Ask Jeeves Halts "Paid Inclusion" And the New MSN Follows Suit

When Yahoo announced its Paid Inclusion Program (a fee-based program that guarantees a Web site will appear in a search engine's index during an appropriate search) a few months ago, the media and Internet community cried "foul play!" Their fear could be boiled down to one point: instead of search engines delivering unbiased, accurate results, they would devolve into infomercials for companies that paid the most.

Savvy Internet users were concerned, too, as search engines are the linchpins for finding information on the Web. But it seems that the good guys won this round. The popular search engine, Ask Jeeves, announced last week that it was ending its paid inclusion policy. MSN quickly followed suit. Google never had a paid inclusion program. That leaves Yahoo as the lone holdout.

Pundits are now predicting that the popular portal won't be able to withstand public pressure. In the ever-changing world of search engines, it now looks like paid inclusion is history. But MSN's carefully worded statement left some wiggle room on the matter. Justin Osmer, the MSN product manager, said, "Although we are discontinuing the program at this time, we will continue to evaluate options both independently and in conjunction with our partners."

Despite the equivocations from Microsoft, many Internet experts decried paid inclusion from the start, as well as all other programs that corrupted unbiased search engine results. Perhaps all of the clamor convinced Microsoft and Ask Jeeves to abandon the program.

So here's the million-dollar question: what does this mean to you? With paid inclusion seemingly dying a fast death, Web sites must rely on search engine algorithms (the formulas used to rank Internet properties) or organic listings to get results. You can no longer buy your way up the search engine food chain with one exception of PPC (Pay Per Click) sponsored listings.

Wondering if optimizing your Web site is a smart investment? The Census Bureau of the Department of Commerce just announced that the estimate of U.S. retail e-commerce sales for the first quarter of 2004 was $15.5 billion, an increase of 28.1 percent from the first quarter of 2003.

Instead of worrying how every seismic change in the search engine field will affect your company, protect yourself by optimizing your site.