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Tuesday, October 01, 2002

AltaVista: Trusted Feed Does NOT Guarantee Higher Rankings

AltaVista got back to me yesterday to clarify their position. Their PR rep, Joanne Sperans Hartzell, issued a statement, part of which read:

AltaVista does not promise preferential placement nor guarantee higher inclusion in the index to participants in either its Express Inclusion or Trusted Feed programs. As is the case with other search engine inclusion programs, participation in AltaVista's inclusion programs simply guarantees frequent spidering and inclusion in the index -- not position.

Inclusion participants' sites may be spidered more frequently in order toensure that they are included in the global index, but this does not ensure higher placements. Any claims to the contrary are erroneous. AltaVista regrets any miscommunications made about its policies, and is taking action to ensure that no such future claims are made on the company's behalf. We greatly appreciate your notifying us of your experience so that we can address the matter. We have determined the source of this misinformation and are taking appropriate action to ensure that no such misrepresentation be repeated. The person who contacted you was new to selling this service, and apparently misunderstood the weighting process used to rank data sources where there are no links from other sites (one of the factors in our relevancy algorithm).


AltaVista has done the right thing and made their policy crystal clear. But one is still left to wonder what might have transpired if this double message had not been challenged. It's easy enough to toggle between a formal policy and a wink-wink actual policy, depending on who you're talking to. As one industry watcher had to say:

"AV can clarify all they want, but someone is lying to someone. Wouldn't surprise me if trusted feed DID actually get a boost.

"I can picture this:

"3 people in the room...AV sales rep, trusted feed potential customer, reporter.

"AV rep says to reporter, 'oh no, there's no boost in the rankings!'

"Reporter turns his/her head for a moment, and AV rep winks to the potential client and nods head up and down as if to say, 'yes, there really is, but you know we have to keep those reporters at bay.'

"I'm sure that's the TRUE story."

Paid inclusion is inherently ambiguous. On one hand, those offering it never formally guarantee higher rankings. On the other hand, corporate clients are more likely to pay for inclusion if they read between the lines and think that they're going to get a boost in rankings. How many companies truly feel it's worth paying fo "regular respidering"? Regular respidering and 1.65 will get you a tall Kenya blend at Starbucks. Paying advertisers generally need quantifiable streams of qualified traffic, not vague stuff like "inclusion." So if someone in the sales force comes up with the bright idea of *implying* that you get higher rankings for participating in the Trusted Feed program... well you can see how tempting it might be to just look the other way.

Anyway, AltaVista, good job on 'fessing up.

Danny Sullivan offers his quick take here at Search Engine Watch.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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