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Pay per search model - why wouldn't it work?
NOTE - I do NOT mean pay per click.

 4:44 pm on Jan 3, 2003 (gmt 0)

Take your webmaster hats off for a second and consider this idea. Think about it as experienced internet 'users', rather than webmasters.

What would stop Google charging users on a pay per search basis? By this I mean Google charging users a couple of cents for every search they do. What is SO awful about this business model that people rarely give it serious consideration?

I hear comments from people that they would change search engines, if Google started to charge users for searching. But that would be stupid of them for two reasons. First Google gives the best and most relevant results and therefore why would you want to save 2 cents and miss some useful piece of information? The other search engines are NOWHERE near as good. Google would have to spend some money promoting that to the average internet user I grant you, but journalists who are often Google converts would help a great deal in that regard.

Second once Google had made the first move and started to charge users for each search, the other SE companies would have to follow suit. (Google's competitors can't do it at the moment because people WOULD move from the second best engine to a BETTER free search engine). Why anyone is still searching with a substandard search engine is beyond me, but the news of Google's superiority would reach even a stupid person's ears when they had to pay.

I think many perhaps most experienced searchers would acknowledge that Google is certainly worth paying for. If you got 500 searches a quarter for $10 would that be too much to pay given how useful Google is? I would certainly pay more than that. Google could obviously come up with all sorts of pricing options like unlimited searches for $100 per year etc. But in essence you would pay a small amount of money everytime you searched.

This model seems to have HUGE advantages to me.

1. It allows Google to stay focused on excellent relevant search results while still IPO'ing the company and showing shareholders and VERY profitable revenue stream. Do the math, assuming the average home user spent $20 per year and the corporate user $50, through a corporate licence.

2. The benefit a user is getting is directly attributable to the money you are paying. When you search for results and get them (even non-results are useful information) you are finding information and saving time over some other method. That is ALMOST ALWAYS worth 2 cents per search even if you are making minimum wage.

3. I acknowledge there is a privacy issue, but there are various ways of handling this. For the paranoid, they could pay in cash at the post office and get a licence number to type into their downloaded Google counter. Personally I am not THAT concerned and would happily pay on a credit card. Any really DEVIOUS searching I would just do at work on someone elses computer.

Initially Google should give users 30 free searches per month and therefore only be asking for money from bigger users. Over time the free searches per month would be lowered until eventually it would tend to zero.

[edited by: coldcall at 7:27 pm (utc) on Jan. 3, 2003]



 5:00 pm on Jan 3, 2003 (gmt 0)

Interesting proposal but I don't think that it would really be sustainable for the following reasons.

1. Google although ahead in relevancy is not that far ahead and I could see a massive drop in traffic on the initial setup of such a system.

Although $10 is not much in some countries, in others it represents a significant sum of money.

2 Many users will only make a very few searches and for them it would be a case of not getting their moneys worth. They would also have the signing up process to go through which would put them off using the pay per search engine as opposed to other engines.

3. Many users will use Google casually whenever they like and may well click on Adwords entries. Would the extra income generated from the paid for searches recompense Google for the potential loss in Adword and Sponsored listing income.

4. Internet Cafe users would effectively be blocked from using Google, unless a special case was made for payment by the internet cafe.


 5:01 pm on Jan 3, 2003 (gmt 0)


what would be the situtaion with Premium Listings and Adwords in your scenario.



 5:41 pm on Jan 3, 2003 (gmt 0)


I guess you could elect to see them or not see them in the sign-up process. Personally I would leave them in. Most of the time I ignore them anyway, they really do not bother me that much. I focus on the results.

While Google are charging for Ad Words and other such things I doubt very much whether most advertisers are getting a good return on their money. They probably just feel that they have to spend advertising money somewhere so they should spend some of it on the world best search engine. I know how corporate advertising budgets are spent and very little real analysis is done.


Poor countries could be excluded from the charge. Personally I would charge them since the people using the internet in those countries are the people who are both literate and can afford access to a computer. I should know I live in Russia. There are people over here richer than the richer Americans.

