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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)

10+ Year Member

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]


5:03 am on Jan 7, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

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.

Ah, at last there is a phrase for people like me. "Commercially irrelevant." Has a nice ring to it. ;)


6:38 am on Jan 7, 2003 (gmt 0)

iamjoe wrote:

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

That advantage could be illusory, because people who spend money to search (e.g., business and government employees searching for work-related information) may not be the same people who search for ways to spend their money.


7:38 am on Jan 7, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Well everyone seems to love the idea that pay-per-search won't work...and I agree.

Google already have pay-per-search, it is called Google Answers, I wonder why they don't force everyone to use it?

The second Google tried to enforce pay-per-search (PPS, gonna trademark it immediately;)) their user base would simply jump to Yahoo's Inktomi search (time warp with me in this fantasy), which may not be the best, but it is adequate :)


8:46 am on Jan 7, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

No offence, coldcall, but I have serious doubts as to whether you have any experience of business or economics. Your points make no real sense.

The one I'm going to pick on is the joint 'selling subcriptions' and IPO one.

Google already turns a neat profit, and appears to be expanding well without further funds being needed. Let's say Google did charge for searches, as you suggest. That means Google would have piles and piles of money coming in every month. In which case.. why would they want to go public? It makes no sense.

Going public is only worthwhile when you need investors' money to expand or effect new business plans. Other than that, there's little point, since they can retain better control of the company as-is.


10:03 am on Jan 7, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

>>> That advantage could be illusory, because people who spend money to search (e.g., business and government employees searching for work-related information) may not be the same people who search for ways to spend their money.

Interesting thought, however I work for Middlesbrough Council and I know for a fact that if Google started charging, Middlesbrough Council would issue an email circular telling us not to use Google and suggest alternatives such as MSN (:() or AltaVista (:o).


10:32 am on Jan 7, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member


what about FAST (AllTheWeb).



2:12 pm on Jan 7, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

The question was posed once, "Would the web survive if Google simply disappeared?"

The answer is yes. The other SE's would scramble for more servers but we would all get through it.

How is this relevent to the original question? We [b]assume[/b] that Google is indespensible with the searching public. It is not. People can and would vote with their feet and be perfectly happy with ATW, or Ask. Maybe not quite as satified as they were with G. but they will get by. Joe Public is just not going to payt to use Google.


3:08 pm on Jan 7, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

IPOing a company is not always a good idea.

Let's face it, and I admit it, I am a cheap ***.

Why can't we stick to the reality standards of getting paid for a good service and product. And then focus on adding value, to become even more valuable.

Google has definitely done that, but in the niche we are in, no one would pay for regular searching.

Maybe an extra service could be charged for, like you get the basic search for free, but translations and pdf's and special functions must be paid for.

That makes sense.

[edited by: eelixduppy at 9:25 pm (utc) on Feb. 18, 2009]


4:15 pm on Jan 7, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

right...the biggest bait-and-switch maneuver ever. i can't recall many long-term successful companies employing that strategy. you're talking drastic overhaul of business plan here...the one that has made them one of the most talked about and successful internet companies last year. nope.


4:45 pm on Jan 7, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member


I think I would use FAST or perhaps even AskJeeves, unfortunately I don't think half the staff in Middlesbrough Council will have ever heard of either of them.


6:06 pm on Jan 7, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

BUT, if FAST or MSN took over the slack from google vanishing would they return to the free submissions or would they still charge their $18 Per url to spider the site?

I think it is time US CONTENT PROVIDERS STRIKE BACK and lets start charging the spiders to index our content, because without it there would be no spiders or search engines.

Should be one hand washes the other but the SE's are forgetting that, with the exception of google.


6:21 pm on Jan 7, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

iamjoe, MSN (Inktomi), Fast and AV still index new sites for free, you just have to wait a lot longer. Typically about 2 months. Google's free indexing of a new site is rarely any quicker.

If Google had a "quick index" PFI option and charged $18 (or much more) per URL, I'm sure there are huge numbers of people who would pay to be truely indexed within 24/48 hours.

I wonder how many posts per month there are on WW and other forums of the variety "When will Google index my site?".

Google is currently missing out on a useful service and good revenue opportunity IMHO ;)


6:50 pm on Jan 7, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member bigdave is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

MSN (Inktomi), Fast and AV still index new sites for free, you just have to wait a lot longer. Typically about 2 months. Google's free indexing of a new site is rarely any quicker.

5 months and waiting, with every engine other than Google. Google took 3 months to get to the point where it was getting all 2000+ pages. Alltheweb is up to 146 pages, MSN has none, AV has only our home page

It might have something to do with no one that links to us are likely to participate in PFI either.

Given that info, I consider Google's 3 months to be like greased lightning.


