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The Future of Free Search Engine Publicity

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For years, almost anyone involved with the promotion of their website, be it for commercial or other purposes, has come to either love, or hate, search engines. Whether it is Yahoo, Google, MSN, Ask Jeeves, or one of the literally thousands of smaller search engines and directories, website owners have known that by “optimizing” their site for search engines, they could hope to rise to the top ranks of a leading search engine when an applicable keyword or phrase was entered in the search engine by a user.

Back in 1997, when I started a small retail website that sells antique maps, www.vintagemaps.com, all it took to get indexed in the Yahoo directory was a free submission. My site was dutifully submitted, and within four weeks it was #1 for its most important keyword phrase, and it remained in Yahoo’s top 10 for at least a year. Today, by contrast, it would cost $299 to even submit a commerical site to the Yahoo directory, and there is no guarantee that it will even be indexed!

The world has changed. For observers of the search engine phenomenon, it was only a matter of time before the free ride was over. How could it be otherwise? For years, website owners such as myself had been enjoying vast, and free publicity, courtesy of various search engines and directories. It could not last forever. First came search engine optimization, whereby savvy website owners hired specialists to “tweak” their sites to get better placement on the search engines. As soon as the search engines saw dollars being pumped into search, they began setting up their own payment models, including “pay-per-click” methods that allow an advertiser to display a small ad, adjacent to the free search results, tied to specific keywords.

2004 is turning out to be the year when the free ride is looking like an endangered species. Everyone is getting into the act: Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Verizon, and more. The phone company “Yellow Pages” people are growing their internet presence, and all these companies are searching for just the right mix of keyword/pay-per-click/paid directory listing model. Already, the paid options for website promotion far outnumber the old-fashioned search engine placement. Where it will end is anyone’s guess. But what’s for sure is that the free ride is nearly over. Exposure on the Internet, like exposure in the rest of the media, has become a commodity. In the future, many ways of promoting a webiste will resemble advertising models familiar from the non-Internet world. To garner promotional exposure, the website owner will need to expend more resources than ever. Whether the resources are supplied personally by the website owner, or by hired specialists, does not really matter. The new reality is that promotion on the Internet is already looking a lot like promotion everywhere else in the world. Vital, and valuable.

Neil Street is co-founder of Small Business Online, an internet
marketing and web design company
, based in Norwalk, CT. Email href="mailto:neil@smallbusinessonline.net">Neil at Small Business Online
or call him at 203.299.0889

The Future of Free Search Engine Publicity
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