But I know that both the founders of Google are softhearted fellows and probably very concerned about poor people around the world. SO.. we know the IP addresses in the poor countries, give them Google access for free.

Internet cafes would download a special program that allowed for them to bill users for Google searching OR they could be specially licenced to get unlimited searches if it was uneconomic to charge people. The internet cafe would buy an unlimited licence and those cafes that DIDN'T buy one would then have a disadvantage over those that did.

Then where would you go to drink coffee? The cafe with a Google licence or the one without. Assuming the Google cafe has better coffee AND internet access is 15% more expensive. To save a dollar are you going to lose Google access?


 5:44 pm on Jan 3, 2003 (gmt 0)

>While Google are charging for Ad Words and other such things I doubt very much whether most advertisers are getting a good return on their money.

Can't let that go by without commenting that adwords has been "berry berry good to me". :)


 6:00 pm on Jan 3, 2003 (gmt 0)

While Google are charging for Ad Words and other such things I doubt very much whether most advertisers are getting a good return on their money. They probably just feel that they have to spend advertising money somewhere so they should spend some of it on the world best search engine. I know how corporate advertising budgets are spent and very little real analysis is done.

Following Mikes comments above.

You obviously have not spent too long in the Google Adwords or PPC forums around here.

A few advertisers round here actually see a result :)



 6:14 pm on Jan 3, 2003 (gmt 0)

Going to pay-per-search would reduce total searches by a huge proportion (my guess: 95-99%), and as a result their Adwords revenue would almost disappear.

Not only that, but Google's single biggest asset is probably its current dominance of Internet searching. I'm sure the people backing Google's hypothesized IPO have thought of all kinds of ways to generate revenue streams from that, but if they went PPS that would disappear as well.

I'm not saying PPS could never work in any context, but IMO services that could be branded as "premium" search tools would be better candidates - i.e. images, news, newsgroups, froogle.


 6:17 pm on Jan 3, 2003 (gmt 0)

Nothing would kill google faster. There are some that would use it, but not many. They would contracturally still have to provide their search results through AOL and Yahoo. If you lose the AOL and Yahoo income you would also lose the adwords income for those sources. Some of the big users might pay, but the average joe surfer would not. A very optimistic guess would be that they would lose only 75% of their traffic. Less people would bother competing for adwords and the prices will probably drop at least by half.

So, what you are suggesting is that a *profitable* internet company throw away 90%+ of their current income, to try an income model that has driven many internet companies to bankruptcy!

Given a few months, a group of programmers could change ht://dig to a distributed search engine, that could provide reasonably good results. They would not be as good as google, but they could be free, reasonably decent, and supported by the text ad model that google pioneered.


 6:24 pm on Jan 3, 2003 (gmt 0)

Berry berry good? that's some new dialect I haven't heard before :)


 6:27 pm on Jan 3, 2003 (gmt 0)

Northern Light [northernlight.com] has been pay for search for 4-5 years, perhaps longer. It's a business model that can work but, out of financial necessity, they don't target the same Internet users that Google does.


 6:27 pm on Jan 3, 2003 (gmt 0)

>people WOULD move from the second best engine to a BETTER free search engine

Would they?

How many people think Google is a better search engine? Granted the IT community do - but we have a lot of information to back it up.

The average Joe is just going with the flow - his techie mate told him to use Google cos its better, so he did.

If Google started charging users per search the following would happen:

1. A noticable decrease in searches. People WOULD go elsewhere. The average Joe will not compare their results with other search engine results. They will assume all are the same.

2. Referals would drop as a result.

3. More and more webmasters would concentrate on optimsing for other SE's (not a bad thing though!).

4. Users see better results on other FREE SE's (or at least are increasingly happy with what they find).

5. Other SE's gain popularity - Google loses traffic.

6. At this point one of two things would happen:

a. The free search engines would continue to be free and Google would change or just die.

b. The now popular SE would start charging as well. Thus begins a major price war - more money spent on marketing - less on development.

