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AltaVista to sell search result positioning

But paying for keywords will increase the results' relevance, honest...

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AltaVista is to become the first major Web search outfit to allow companies to pay to have their site displayed prominently in search results. Smaller outfits do this sort of thing already, and cynics might be suspicious of certain larger outfits, but AltaVista is the first to grasp the nettle firmly. And, depending on reactions out there, to shove it straight up its corporate nose. The AltaVista scheme could start as early as Monday, and is being promoted by Web ad operation DoubleClick, which is soliciting business with the message: "When users perform keyword searches on AltaVista, what is the first listing they see? Now it can be your company's listing." The conditions under which it really is your company's name aren't entirely clear, but the programme is starting out with around 500 initial keywords, and AltaVista is going to have the thorny problem of keeping search results looking honest and relevant while at the same time satisfying the companies who're paying money to... well, to what? Search results are of course fixed to some extent anyway, outfits that use the same keyword multiple times in order to increase 'relevance' being just one example. But that's something search outfits should surely be trying to edit out of their results, in order to improve the service they're offering. Taking money for positioning could in that sense be seen as a move in the opposite direction. AltaVista says the new 'service' will actually be making results more relevant, but it's going to have to figure out how just adding money can make this the case. At the moment it seems AltaVista envisages adding in merchant sites that are relevant, so think of a concept, then think of things associated with that concept that people would like to sell you, and presumably those are the sites you get. Try "a host of golden daffodils" and you'll no doubt get five garden centres before Wordsworth. ®

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