In Search Of Excellence--And Profits

Google competitors unabashedly sell search-result placements. A Google exec says there are no plans to do that at Google.

Tony Kontzer, Contributor

August 18, 2003

2 Min Read

The search market has been one of the most active this year, with a string of acquisitions, healthy financial reports, and growing demand for corporate search tools. One thing that hasn't changed: When it comes to Web searching, Google retains an enviable position.

Although search-firm execs gathered this week in Silicon Valley for Jupiter Research's Search Engine Strategies conference didn't admit as much, a panel discussion Monday indicated that there's Google, and then there's everyone else. Which explains why just about every other search engine is relying on various forms of paid search results for revenue. "Unless you offer a value add to what Google does, it's going to be really hard to compete," Jim Diaz, senior VP for Ask Jeeves told a couple of hundred attendees. Diaz' comment put a smile on the face of co-panelist Sheryl Sandberg, VP of global online sales and operations for Google.

Then there was the audience member who asked how the rest of the search engines could possibly deliver Google-type relevance in their search results if they depend on paid inclusion. Panelists offered various forms of defense. "We believe paid inclusion actually helps us deliver relevance," said Tony Mamone, VP of small-business services for Looksmart Ltd. Mamone argued that advertisers have to be diligent about ensuring that their paid listings yield results for them, which in turn likely means they had relevance to the searcher.

Tim Cadogan, VP of search for Yahoo, which last month paid $1.6 billion for paid-search pioneer Overture Services Inc., agreed that paid inclusion can actually boost relevance by including pages that Yahoo's Web-crawling technology doesn't have access to, and he noted that being paid for doesn't put a result where it doesn't belong. Rather, paid listings get ranked higher than unpaid ones when they offer comparable relevance to a search query. The panel's moderator, Safa Rashtchy, senior research analyst at U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray, said people come to search engines for relevant results, regardless of what got those results at the top of the list.

Sandberg said Google has no plans to sell search results, generating a smattering of applause in the audience. "We'll still be about elegance and simplicity, just like we've always been," she said.

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