7. The world ends as we know it.

It will happen. :)



 6:27 pm on Jan 3, 2003 (gmt 0)

What would be done about Google's search partners? You can still search Google on a multitude of other engines.


 6:35 pm on Jan 3, 2003 (gmt 0)

Thanks for the replies everyone. Seems to me a case of dammed if you do dammed if you don't. Why people would not pay for superior search results is beyond me. Why would anyone want to use a free search engine which is ALMOST as good.

I personally think 99% predictions of fall-off are way off base. The people that use Google the most would continue to use it and pay for it. Those in the middle might move, in part because they couldn't be bothered to sign up perhaps, but once they realised that they were getting inferior search results they would return and if over the threshold pay. There would be a few die hards that would never pay for anything on the internet. But they are few and can be ignored as commercially irrelevant.

Of course this would need to be supported with an advertising campaign and media/public/internet debate about whether it was WORTH paying for search. I think that debate can be won.

Google still have an edge on their competitors, but I will admit it is eroding slowly away. Teoma and ATW are catching them up according to my experience and I have at least as much as anyone else, since I have been a professional searcher for nearly 8 years.

Perhaps it is too late and the gap between Google and the others is not big enough. But if that is the case then long term Google are doomed. As soon as two new boffins come along with a better method and get significantly better search results and index the entire web, then all the ad words people are going to move to the latest and greatest engine. Google will go the way of Napster.

In addition there are a generation of people coming up behind us (I suspect the average age of people in this forum is around 30) who are more familiar with new technology and not so resistant to change. For myself, if someone can show me a better search engine than Google, I would change tomorrow and pay per search.


 6:35 pm on Jan 3, 2003 (gmt 0)

Google would be much better off becoming a portal and charging a monthly fee for portal related services, while making their search exclusive to their portal for registered memebers.

Google could make it manditory other portals who offer Google search like AOL or Yahoo also require login/authentication to see Google SERP's as well... this could work.

Also, not everyone has a credit card either, don't forget. You would eliminate 30-40% of the surfing public right away if you did that, even assuming everyone would want to sign-up.


 6:36 pm on Jan 3, 2003 (gmt 0)

A completely different service - Premium Search Portal - with lots of extra goodies for subscribers - would be a more likely scenario. Saved searches, email alerts, search news archives, customised search portal personal page.


 6:38 pm on Jan 3, 2003 (gmt 0)


If google traffic dropped, Adwords + Premium listing rates would definately drop. Google would never jeopardise their Adwords income which makes up nearly 100% of revenues.

It would also make Google the bad kid on the block, and those young guys at the Googleplex want people to love them.


 6:39 pm on Jan 3, 2003 (gmt 0)

A completely different service - Premium Search Portal - with lots of extra goodies for subscribers - would be a more likely scenario. Saved searches, email alerts, search news archives, customised search portal personal page.

stop giving GG them ideas, its bad enough him jumping around for the #@/x} these days.



 6:42 pm on Jan 3, 2003 (gmt 0)

In addition there are a generation of people coming up behind us (I suspect the average age of people in this forum is around 30) who are more familiar with new technology and not so resistant to change.

The generation under 30 may not be resistant to technological change, but it's very resistant to spending money on Internet content, to judge from the popularity of MP3 file sharing.


 7:49 pm on Jan 3, 2003 (gmt 0)

in the UK the telephone company started charging for yellow pages type information ... people stopped calling and the advertisers got well unhappy,
so they had to revert back to free calls.

paying for search goes against the grain for most people - additionally most users cannot discern good results from bad, so they would migrate from google i think.

my genuine belief is that google increases in popularity not because it is better but because it is somehow perceived to be "cooler" - almost by definition it will become uncool at some point (but thats for another thread)

professional researchers will often consider paying for info but amateurs not.


 8:02 pm on Jan 3, 2003 (gmt 0)

Google would have to be crazy to implement a pay for search model! I'm sure most of us agree that G! has the best SERP but let's not forget that we are power users here. The average person would thinks it's ridiculous having to pay for results and would go to Y! or MSN or someone else. Let's just say that the average user paid for search for a month and compared the results with MSN! Do you really think that if the results are somewhat similar (5 or 10 out of 20 that the average user is going to continue paying? All the average user wants is results and if he/she can get them from a free search engine, they are going to!


