLink, Google, LookSmart, MSN, FindWhat, Yahoo!, AllTheWeb, AskJeeves, Excite, Infospace, Lycos, Netscape, AltaVista, Dogpile, iWon, Mamma, and Overture. The report runs in real time, so it provides current information on where each word stands, on each search engine, relative to its competition.

As a test, I thought it would be interesting to see how a few common words show up on all 19 search engines. As an overall observation, it’s interesting to note that many words are still available for sale on most search engines.



I started by tracking the word ‘Shopping’ across the 19 search engines. The most commonly sold links were to Office Depot, Original Watkins Products, and Fine Men’s Apparel from Paul Fredrick. Surprising, no? I mean, when I think of shopping, I don’t ordinarily think of Paul Fredrick.

Then I input the word ‘Wine’ and got the following: Wine Country Gift Baskets and Hard-to-Find Wines Direct to Your Door. But mostly the word ‘wine’ remains unbought. Seems like an opportunity for someone here.

Turning to packaged goods, ‘Toothpaste’ was my next search. This turned up Toothpaste From Around the World, Colgate Oral Care Center, Toothpaste to Stop Bad Breath. While Colgate appears to be the only major packaged goods company that’s paying attention to key words, the word ‘toothpaste’ still appears available on most search engines.

Just for kicks I looked up ‘Sex’ and got Sizzling Sex in 30 Days, Natural Penis Enlargement Secrets, Discreet Liaisons, and How to Get Into a Paysite for Free. Apparently sex and larceny are closely related.

And while I assumed that ‘Books’ would turn up Amazon in top position, it actually came in second to Compare 30 Bookstores with One Click. Other prominent ‘Books’ buyers are Find Low, Low Book Prices in One Click, and Books on Spirituality.

Finally, the word ‘Travel’ yielded the broadest set of sponsors: Expedia, Travelzoo, Orbitz, CheapTickets, Expedia, AARP,, Travelguard, and LuxuryLink. The category is a complete free-for-all.

Another cute feature: Some search engines show the price paid for a keyword in their online report. The keyword search report provides this information so the user can see what it will cost to move up in ranking toward top position. So, as you can imagine, these reports are a great way for search engine salespeople to prospect their competition for advertisers.

So where did I find this interesting utility? At, a company with which I have a close relationship. Pardon the self-promotion but hey, no one else is doing this so I thought I’d write about it while it’s still a novelty.

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