Search engines usually satisfy search requests in one of two ways. Full text engines such as Digital's Alta Vista rely on a database algorithm to search for keywords within the Web site without regard to its actual content, while directory-style sites such as Yahoo! scan through an index of sites reviewed and categorized by a human editorial staff.
Goto.com, however, is completely different. Launched in February by Pasadena, California-based idealab!, an Internet business incubator, Goto's search engine lists search results according to how much a Web site's sponsor pays during a real-time competitive bidding process. So if Ford outbids Chevrolet in the open auction, the next time a user types in a search request for automobiles, the Ford site will appear at the top of the search result list. The results, which also include the price per word paid by a company's site, are ranked with the highest bidders at the top, followed by the best sites (selected by Goto's editorial staff) and, at the bottom, nonpaying sites.
"Goto addresses the need of commercial enterprises and corporate brands to ensure that their message is being delivered," says Bill Gross, chairman of idealab!
Since Goto.com ranks search results by the amount a site pays for the privilege, users should be aware that a particular ranking in no way reflects the true popularity or quality of the site or its sponsoring company. To get a second opinion on Goto's offerings, try the same search on a number of different engines.