 9:47 pm on Jan 3, 2003 (gmt 0)

To be honest, many people don't search properly (and when I'm not too sure what I'm looking for I don't).

for example:

Mr X wants information on UK spec Ford Mondeo 1.8i LX 4d Saloon.
He searches:

1) Ford
2) Ford Mondeo
3) Ford Mondeo Specs
4) Ford Mondeo Specifications
5/6) (Searchs the above two, but has reverted to Google.co.uk with UK only selected)
7) Ford Mondeo 1.8 Specifications
8) Ford Mondeo 1.8 LX Information
9) Ford Mondeo 1.8i LX Info

Point, we don't find everything our our first search. It may take 20-30 searches to find something highly specific to our requirements - I for one would change and search elsewhere if they started to charge.


Point 2: How do people pay? Would we have to log in to search? How would I use Google when I am at work (I can use it for personal use there as well as business use)? What about companies that do not own credit/debit cards? - there are some.


 9:57 pm on Jan 3, 2003 (gmt 0)

I think there is a biz model there for Google, targeted at large corparations, the difficulty is how to differenciate it from the free service. The choices must be to either restrict the number of free searches from large corps [how many searches a day do you think are made from the MS group of companies, would it put MS at a competitive disadvantadge if they were unable to search G!?] or add enhanced options etc for normal users. I'd go for the large corps if it were me, throw in a few bones such as a "personal search advisor".

BTW - This is a *must* read [webmasterworld.com...]


 9:59 pm on Jan 3, 2003 (gmt 0)

I think Google can entirely finance itself with Adwords and Premiums: my point of view is that their incomes will grow rapidly in the next future, simply because their market is huge: just think about all the commercial topics and the millions of keyword-combinations that exist and in how many countries... they have millions of potential customers.

Pay per search would kill Premium and Adwords and bring far less income.


 10:31 pm on Jan 3, 2003 (gmt 0)

Google would be far better off exploiting their huge database for Big Brother applications. I can think of a few pretty sinister uses for the Google toolbar.

If they're going to ruin their name (which paid search would do), they might as well make a few billion on the way.

NFFC, the technology's already being used by the Chinese government. After a certain volume of searches you can block Google access for an IP for a certain time. As you say this would kill information based corporations and they would have to pay. Blackmail? Yes. Immoral? No.


 7:58 am on Jan 4, 2003 (gmt 0)

GSX - I completely agree with you. As a trainer of people I know that most peoples ability to search is terrible. They have no idea of what to type into that box.

There is a projector in the reception area of the Googleplex in Mountain view and you can see from the things people are typing in around that most of them are clueless. No use of quote marks for text strings etc,.

My point is if Google had more income they could afford to train people (on-line, automated) on how to use search properly. I rarely have to do more than two searches to find what I want.

Google is really an information tool. It helps you find out stuff. Properly used it could give rise to a whole new generation of information businesses. My point is if people don't pay for it, it will never get much better than it is now and while it is good, it could be a lot better.

On another subject, the reason people don't pay for music is that it is not sold in the form and unit size they want. I want to buy a single song for not more than a dollar. Music companies don't offer me that. I don't want to buy a whole album of songs for one or two songs I might like. So I download them using Kazaa.

If a song cost less than $1 and I was assured of a certain quality, then I would just by it from the official site. Kazaa doesn't give me any kind of quality control, but when the song is OK it is just as good (to my ears anyway) as the official song.

People will pay for search (or anything else) if they are convinced there is a difference worth paying for.


 12:57 pm on Jan 4, 2003 (gmt 0)

Google could make money much better itself:

How about several froggle type sites (for different countries) where all products are pay per click on a fixed rate per click to the merchant? (Obviously opt-in and linked to from the main google sites serps when relevant)

Why not track user clicking and result positions and sell this information to large corporations/marketing companies for marketing information?

