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Ask Jeeves denounces paid inclusion

The company will stop accepting advertiser payments for inclusion in its searchable Web database, a move to draw competitive lines between it and Yahoo's new search engine.

Ask Jeeves will stop accepting advertiser payments for inclusion in its searchable Web database, a move to draw competitive lines between it and Yahoo's new search engine.

Jim Lanzone, vice president of product management for Emeryville, Calif.-based Ask Jeeves, said late Tuesday that after 18 months the Internet search company will cease Index Connect, its paid inclusion program. Paid inclusion allows advertisers to pay fees to have large numbers of Web addresses indexed more regularly in search engines--a service that Yahoo just re-launched and that No. 1 search site Google denounces.

After much testing of paid inclusion the company found that it can negatively sway search results?producing more commercial and irrelevant lists of Web sites, Lanzone said. Ultimately, that hampers the search experience, he said.

"We're never going to mix church and state again," Lanzone said.

Ask Jeeves' move comes on the same day that Yahoo unveiled its own for-fee search-inclusion service. It also helps back up suspicion in the industry that such services can sully query results that many Web surfers look to as unbiased guidance to the Web.

Placement in search engines has become a coveted thing many advertisers are willing to pay for, given that Web search is a prime means of finding products and services online. That has fueled the popularity of auction services from Overture Services and Google, which pair text ads with keyword-related search results. Advertisers bid for top placement in search results related to specific keywords and pay only when Web surfers click on their text ads. (Ads appear adjacent to or atop results.)

Once the dot-com bubble burst, many struggling search providers turned to other means for making money from Web search, such as paid inclusion. But such programs drew fire from consumer advocates and the Federal Trade Commission, which called for better public disclosure of the commercial relationship between search engine providers and advertisers when it comes to serving algorithmic or noncommercial results.

The FTC said late last year that it is still watching the industry closely for proper disclosure when it comes to paid inclusion.

Just weeks ago, Yahoo introduced a new search engine and replaced Google, its four-year technology partner and chief rival in the booming search-marketing industry. To fuel revenue from Web search, Yahoo lets advertisers bid for placement in keyword-related searches through its recently acquired subsidiary Overture Services. On Monday, it also relaunched its paid-inclusion program, combining three such programs from recent acquisitions of Inktomi, AltaVista and Fast Web search.

Yahoo's vice president of Web search, Tim Cadogan, said the company's commercial relationships with paid inclusion customers will not influence its search results. Rather, it will keep an "iron wall" between those relationships and the billions of Web documents it indexes regularly, governed by its relevancy ranking and quality controls in place.

For its part, Google does not let advertisers pay to be in its index, and company executives have criticized such programs as having the ability to compromise the credibility of search.

Lanzone was careful not to put down Yahoo. He said that Ask Jeeves had been winding down the paid-inclusion program in the past two months and that Yahoo's rebranded program, called Site Match, precipitated its final closure.

To be clear, Lanzone said that the company will still allow site operators to pay to submit their sites to its index, but that that payment would not guarantee inclusion in the database.