Search Terms that Sell

By Nathan Littlefield

The recent hype over Google's IPO suggests that discussion of dot-com riches is once again in vogue. One hot sector is Internet search engines; unlike so many dot-coms of yore, they actually make money. Search engines are a good way to reach consumers: if you're searching for, say, "iPod," chances are you're in the market to buy one. So advertisers on Yahoo, for example, pay top dollar to Overture, a Yahoo subsidiary, when users click on ads that are displayed next to certain search results.

Prices are determined by advertiser bidding, and studying them reveals a profile of the most sought-after consumer: one who is either rich or grievously injured, not especially bright, and principally concerned with sex, litigation, and profit. Several rules present themselves. Almost any search term is more expensive if it includes "lawyer." Specific searches usually carry higher prices than generic ones. Thus "mesothelioma" (the lung cancer caused by asbestos) commands $100, whereas "asbestos" costs much less. And things are more expensive when they're "free": "free porn" goes for more than plain old "porn."

Here are some of the more notable search terms and their current prices. —NATHAN LITTLEFIELD

Law

Personal injury lawyer: $100.00

Ephedra lawsuit: $10.00

Disability lawyer: $7.00

Malpractice: $4.00

Pro bono: $0.20

Money

Currency trading: $10.95

Get out of debt: $10.87

Buy timeshare:

$5.30

Stocks: $4.00

Free investment advice: $2.51

Investment advice: $1.50

Equities: $0.95

Vice

Penis pump: $10.00

Viagra: $2.97

Duty free cigarettes: $1.15

Female Viagra: $1.02

Horny goat weed: $0.79

Poker $0.46

Cognac: $0.21

Roulette: $0.17

Free porn: $0.11

Porn: $0.05

Miscellany

Ink jet cartridge: $2.70

Cigar: $1.42

T-shirt: $1.16

Necktie: $0.69

DVD: $0.38

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2004/10/search-terms-that-sell/303502/