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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.