Not so long ago we used to scoff at the idea of paid inclusion, ha, it'll never be a viable business model we thought. It doesn't buy you anything, just inclusion in the index, who would bother paying for that when chances are, you'll get it for free anyway? Aside from the 48 hour refresh for optimization purposes there didn't seem to be a compelling reason to bite.
If we had stuck to our guns, we'd probably have a lot more money in our pockets. If the engines still wanted to be engines that anyone would use, they have to include our pages anyway.
Along comes the Trusted Feed, yesterday's Spam is todays Trusted Feed, I believe one infamous SES speaker once orated from the podium.
Now everybody knows that even though pages in Trusted Feed programs only generate revenue for the engine when people click on them, they aren't treated differently than than the free pages. The content in the title, description and keyword tags in the feed is just judged to be much better than real content on the free pages.
So in the end, are businesses really any better off now that everyone is using these paid inclusion programs? It makes it easier to count the beans and look at a one liner that shows expenses and revenue and say, hey this Feed is making us money, whereas previously if the site was optimized, it made money that was just not so easy to quantify.
So then there is the power of the brand. Presumably your brand is yours. If somebody looks for your brand online, you shouldn't have to pay for it and the end user would expect to be able to find your site. End users would probably think there was something wrong with an engine if they performed a branded search and the brand they were looking for didn't come up. If you run an affiliate program and don't protect your brand, it may be a different story, but that's a topic for another thread.
Naturally, if you skew the keywords in a feed towards the brand, the conversion rates will be higher and the bean counters will be happier because they "see" a higher ROI (that they were probably previously getting for free but did not know how to or couldn't quantify). Lets say you use a bulk directory inclusion program that gives you a big presence on, say, MSN. Your brand probably gets taxed big time because you virtually ensure you'll have to ante up for any branded search. That may, however, be balanced by increased click through rates on topical unbranded searches when people see a brand name in a listing for the search they are performing and click on it because it is a brand they recognize. Over the long term, targeting generic terms with lower initial conversion rates is likely to introduce more people to your brand and generate more long term revenue and repeat sales.
Sometimes when companies buy these types of Feed programs, they may compare it to the results from their affiliate programs which they know nothing about except the one line ROI numbers. Naturaly its got a higher conversion rate because the company running the affiliate program is capturing a ton of branded traffic that converts. If you have a nationally known brand and you pay out an affiliate commission for all sales that come from people searching for your brand on the search engine that most browsers default to, that's a lot of cash out the window. The numbers show that the program perfoms really well, but again, a huge chunk of what they are paying for would be theirs whether they were paying or not. Another sucker bet.
So in the end, paid inclusion is like the Prisoners Dilemma aka John Nash and game theory. Weren't we all better off before everyone started buying in and paying for what they could have gotten for free?
The traffic would still be flowing, people would still be clicking, we'd still be ringing up sales. As ROI reporting and tracking has improved dramatically over the years we'd even be able to quantify it all..........