The Price/Ownership of Keywords – e.g., Overture

It’s amazing to me of our dependency on the big search engines such as Google (still waiting for them to go public), Yahoo, MSN Search, etc. The undergraduate students I teach often don’t seem to know how to research any topic without resorting to one of these tools. Yet, what individuals often find amazing (and totally surprising) is that our keywords (in many cases) carry a price … and it’s a price you can verify online.

An explicit example of this is apparent when you check Overture (recently purchased by Yahoo) is basically the advertising mechanism behind such search engines as MSN Search, Yahoo, Altavista, and others. And this is how it works …. Basically, companies bid for keywords. For instance, at the time of this post, Budweiser has the highest bid for the keyword ‘beer’. Go to Altavista, in this case, search for beer … and what do you get as the top result? No surprise, it’s Budweiser. Budweiser pays Altavista and Overture .99 (split in two) every time someone clicks on the Budweiser website through this search.

So who owns ‘Educational Technology’? For a whopping $5.25 per visit, Smart Technologies (maker of SmartBoards) is the highest bidder for the term. A distance second ($1.74) is the Educational Technology and Leadership program at George Washington University.

Should we care? I think so. During the last American election, the highest bidder for ‘Global Warming’ (at over $1 a click) was the American Petroleum Institute. It now belongs to the NRDC for only .10 a click. I wonder if this will again change soon.

Do you wanna play around with this yourself? Go to, and type in any keyword in the search box provided. On the next screen, you should see “view advertiser’s max bids” near the top right-hand corner. Follow that link, type in the provided security code, and you can see the top bids from different advertisers. Unfortunately, the hidden costs we pay aren’t on the screen.