The History of the Overture Search Engine

Whether you know it by World Wide Web Worm (WWWW), GoTo, or Overture, has had quite the history as the first search engine to offer sponsored results, essentially creating an advertising marketplace that even prompted Google to follow suit.  I have to admit, I personally owe a lot of credit to Overture for helping me gain SEO clients starting in 2001.  I know I can speak for many other search engine optimizers and say that they gave us the easiest way to gather leads of qualified customers who were paying for traffic to be shown on top of Yahoo! and other search engines.  I’ll touch on more of that further down in this trip down memory lane.  

To truly appreciate its contribution to web search, let me take you down it’s historic journey and share the monumental moments I personally recall and dug up in Duck Duck Go search results.

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The History of

First Came WWWW….

Before Google, there was the search engine, but even before that, there was WWWW (World Wide Web Worm), which was one of the pioneers of search engines.

However, like many other search engines developed during that time, it was boggled with various distractions like link lists, editorial content, and more that made the search bar hard for users to locate, which was an unsettling concept to Bill Gross, then manager of Ideals, which also launched companies like NetZero and

So with the support of his team, he set out to develop a new and improved search engine that enhanced the user experience, giving birth to the first search engine that featured a single search bar positioned right in the center of the page, making it clearly more noticeable and easy to find.

A move that eventually even prompted major search engines, including Google, to follow suit and that can still be observed in use by many of the most frequented search engines today.

Then Came….

With this new improvement to WWWW also came the need for a bold new name to embody it; hence, the name was created to introduce the new concept to the technical community.

But his innovative ideas for improving upon his search engine went even further. In fact, during the same 1998 Ted8 conference, Gross also pitched the idea of using solely sponsored results to power his new search engine.

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A similar move that, though common today, cost an earlier search engine named OpenText to lose popularity with its users when they discovered that sponsored results were also included among organic results, which they found offensive.

However, Gross believed that by being honest that every result on his search engine was sponsored by advertisers, it would help build trust with users.

He also believed his approach would help solve another major issue during that time, spammers. He argued that making every result paid for by advertisers would also help eliminate spammers because they wouldn’t pay for results, thus naturally helping ween out the quality results from the annoying ones, which he felt users would appreciate.

At the same time, he also built a marketplace where advertisers could bid for certain search keywords that would enable them to place the highest in search engines, similar to how the then highly popular Yellow Pages was built.

To sweeten the deal, even more, he made it so that advertisers would only pay for links that were clicked on by users, another common practice still seen in use today with Google Ads and other pay-per-click advertising.

Then Came The Birth of

As a hot new search engine, the next step for the creators of the search engine was to get the word out to its audience, so they could see the sponsored results.

Hence, Gross came up with another novice idea to purchase results on other content portals, such as Yahoo. This way, each time a visitor clicked on their results in the other portal, they would be sent to the same type of page on GoTo, where a list of their advertised results would be provided for them.

A concept that not only enabled the creators of GoTo to attract people to their search engine, but that also enabled them to make a sizable profit in the long run.

In fact, they later went on to enlist the aid of a third-party service called Inktomi, who specialized in this practice, which enabled them to increase the relevancy of both their sponsored and organic results, thus leading to an influx of organic traffic so much so that it led to a lucrative Initial Public Offering of the company in 1999.

Not soon after, the company came up with yet another idea to combine forces with other major platforms and search engines, such as AOL and Yahoo, to help bring in even more customers. To make it happen, they simply included some of their links on the platform, then each time a user clicked on the links, it enabled GoTo as well as the other search engine to both gain profits.

This move produced GoTo so much success that it eventually led to the company adapting its entire business around the syndication model, a move that completely eliminated the
original site, which again caused them to make another name change. Hence, in 1999 Overture was born.

Under the new model, Overture would continue to increase its content syndication with major platforms and search engines, essentially bridging the gap between online advertisers and search engines.

About Overture

With the Overture search engine, sites rank the highest for terms they bid on. In other words, advertisers simply outbid each other for popular terms that will make their site appear in top search results.

This means if an advertiser paid 0.59 for a term and another advertiser paid 0.60 for the same term, the 0.60 bid would be ranked first and then the 0.59 bid. As advertisers increase their bids for the same term, the rankings would change accordingly.

In the meantime, payments are made to Overture from the advertiser’s account each time a person accesses the advertiser’s website from the search results, essentially making it a pay-per-click search engine.

However, if an advertiser fails to fund their account or the funds in their account falls below the minimum bid, their listing will no longer appear in the search engine results, bumping the next listing into its spot.

The search engine also rewards advertisers with long-standing by granting them seniority in cases where multiple sites bid the same amount. In other words, the advertiser with the longest history of bidding on the term will be granted the bid.

Overture also provides listings to partner search engines, to which they credit for more than 80% of their link views, enabling many companies who list with them to increase their visibility with various search engines.

Even if you have made no bids for search terms, it is still possible to appear in the Overture search engine and, in some cases, still also appear high up in the search results.

This is because Overture enables you to also list with Inktomi, who provides the search engine with unpaid listings to supplement its paid listings. These unpaid listings usually appear following paid listings, or if no one has made a bid on a specific term, the unpaid listing will appear in place of a paid ad.

