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Looksmart, the pay per click directory

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Founded in 1995, Looksmart has since then become one of the three largest website directories, the two others being ODP and Yahoo. While the Looksmart site does not draw as many visitors as Yahoo, nor does its data have as many users as ODP's, the directory has several powerful partners that make being listed in it seem attractive. To mention a few of them, MSN, Mamma, Altavista and Dogpile all use Looksmart's data somewhere on their pages or search results. Also, it appears that at least Altavista gives a ranking boost to sites that are present in Looksmart's database.

Most webmasters can appreciate Looksmart's partnerships with Mamma, AV and Dogpile, but the reason why they are really drawn to submit to the directory is MSN. Microsoft's portal displays sites that are listed at Looksmart fairly prominently in its search results. Because the MSN site is very popular and because it is the default search engine of Internet Explorer, being well-ranked in it for the right keywords can produce significant amounts of traffic.

Pay per click vs. a free lunch?
In April 2002, Looksmart drastically changed its submission process. It abandoned the previous program, under which a site could pay $299/$149 to get reviewed and if found satisfactory, would be added to the directory. In its place, Looksmart introduced a new scheme named LookListings Small Business.

The new model is based on the pay per click concept and the prices have been adjusted accordingly. The submission fee has been dropped to $49. This only purchases you a review and a promise that if your site meets the Looksmart Listing Guidelines, you'll be accepted into the directory.

Should your site be rejected, you will not get a refund. Also, unlike the Overture $50 setup fee, this $49 will not buy you any click-throughs. In short, it gets you in the door, but that is all.

After your submission is approved, you'll need to make a minimum initial deposit of $150. This fee is refundable and also fully applicable to clicks. The clicks have a flat price of 15 cents, so you won't be able to bid any more or less than that amount per click. Sites receiving less than 100 clicks/month will be charged the minimum monthly spend of $15.

In Overture's pay per click search engine, the ranking of sites is determined by who pays the highest price. Since all clicks cost $0.15 at Looksmart, it naturally can't rank sites in the same way. Instead, it uses a ranking algorithm that is apparently based on the description, title, category and keywords you submit when creating your account. As in regular search engines and directories, there is no guarantee that you'll rank anywhere near the top for the keywords you are targeting.

Purely commercial sites that sell merchandise or services but have very little unique content must choose between two options. Either they participate in the pay per click program, or they aren't included at all. Later we'll discuss which of these two choices would be the better one, but for now, let's forget that issue. Instead, let's tackle another difficult question first.

There are many sites out there that provide excellent, valuable content to Internet surfers. Some of them might have a banner ad or two so that the webmaster doesn't have to worry about how to be able to pay the hosting fees, while others are completely ad free. What about these sites? Are their owners expected to simply pay $0.15 per click, even while they can hardly afford to?
Thank God, the answer is no. There is a back door you can use and if you're lucky, you'll get in for free and be listed in the directory exactly the same way as those paying for the traffic are. It is not a secret, but for obvious reasons, Looksmart does not want to promote the possibility too much. The service is called…

Looksmart acquired Zeal in October 2000 and integrated it into the Looksmart directory in August of 2001. The reason why Looksmart bought Zeal was that because of its high fees, most sites that submit to Looksmart are very commercial and focused on selling products instead of providing information. Zeal ensures that the Looksmart directory remains a source for useful information instead of turning into the yellow pages of the Internet.

Interestingly enough, Zeal is quite similar to the non-commercial Open Directory Project. Both use volunteers to review submitted sites and neither of the two charges a fee for submissions made to them. However, there are a few obvious differences which we shall now investigate.

First, Zeal does not allow purely commercial sites to be submitted into it. Zeal's definition of what is commercial and what is not is somewhat vague, so rather than explaining it to you in my own words, here's what their own guidelines have to say about the subject. In a nutshell, "If the primary purpose of a site is to generate revenue or promote the sale of goods or services online or offline, then it is considered commercial (and thus can't be submitted to Zeal)".

The reason behind this rule is that if commercial sites were allowed to submit for free via Zeal, after a while nobody would be interested in Looksmart's pay per click program. Thus, if your site is 100% commercial, you can forget about entering Looksmart via Zeal.

The second difference is that while ODP accepts a wide variety of sites, Zeal (and Looksmart) refuse sites that contain adult material. Persons running such sites should submit their sites to ODP and perhaps Yahoo instead of wasting their time with Looksmart.

Submitting to Zeal
Provided that your site is in compliance with Zeal's rules, you should submit to it instead of spending your money on Looksmart. While "Boost your traffic with website directories" will give you most of the information you need in order to properly submit to Zeal, here's a brief overview on what exactly you need to do to get accepted:

First, you will have to register yourself as a Zealot. A slightly annoying step, but at least it doesn't cost anything. After you've done that, you'll also need to pass the "Member Quiz" before you can start the actual submitting process.

The MQ is a multiple choice test, but it isn't too easy. To pass it, open up Zeal's guidelines in another window and search the correct answers to the questions from there. Don't rush or try to guess, just accept that it is going to take a while and be patient.

Having achieved a MQ of 90 or more, which means that you answered at least 18 of the 20 questions correctly, you can finally move on. Find a suitable category for your site, but remember to check that the category is "open". Some parts of the Zeal directory are "sealed off" and you can't submit to them even if your site would fit in perfectly. If you encounter a situation where the best category of your site is labeled "commercial" and thus unavailable, simply find the most relevant category that is not commercial and submit to it.

The MSN connection
As I mentioned in the beginning, Looksmart's partnership with MSN is the main reason the directory is so important. That is why before you submit to Zeal/Looksmart, you must ensure that you will get the maximum amount of visibility at MSN.

First, choose some keywords that are related to your site, popular and only turn up a relatively small amount of returns at MSN. Then create a description that contains these keywords, but is readable, fairly short and accurately describes your site. If you are submitting through Looksmart, don't forget to also add these words to your "Relevancy Keywords".

In the best possible case, your title should also contain a keyword or two. However, this is often impossible, because Looksmart's guidelines instruct that the title should be the official name of the site. If your site's name does not contain any keywords, don't try to fool the editors by adding them. They'll simply cut them from your title which might cause them to be tempted to edit your description as well.

Other than your title and description, there definitely are other things MSN uses to determine your ranking. Unfortunately, I must admit that I currently don't have a clue on what these things might be.

Among other things, click popularity and the presence of keywords in the name of the category you submit to have been claimed to have effect. Whether these theories hold water or not is unknown to me at this point. For now, just optimize your description and title, plus add "Relevancy Keywords" if you are purchasing a listing. I'll update this part of the article if and when I get more information about MSN's algorithm.

Paying for Looksmart?
Those who can't submit to Zeal are probably wondering whether to participate in the Looksmart pay per click plan or not. The answer to this question largely depends on how much money you can make from an average visitor to your site and how well your site is able to rank at MSN. Unless your site produces over 15 cents of profit per visitor, it is obvious that Looksmart is not worth its price.

Even if you can afford to pay what Looksmart is asking for, it might be worth it to look at other possibilities first. For example, Overture has a minimum bid of only 5 cents and is cheaper to set up. To top it off, Overture results also appear in MSN under several keywords and are placed above the results coming from Looksmart.

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