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While many users will be satisfied with getting free clickthroughs from the search engines, for some people (myself included), it pays to pay for traffic. There are many sources of paid traffic on the internet, including banner ads, newsletter sponsorships, and so on, but this article is devoted to two of the most "search-engine"ish sources, Goto.com and RealNames. I also comment on the new DirectHit sponsored listings (see the bottom of the article for this addition)

Goto.com

Goto.com is quite simply a search engine where you can bid for the top positions for various search keywords. It cuts through all the "search engine position" baloney, and simply says "put your money where your mouth is."

You can bid on as many keywords as you want, and set your bids at any level. In contrast to banner ads, where (even if you're on a pay-per-clickthrough deal) you can pay $.15 to $.50 or more per click, on Goto you can get clicks a lot cheaper, often for a penny or two per click. It all depends on how popular your keywords are with other advertisers.

I find Goto incredibly effective. For every $1 I spend with them, I typically get $5 in contributions from new users. In the early days, before there was much competition for keywords, it was more like 10-15:1! Compared to banner ads, Goto tends to deliver much more targeted and valuable clickthroughs. If you are selling something, you should give them a try.
Goto now has an Express Service Plan designed to help you get started. $99 gets you $50 worth of clicks, plus some hand-holding to help you determine what keywords to target. Of course, if you've read my page about keyword selection, you can save yourself $49.00. Send half to me (grin)!

If you decide to use Goto, one tip: don't be obsessed with getting the number 1 position on the search returns. It often isn't worth it. I have a gut feeling that positions 8-10 are more cost effective, because the first few listings will tend to "filter" the clickthroughs you get. After all, the more other listings the visitor passes up before getting to yours and then clicking on it, the more likely he is going to be interested in what your site is about.

If you are bidding on a keyword that isn't the prime focus of your site, I'd take it a step further and simply bid enough to get on the first page of search returns. For example, if you search for "yahoo" on Goto, you'll find that I have a link to my Yahoo tips page. I used to be bidding enough to get position 3, but found that dropping my bid to a mere 2 cents (position 6 at the time, position 10 or so now) only slightly reduced the number of clickthroughs but increased the number of visitors who ended up being contributors! Even so, I am considering dropping my bid to 1 cent, because the keyword isn't closely focused on what my site does, so my conversion rate from visitors to paying customers is much lower on this keyword than, for example, "register website."

That said, there's a new wrinkle. As of sometime in the fall of 2000, Goto.com will be providing paid search listings for America Online and Netscape Search - but only the top 3 listings will appear (top 2 in the case of Netscape). This promises to generate a large amount of traffic, so in some cases, the "let the top positions act as a filter" advice may not be the best approach -- and getting the #3 slot, if it's cheap may be a good deal. My gut feeling here is that if you're currently in the #4-6 position for a keyword on Goto.com, and you can bump yourself to position 3 for less than a 25-30% jump in your bid, it's probably worth doing. But here's an important caveat; if you get outbid and drop to position 4, then you probably should reduce your bid to put yourself back into the position 6-8 range.

PayPerClickSearchEngines.com is a good site that is full of information and links related to pay-per-click search engines, including Goto.com

RealNames

RealNames is another way of getting paid clickthroughs, but you don't pay by the click; instead, you pay a yearly $100 fee for a "RealName." Then, when someone does a search on AltaVista (and some other search engines), at the top of the search returns is a link to any matching RealNames.

For example, if you search Altavista for "Add Url" you'll find a link that will give you a List of near matches related to add url provided by RealNames. And if you click on that, you'll see that one of the matching RealNames is... me!

The trick to properly using RealNames is to realize that you can do all the keyword embedding techniques that work on Yahoo on RealNames! They don't make this very clear, but it's true. Look at my RealName title to see what I did.
Note however that only words in your "RealName" (the title) will match when Realnames is queried. So that's the place where you have to "stuff" keywords. Unlike Yahoo (for example), the description doesn't count towards matches.

The really nice thing is that if any word in your RealName matches any word in the query, it matches. How high you rank depends on a number of obscure factors, and my guess is it is a combination of how many words in your RealName match the query, how long you've had the RealName, and perhaps some click-popularity measure as well.

As with Goto, my investment with RealNames has paid for itself many times over. So if you're selling something, give it strong consideration.

DirectHit

DirectHit, which supplies search engine results to a lot of indexes and search engines, now has sponsored listings. However, unlike Goto.com, you bid on a "cost per thousand impressions" basis, with a minimum bid of $5.00 per thousand. So you pay every time your listing is shown to a visitor, not every time one clicks through to you.

My experience with DirectHit has been totally dismal and I do not recommend them at all. The average cost per clickthrough was about $1.00, 20 times the cost of a Goto.com clickthrough. Avoid them.

Other Goto.com-like services

There are several new services that use the Goto.com model; in order of traffic they generate, they are FindWhat, Kanoodle, and RocketLinks. None of them generate more than a small fraction of the traffic that Goto.com will, but FindWhat is probably worth looking at; it generates 10 times as much traffic as Kanoodle or RocketLinks. If you are spending $50 a month or more with Goto.com, FindWhat is worth doing as well.

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