LookSmart: They Had Some Good Ideas Along The Way

LookSmart is still around, but it has less than one percent of search engine market share. In light of its retreat from the spotlight, we aren’t actively tracking this search engine anymore, but we enjoyed doing so in the past. To that end, read on to see some of our past reporting on LookSmart, which we’re keeping live on our site for posterity. 


In the beginning, the way to win on Microsoft’s search engines was to get listed on the LookSmart directory. Between 1998 and up to the beginning of 2004, Microsoft directory search results were provided by LookSmart.

There was a time when you could submit a website to LookSmart for editorial review, and expect to have your site listed in the LookSmart directory within a few weeks. No charge. They were focused on building a high-quality directory.

Then LookSmart followed Yahoo!’s lead and started charging for editorial review of your site. With LookSmart, it was a one-time fee, whereas Yahoo! charged an annual fee. Still, you could expect to have your site listed in the LookSmart directory within a few days, and the editors took a light hand to the title and description you submitted. Webmasters accepted that eventually directories were going to start charging, and LookSmart continued to look like a promising business.

To shine things up a bit, LookSmart also launched Zeal.com for nonprofit directory submissions, and Zeal was a great resource. The combination of LookSmart (for for-profit sites) and Zeal (for non-profit sites) was fresh. Of course, SEO “experts” immediately rushed to become Zeal editors, and there were massive problems with commercial sites being added, but that’s another story.

Then on April 12, 2002, LookSmart did the unthinkable. They began sending emails to all of the site owners who had paid the $299.00 review fee informing them that LookSmart was changing their business model and would be 100% pay per click. They were going to charge a flat rate of $0.15/visitor. They offered existing customers a range of credit options, but the bottom line was that they were asking people to start paying for something that the website owners had already paid for, and they weren’t offering anything new of value. Basically, LookSmart tried to take the concept of the web directory and charge a review fee and per click fees. It was ruinous.

Since LookSmart listings were 100% paid search listings, they passed no Link Popularity along to the websites in their directory. So LookSmart’s only value to website owners was in the fact that it distributed it’s results to MSN.

On October 6, 2003, LookSmart announced that MSN was not going to renew its contract through which LookSmart was providing search results to the MSN search site. The contract ended as of January 15, 2004, as did any reason to submit your website to LookSmart.

Now LookSmart is a paid search advertising company.