Today’s NY Times features an article about USA Interactive’s CitySearch network instituting paid keyword searching at the local level.  The question of competition with global search engine arises.  The article gives the example that someone can put in “laser surgery” on the Atlanta site.  But right now I can “Google” “Atlanta laser surgery” and get hits that seem relevant (and I get a sponsored link for “Atlanta’s laser specialist.”).   The quality of the results may vary of course on the quality of the database.   A directory consulting firm, the Kelsey Group, indicates that 43 percent of small businesses, do some form of advertising on the Internet, and thus are “findable” by global search engines. 

By the way, we see the drawbacks of search – the returns for both sites joined together cosmetic laser surgery with eye laser surgery – two different markets.  The less specific the search term, the less accurate the results.

I’m all for focused directories and I’ve no issue with (non-exclusive) sales of topical keywords. To me it’s the equivalent of a shoe store paying the local yellow page directory to be listed under shoe stores.  It’s when the keyword sold is a brand name that, imho, trademark issues arise.  I hope that the Ninth Circuit will decide the Playboy keyword case soon so that this industry can develop with some guidance on the point.