Are Paid Inclusions Making a Comeback?

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About Milind Mody

Milind is the founder - CEO of eBrandz, a professional SEO company in New York & India. Milind has been featured in various IT related magazines like Digit (Nov 2005) and BenefIT (Sep 2007). Milind also writes articles on Search Marketing in Popular Magazines like "Search Marketing Standard".


Once thought a relic of the early 2000s, paid inclusion programs are undergoing resurgence, though in different form. Paid inclusion programs are a search engine model where websites pay a fee to be listed with regular search results under certain keywords. They were popular in early 2001 but died out when Google, the one company who didn’t use them, soared above the competition and went public. Google made the decision not to use paid inclusions because they feared it would bias their search results. Recently, paid inclusions have come back under certain Google search conditions. These are searches involving information that Google claims it would not have access to without implementing a paid inclusion model. This development is a controversial issue within search engines today.

What are Paid Inclusions?

A paid inclusion is “a search engine marketing model in which a web site pays a fee to a search engine that then guarantees that the web site will be displayed in the returned search results for specifically named search terms” (Webopedia, 2013). This means paid search results in a paid inclusion model appear with non-paid search results, allowing web sites to increase their search rankings by paying the search engine. An example would be, if a company produces an online encyclopedia, they could pay a search engine to have their website appear before a non-paid website like There was a lot of controversy when paid inclusions were first developed about their impact on the quality of search results.

What is the History of Paid Inclusions?

Paid inclusion programs began to gain traction as a way for search engines to earn more money in 2001. At the time, four out of five of the major search engines offered paid inclusions or were planning to add paid inclusions to their search algorithms. The only odd one out was Google. Google’s spokesperson, Cindy McCaffrey, said “We have no plans for a paid inclusion program. As we’ve stated in the past, our search results represent our editorial integrity, and we have no plans to alter our automated process, which works very well in gathering information and delivering highly relevant results” (Sullivan, The Evolution of Paid Inclusions, 2001).

Google appeared to have made the right call. Shortly after Google went public in 2004, earning Google an excess of $23 billion, the other major search engines began to drop their paid inclusions programs to catch up. People simply found higher quality information on Google than they found on Google’s competitors who used paid inclusion programs. From then on, paid inclusions were pretty much dead. Search engines made their money through labeled advertisements and used evolving algorithm’s rather than payment to determine their search results (Sullivan, Once deemed evil google now embraces paid inclusion, 2012).

What is the State of Paid Inclusions Today?

Today, Google is leading the charge in implementing paid inclusion programs in certain areas of their business model, though in a different form. The relatively new Google Flight Search, Google Hotel Finder, and Google Shopping all have new forms of paid inclusion programs. Google representative Amit Singhal argued that in order to get quality answers to certain types of searches “we realized that we will have to either license data or go out and establish relationships with data providers” (Sullivan, Once deemed evil google now embraces paid inclusion, 2012). Flights, hotels, shopping, and financial services are some of the searches Google claims that having paid inclusions will give them better search results, by means of having access to more information.

The paid inclusions Google is implementing now are in a different form from their 2001 brethren. When you search Google you may see them under the advertisements marked sponsored:

The difference between Google’s paid inclusion programs and their ads is search results under their paid inclusions are controlled by Google, while companies are able to completely control the content of advertisements on Google. The advantages these sponsored messages provide are a greater depth of information for Google than they would get without cultivating a relationship with merchants. Logistics, pricing, and availability information on hotels and flights would be an example of information Google’s paid inclusion program gave them access to. Even with these advantages, critics can’t help but be wary of what these inclusions could mean for the future of search. Webster (2012) worries the decision could reflect “a dramatic change in one of the company’s core values. In a letter written when Google filed its IPO in 2004, a section dubbed ‘Don’t be evil’ described the service’s search results as ‘unbiased and objective’ explaining that ‘we do not accept payment for them or for inclusion or more frequent updating.’” This shows the controversy underlying paid inclusion programs.

Google itself made it a point not to include paid inclusions in their search program because they felt allowing companies to pay for inclusion to search results would bias the objectivity of those search results. This decision played no small part in Google’s current dominance of the search market. Now Google has decided to go ahead with paid inclusions, believing that having paid inclusions in certain categories won’t bias their search results and may increase their quality. The tension between Google getting access to new information (and funding) and the possibility of paid inclusions biasing their search results has created the controversy behind Google’s new paid inclusion program.


Paid Inclusion programs are making a comeback, though in different form. Paid inclusion programs are a search engine model where websites pay to be listed with regular search results under certain keywords. In early 2001 paid inclusion programs were a popular way for search engines to increase revenue. They lost popularity when Google decided paid inclusions could bias their search results and decided not to use them. Google soared above the competition and went IPO in no small part thanks to this decision. From then on the big search companies dropped paid inclusion programs. Paid inclusion programs have recently come back under certain Google search conditions. Google claims these are searches involving information it would not have access to without implementing a paid inclusion model. The advantages and possible problems with this change is one of the most controversial issues in search today.

Works Cited

Sullivan, D. (2001, July 2001). The Evolution of Paid Inclusions. Retrieved May 20, 2013, from Search Enging Watch:

Sullivan, D. (2012, May 30). Once deemed evil google now embraces paid inclusion. Retrieved May 20, 2013, from

Webopedia. (2013). Paid Inclusion. Retrieved May 20, 2013, from Webopedia:

Webster. (2012, May 31). Google adopts paid inclusion model for hotel and flight search results. Retrieved May 23, 2013, from