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    The Evolution of Search Engine Marketing
If you've ever spent time trying to promote your web site then you know how difficult it is to attract targeted visitors. Most of today's common online marketing methods such as banners, e-mail lists and sponsorship are becoming increasingly less effective at attracting the right visitors. So with banner ad rates at an all time low and sponsorship on top traffic sites still at a premium, what's an online marketer to do?

Well, with a little care and preparation it's still possible to drive thousands of targeted visitors to your web site each month via search engine marketing. In fact, one of the most cost effective ways for many companies to increase web site traffic is through through search engine marketing (also known as search engine optimization).

However, much has changed in the past 12 months. A number of high profile search engine companies have exited the scene, most noticeably Excite and Disney's Go. And with the drop in online advertising income, many of the surviving search engines have started to charge listing fees to increase their bottom line. In addition, an entirely new type of search service known as pay for placement search engines have started to flex their muscles.

The end result is that it's becoming more difficult to achieve good results by just submitting your site using the free submission services (if they exist at all). In fact, it's now more important than ever to pay just to be listed. While there will always be room for small sites to attract decent traffic numbers to their niche related web site, companies must now look at using these paid services.

The Quick Path to Success
Many of the top search engines including Yahoo, LookSmart, Lycos (via Alltheweb.com), Inktomi, AltaVista, and newcomer Teoma now charge a standard listing fee. Yahoo, started the trend a few year back and now charges an annual fee of $299 US for each submission while LookSmart is now experimenting with a combination of a $49 US listing fee (plus the option of a $30 US monthly fee for extra visitors) . Not to be outdone, the crawler based search engines such as AltaVista, Inktomi, Alltheweb.com (powers Lycos) are also experimenting with their own inclusion fees.

Yahoo's search reach is one of highest on the Internet. With a well crafted description and proper category placement, inclusion in Yahoo will pay for itself within a few short weeks. While it doesn't have the same brand strength, the LookSmart directory is used by a number of other large search portals including MSN and AOL. Inclusion here will help provide a boost for your site in LookSmart's partner sites.

On the other side, the crawler based search engines have started to charge an annual $12-25 US fee per page for automatic inclusion (they all guarantee a 48 hour turn around time). Obviously, the more pages you submit the costlier it becomes. With a large site, you could easily be looking at a few thousand dollars per year, a large jump in costs for a service with little or no track record.

While both AltaVista and Alltheweb.com still provide free search submission, Inktomi which provides results for MSN, InfoSpace and a host of others, now only accepts paid submissions. It's likely only a matter of time before AltaVista and Alltheweb join the fray.

However, while new inclusion fees are popping up everywhere, paying them doesn't guarantee success. In fact, if you get placed in the wrong Yahoo or LookSmart category or worse yet, receive a poorly written description, then there's a good chance your money will be wasted. While they're happy to take your money, they ultimately decide where to put you and how you will be received.

To make matters worse, if you failed to prepare your site for the crawler based search engines by including good content, limiting the use of Flash, frames, or heavy use of graphics, you've once again wasted your money. The only guarantee to reach the top is through the new Pay for Placement engines.

The Rise of Paid Placement Search
One of the main reasons for the rise in Paid Placement fees is primarily due to the success of Overture, a pay for placement search engine. Overture and others such as FindWhat provide relevant search results to visitors based on a bidding process. For example, as an advertiser, if you wish to have the number one position on Overture for the keyword 'party animal', you'll need to bid $0.25 US per click through. In other words, any time someone clicked on your listing at Overture you pay Overture for that privilege. Obviously, the more competitive the category, the more you'll need to dish out to stay at the top and the more it'll cost to drive the same amount of traffic.

In addition, the top 3-5 results from Overture also show up at the top of many of the other search engines as advertised listings. The end result is increased profile, increased traffic and increased costs.

However, if you sell a niche product or bid for less competitive keywords, it's possible to drive 2500-5000 visitors a month for a few hundred dollars using these services. With target results, and a strong web site you should start to see an increase in leads and more importantly sales.

What about the Rest?
So what do you do if your budget is limited? At the very least, be prepared to cop the funds for the Yahoo listing. It's as vital today as a Yellow Page's ad.

Fortunately there are still a few search engines that don't charge you for the privilege. One of the largest is Google which arrived on the scene a few years back. However, to maximize rankings and traffic you still need to ensure your web site is optimized for Google's crawler. Also, while they last, you can also take advantage of the free submission tools provided by AltaVista and Alltheweb.com. But hurry, your time may be running out.

If your web site is in need of targeted traffic, please contact us at info@mediakraft.com for assistance.