7:01 pm on Jan 7, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

price is an amazing filter


7:10 pm on Jan 7, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Simple fact of the matter is that anything internet users are accustomed to not paying for, is literally impossible to change their mindset on to make them pay. They do not see the value of paying for something that is available elsewhere for free, even if it is an inferior service.

Example being, I started an online chat site that I felt was a cut above most others because of a high attention to detail, easy to use chat environment, and numerous user friendly features for its members (example, hundreds could chat simultaneously, create their own private rooms, was moderated by a team of people, strong member directory and similar user matching features; world time service; a concierge). The plan was to roll it out for a few months with free memberships and at the end of 2002 it would become a pay site. Approximately $15 for a YEAR of full service chat. (To us as a company, this would replace having to show banner ads, would pay for hosting, software licenses, development costs and other expendatures).

As soon as word got out that the site would become a pay site, everyone literally logged out in unison (regulars that came on every day like a ritual for hours and newbies alike), and their reason was simply, "well we can chat elsewhere free". I knew the chat rooms they were talking about, and most of them were clumsy at best sites with black backgrounds and eye numbing blue text, no directories with fancy search features or customer support - but to them it still served a similar enough function, to chat.

So in the end, you can offer a better product or service and charge for it, but its value of the lesser but free counterpart that wins in the end in the Internet world.


7:10 pm on Jan 7, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Google would be making a big mistake to go for the "doggie dung in brightly colored tissue paper" market. Sure, it's a big and profitable market--just look at MSN.

But it's a risky market, too: Microsoft is willing to pay goons to bash the windows and kneecaps of stores who sell other breeds, um, brands. You don't pick fights with junkyard dogs under the wrecks, you don't sell dope on street corners outside your ethnic neighborhood, and you don't compete with Microsoft to sell toxic waste. (Yahoo is dangerously close to playing this game already....I suspect google will read their autopsy VERY closely before entering the same junkyard.)


7:48 pm on Jan 7, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

You know every time you gents mention something like this you give them search engines more danged ideas. So stop it dang it.

Now back to your question. I think its a bad idea. Here is why, As mentioned before they already have froogle and adwords. I know you are talking about have the customer buying searches. But the internet and, I think googles mission statement is more directed to being a free tool, rather than being a paid research tool. Look at the search engines in the past that did this Northern Light, they are all but gone. Aol sucks really bad, I wont get into it.

But these compaines have went that, to a all in one uber search engine isp and all around information source, way and they really cater to the people who dont know how to use the internet. They dont even understand it at all or how to use it for a search tool. So you go and charge them and they will be in the poor house because they are ignorant and do not know how to search the web. Someone mentioned that you could do an online teaching program, thats a good idea, but I dont think people will use it. Example on my web site I have a support page for several differnt products and an faqs page and still I get the questions on the same things over and over again when the information is clearly stated on the page. Maybe they will learn how to read but I dont think I will come anytime soon. So with this in mind Google will have to expand their opperations, which is not bad, to a customer support, email, and an entire new data base. These are not bad, but I would bet dollars to peso`s that 99% of the new departments time would be spent answering the same questions over and over again. Dont think for a second that the people would read the FAQs page because they dont want to look they want the information given to them. I honestly dont know if google would be up for this but the undertaken on this would be huge and I dont think the adverage joe would pay to do searches and then read how to do it. People want it given to them generally for free. If google went this road I would stop using it altogether.

As it is you get search engines that are cluttered like aol for example. I look at that home page and I want to vomit. I cant figure out what to do, so I went some place else. Another example is MSN, I think about 8 months ago they redesigned their web site and put the search box in the upper right hand corner and made the it about an inch and a half long. Well thats fine and good, but all of the search engines now have a search box that spans about 5 inches and is centered. I fear google would clutter up the NEW fantangled Pay per search engine up with the latest sponser and junk of all sorts and would be all but history. Again we are all speculating on something that is hypothetical and thats about it.

So my question is why doesnt google go for making their own browser.

Typos are free of charge.


12:38 am on Jan 8, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator brett_tabke is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

I've been been pestering search engines for a subscription model for a long time - especially Google. I really think the model is feasible and more importantly, profitable.

I think a $15 a month fee for say up to 2000 searches per day would be very reasonable.

I would not in any way want to see a per search fee. A per search fee would only encourage Google to obfuscate or down grade their results to encourage more page views.

If you got 500 searches a quarter for $10 would that be too much to pay given how useful Google is?

I think that's an obscene figure. Dude, it's 9am and I'm setting in an airport on a 14.4k air card - I've done several hundred searches in the last hour. I bet I average 700+ Google searches most days. I'm sure there are days I've done an honest 2-3k searches while digging for info on a subject. (Google could cut that figure by two thirds if they'd clone Teoma's 'refine suggestions').