Their technology could be sold to perform internal searches for individual sites. Obviously paid for, but would also ensure that all indexable pages would be spidered more regularly.

They could also add new advertising methods to the AdWords/sponsored links systems. Google have been responsible enough to not slow the user down with ads, I'm sure they can continue with this.



 2:40 pm on Jan 4, 2003 (gmt 0)

the pay per search model might work in some cases. Google could restrict access to certain categories which users may be willing to pay for.

For example, Google's Unclesam portal could be charged. I'm sure the military would pay lots for that. It could even be made exclusive to the US government. The government might be willing to pay to "shut google up".

They might also charge for access to categories where other search engines don't perform well. These would generally be high revenue commercial categories I guess as the SEO factor would be high.

Finally, google might collude with the other top SEs and agree that they all go pay per search at the same time. This would probably be anti-trust, but it's not clean cut. It would open things up for a competitor, but Google has a 5 year research/patent advantage and 10000 PCs. Any competitor would have to be very brave to sink in the money required to compete to make equal quality searches for free.


 3:17 am on Jan 7, 2003 (gmt 0)

"People will pay for search (or anything else) if they are convinced there is a difference worth paying for."

Although I would stop using Google if they started to charge per-search, what coldcall said above is, sadly, very true. The General Public (TM) could, for example, be convinced to pay for dog excrement if you package it nicely and tell them it can improve their skin. They could just as easily be convinced that paying for Google searches is a good thing.

Charging to use a search engine is like charging to use a library. I'd be annoyed if I were to go into a library one day to look up some info only to be told I need to pay X pence to read a book.


 3:29 am on Jan 7, 2003 (gmt 0)

You're post would completely kill off google in a year or two and i will tell you why.

What is the point of indexing 3 billion pages if no one searches?

What is the point of letting google crawl your site and waste your bandwidth (it would be a waste if this model was implemented)?

The amount of lost traffic this would cost google would not make it worthwhile to have google crawling your site because you instantly cut off ALL your traffic then need to get people to pay money to search and rebuild it.

The one other factor is this, once google goes PPS (pay per search) There will be a lot of university wiz kids working on more free search engines then there already is. Which will be free, index the same if not better than google AND be completely free.

How about Yahoo Search? Everyone knows google and yahoo are the same database feed.. why pay google when i can search yahoo and get the same results (almost the same) for free?

The big question is how many people would signup? 100,000?
Lets give it a generous estimate as to how this would work.
How many unique people search google a day? This is the value to google. I would bet hundreds of millions? Do you know the kind of impact cutting your searchs from hundreds of millions of people to only 500,000 paying customers?

THE ONLY advantage to this is that you will be targetted to people who spend money online.

This is a bad BAD business model imho.

Just my 2 cents


 4:01 am on Jan 7, 2003 (gmt 0)

Pay per search on Google alone?

Nope wouldn't work. They might be good in some areas but they aren't flawless. It will get old real quick having to use your credits to pay for 5 searches each time to narrow down the results for certain items. Like gsx said.

Subscription services for a load of options like others have mentioned here might have a chance.

If they offered some sort of personalization and content update notice options then I might be willing to pay.

For example, maybe I would like to flag a few products/categories in Froogle and want. to know when some prices were changed or more merchants were added.

Or maybe I would like to know when a few sites updated their content.

Or maybe I would like to know when a few news sites published some articles on a keyword phrase I chose.

This kind of stuff is all possible and sooner or later I'm sure Google will reach that level. They have the tech for personalization. Even their Dir. of Machine Learning, Peter Norvig, is a part-time adviser for Fetch Technologies [fetch.com], a company that focuses on fetching updated content.

It is all there and that's what can bring in paid subscription services.

But just to pay money to search on Google as it is now? Forget it. They'd be history in less than a month.

And on offering poor countries free search? Well, those who have the knowledge in countries that have to pay would just use open proxies in those poor countries.

Also, Google isn't going to crawl my sites for free only to make money off them when I don't. I'm sure a lot of other people would feel the same.

oh, and happy 1000 posts to myself :)

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