Paid Inclusion Under Fire at Search Engine Shindig

Ask Jeeves bows out of a paid inclusion program a day after Yahoo's embrace of the method, turning the topic into a heated industry discussion Wednesday at the Search Engine Strategies 2004 conference.

NEW YORK—The debate over the fairness and relevancy of paid search spilled onto the stage at the Jupitermedias Search Engine Strategies 2004 conference here on Wednesday.

On one side: Google Inc., which objects to any commingling of paid search with its Web index. On the other: Yahoo Inc., which embraced this week a program for letting Web sites pay to be included in its recently launched Web index.

And in the middle: Ask Jeeves Inc., which has dropped one paid program, where Web sites could provide XML feeds into its index, while maintaining another for paying to submit sites for crawling.

The varying positions demonstrate the evolving field of Web search. The battle to deliver the most relevant results, and to make money, has intensified now that Yahoo has switched from Googles search results to its own technology and as Microsoft Corp. builds its own technology.

The latest shift was Ask Jeeves discontinuation of its Index Express program for direct XML feeds into its Teoma search engine index. Paul Gardi, Ask Jeeves senior vice president of operations and planning, said the company was not denouncing the practice of paid inclusion but dropped that form because it didnt return relevant results for users.

"It really is critical if you put information in the index that it is found in a relevant way," he said. "That method of paid submission was not meeting that requirement."

Ask Jeeves, of Emeryville, Calif., is continuing its Site Submit program, where sites pay to guarantee that their pages get crawled, Gardi said.

But Google and Yahoo, in a far-reaching panel discussion here on the future of search, did stake out clear opinions on whether Web sites should be able to pay to ensure their pages are indexed.

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Google will continue to ban any paid inclusion into its Web search index, said Craig Silverstein, Googles director of technology, which drew applause from the audience. The Mountain View, Calif., company follows a strict division between its advertising business for sponsored search links and its ranking of regular results, he said.

"Its hard to be sure that the end result of the algorithm would be the same and that everyone is being treated fairly," Silverstein said of allowing paid inclusion.

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