Obviously, this would have to be 100% ad free to prevent (more?) Ggoogle corruption.

As for the free side, just go with a max of 10 results, require cookies to stop the bots and cut the bandwidth, and load em up with adwords spam 20 deep on both sides of the page.

I really hope Google comes up with a subscription model. It is the only thing that can potentially keep them from going down the same tube that other se's have went. I sure hope they give it a try.

As for competition doing the same; I think AllTheWeb and Teoma could potentially do the same. As soon as teoma gets their db up there in size, they are a true threat to the Google machine. AllTheWeb just keeps hanging around - sooner or later, they are going to hit gold too).


4:13 am on Jan 8, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I think google can do it only for very specific niches. For example, academic research in a certain field, etc.

The reason they cannot do it for the entire search market is because there is too much competition. Even if all search engines go for this model, there will always be a competitor that will be tempted to break this model and gain back the entire market. This is what is called in game theory as the prisioner's dilema.


9:33 am on Jan 8, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator ianturner is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

Unfortunately in this respect Google is its own worst enemy. It has already proven that you can make a profit offering a free search facility if the results are good enough.

The only reason it would have to go to a Pay per search model is if it thought it could make greater profits that way and as people have pointed out there is a raft of competition out there who could use Google's current business model to take a significant proportion of its market share and generate revenues.

Off the top of my head potentially serious players include Fast, Teoma, Altavista, Inktomi, Wisenut and Openfind. Given even 10% of Google's current market share any of these players could see a significant increase in revenue which would give them the impetus to increase their SERP quality to match that of Google.

Additionally you have the global problem. The $15/month that you propose is not a great deal to those of us in the US/Western Europe/Japan etc but take a look at these average monthly wage figures for eastern europe and the rest of the world


Can you see the average Ukrainian parting with 1/3 of his monthly wages on search each month?
He wouldn't have any option but to use an altenative free provider.

The current business model could be considered to be quite a fair trade model, a business providing a global service but financed by the rich. The alternative would effectively remove Google as a tool from the hands of the developing nations. (And if they decided to charge in the developed countries and not in the developing countries, I'm sure easter european, Indian and other asian providers would quickly offer reduced rate Google services via proxies in those countries effectively removing the revenue stream.)


1:59 pm on Jan 8, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Ian, you pointed to a interesting issue. U$15 is nothing to the average american internet user, but here in Brazil it is money. speccialy because our currency is currently at 3.5 to 1 dollar.

Also, people here don't like to pay in dollars because of the currency devaluation risk.

The only way would be to charge in local currencies.

But again, there is too much competition to this model become a viable one.


9:15 am on Jan 13, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Interesting concept ;)


12:34 pm on Jan 13, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Google would almost certainly loose their dominance in the search engine scene if they were to charge ordinary users to search!

The typical Internet user wants as much as possible for free, whether it be news, information or digital content. If they are not even prepared to pay to download music, I can't see them wanting to pay to search for information any time soon.

In short, I agree with BigDave in that "Nothing would kill google faster."


1:16 pm on Jan 13, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Applying some numbers to the question may be instructive.

Let us assume that Google currently handle an average of 200 million searches/day (this is close to official figures, and an easy number to work with)

if they charged 1c US per search, that leads to an income (assuming a 0% volume dropoff) of $2m/day => $730m/year

However, most internet users wouldn't know a good SERP from the previously mentioned dog leavings, and would rather have free rubbish than pay anything at all for search services. Lets be generous, and assume that instituting PPS costs them just half their volume (as we are also about to drop the cost/search)

Revenue = $365m/year

Also, 1c/search is a bit steep. Many of us power users can easily rack up a few hundred searches a day, so lets reduce to a more reasonable .1c/search. That would bring the cost for a 1000 search/day demon down to $1/day

Revenue = $36.5m/year

In order to charge your users, you will need to develop and implement a system to track who is online, and who is performing searches, and how much is left in their "search account" and deal with complaints, and deal with chargebacks from fraudulent transactions, and to chase bad debts, and new hardware, and the wages of staff to run the new system (do you see where this is going?) and so on, and so on. I would be surprised if you could get away with much under $10m/year costs on this

Profit = $26.5m/year

Then you have to take into account the loss of advertising revenue. Given that this model already assumes a 50% drop in search volume, and presumably therefore a drop of at least 50% in ad revenue, who thinks that PPS is still going to make money for anyone as a general method of revenue generation?

I could easily accept PPS as a method of financing resource-hungry specialist search results, but not as a general

For instance, how much would you as a webmaster be willing to pay for a search that provided you with exact PR data on the sites in the SERP? $1/search?

How much for a SERP that listed exact PR data, and details on the linking structure behind a given URL as Google sees it including anchor text from incoming links etc., etc.? $100/search? I might easily pay that for the right information.

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