How Overture Provided Search Engine Optimization Leads

I started my Internet Marketing career as a sales person for a pioneer in the SEO business, a Miami-based company called Web Genius.  Since 911 had dashed my travel dreams, at least temporarily, I scoured the Internet for opportunities somewhere warm and different from the blistering Minnesota winters.  Web Genius had a lot going for them and the opportunity was so intriguing to me that I left Minnesota weeks after accepting the job, which was 100% commission based.

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Web Genius website, 2002. Courtesy of The Wayback Machine.

Finding clients in early 2002 was very simple, thanks to Overture.  Our sales team would simply type in a keyword into the Overture keyword tool and see not only a list of websites bidding on that keyword, but also the exact amount per click they were paying!  Some industries, such as lasik surgery, online gambling, and law, commanded ridiculously high costs per click.  This made them easy targets for us hungry sales guys who would call them and offer them a solution across ALL search engines for a much lower price. Back then, Yahoo! was the big search engine of choice for most customers as they had the market share, and Google was quietly gaining momentum in the background.  I’m sure I can speak for anyone who worked in Internet Marketing sales back then and give a super big SHOUT OUT to Overture for providing us endless SEO leads.

Creating an Overture Account

To use Overture, you simply open an account to create bids, after which time, you can use the Overture Keyword Tool to first gauge the popularity of any terms that you are interested in, which will help you with choosing the right keywords for your ads.

Pick Your Terms and Keywords

Once you have determined the keywords or terms that fit your campaign, you then need to complete the signup form to acquire a listing for them. These are the keywords or terms that will redirect visitors to your site’s home page or a page within your site that contains a subject related to your term or keywords.

For each keyword, you will also need to set a bid amount, or the price you are willing to pay for each click-through to your site. To assist you with making the best bid for the highest ranking, you will also be able to see other advertisers are paying for the same terms or keywords you are bidding on.

To submit your keywords, you will need to provide a description as well as a title that will create your listing for the search term.

Qualifying Your Keywords and Terms

Your listing will then undergo approval by Overture to ensure it meets the restrictions. One main requirement for your bid to be approved is that your term must pertain to your site. In other words, you cannot simply select terms that just take visitors to your website. Instead, the terms must actually be relevant to your page.

Another requirement for approval is that your title and descriptions must also take visitors to sections of your site that directly correlate to them, instead of just enticing them to click. Your listing must also be formatted appropriately.

Overture also requires your term to have “sufficient search volume,” meaning it must appear in their Search Term Suggestion Tool when you search for it. If it doesn’t appear, it means it doesn’t have enough volume, in which case, you will not be able to bid on it.

Each time you submit a new bid, it will be reviewed for compliancy.

Once your listing is approved, you can then adjust your bids at any time to prevent paying more than you want or to maintain your position.

Managing Your Account

Besides the Overture Keyword Tool, Overture also offers many features that help make it easier to manage your bids.

For instance, their Bid Management Tool enables you to automatically adjust your bids during times when it can drop down a bit but still remain higher than the second listing, so you save money.

Meanwhile, their Premium Bidding option enables users to have their Overture listings positioned in first place by automatically increasing their bid to rank as such, which helps save time on having to do it by hand.

They also offer different payment plans, which helps you control how your bids are covered.

The Evolution of

Free Brand and Company Listings

Over the years, Overture went on to roll out even more new features, including Quick Hit Results, which, whenever someone conducts a query for a popular company name or brand, enables the company name or brand to appear at the top of the listings. This applies even if the company or brand does not have a paid listing on Overture.

Broad, Phrase, and Standard Matching

It also added Broad Matching, which enables the broad matching and phrase matching, in addition to the already standard matching, of new search terms to the preexisting terms that Overture offers.

This means whether someone conducts a search using your exact keywords, their search contains your keyword in the exact sequence, or their search contains your keywords in any order, your listing will be displayed in the search results.

Homepage Directory

Overture’s homepage now also includes a directory-style structure that enables users to bid on main words of a category.

This way, when visitors select a category from Overture’s homepage, the search engine performs a search for the category as if it were a single term, after which time it will return a list of links to the topic on the results page.

Extensive Protection Against Fraudulent Clicks

Overture also extended its fraud protection to further safeguard against fraudulent clicks. If an advertiser feels they have been a victim of false clicks, they should alert Overture, who will then conduct an investigation.

The Current Status of

Needless to say, Overture went on to become a very profitable search engine using its business model. In fact, the company grew so much that it eventually even acquired both the AltaVista search engine as well as the AllTheWeb’s search engine, further expanding their reach.

Then, sometime later, Yahoo discovered that its partnership with Overture was responsible for a large chunk of its income, so in 2003, Yahoo decided to purchase Overture, at which time the company was worth well into the billions of dollars.

Yahoo has since rebranded the Overture name to Yahoo Search Marketing, which features the same Overture offerings, but with rebranded names. Overture’s once named Precision Match is now Yahoo Sponsored Search, and Local Match is now Local Sponsored Search.

The company also created a more centralized system of its search and contextual offerings, as well as also went on to include the Yahoo Travel Submit option, which is a sponsored service where offers and deals for travel can be included in the Yahoo Travel listings.

Today, Overture’s original Yahoo rebranded name Yahoo Search Marketing has since gone on to be renamed Yahoo Gemini and then renamed again to Verizon Media Native, which still offers sponsored searchers and more. In fact, when you attempt to access Yahoo Gemini from its original home page, you will be redirected to the Verizon Media Native Advertising site.