Deciphering the puzzle that is Yahoo! these days is no easy trick for the search engine marketer. Yahoo! used to be a very straightforward proposition: You submitted your site, paid the fee, and hopefully got listed. It was the most-used, most popular search engine in the world, so a good listing pretty much guaranteed the kind of success that fueled the dot com boom.
Yahoo! today is a completely different beast. Although it clings to its status as a very popular search engine, it is fighting neck and neck with Google and MSN for first place, and many smaller engines have gained significant ground in the number of users. Getting a Yahoo! listing certainly can help your website, but just what is a Yahoo! listing these days, how do you go about getting a good one, and just how much good does it do?
LET'S TAKE A LOOK AT YAHOO! LISTINGS:
1. Yahoo! Directory: The old soldier, Yahoo! Directory listings used to be the coveted listings that could make or break your internet business. Although you had to pay for them, they were worth their weight in gold. Getting a listing was more than just paying your fee; in order to be accepted, the site had to pass through a rigorous human editorial process, and in the old days, Yahoo! editors could and did reject sites -- it happened to me several times. Before submitting, you had to make sure that all your links worked, that your site had some depth and was useful, that it loaded up in all different browsers (I had 3 different browsers on my desktop to check sites with), and that it wasn't a copy of any other site. These listings were the first ones that showed up in a web search on Yahoo!, and a first page listing all but guaranteed tons of traffic.
Today, Yahoo! Directory still charges a fee. Sites still have to pass through a human editorial process. However, what do you really get from your listing today? Yahoo! defaults their search to the web results, not to their directory results, so your listing does not automatically get seen. If a searcher does not click on the "Directory" tab, there's a decent chance they'll never see your site at all, no matter how good the Directory rankings.
For all intents and purposes, a Yahoo! Directory listing today would seem to be useful primarily as a highly relevant backlink. Not a trivial advantage, but paying $300 annually for a backlink is probably not cost-effective for smaller businesses.
2. Yahoo! web results: In the old days, once you ran out of Yahoo! Directory matches for a search, it would default to web results provided by Google. Then, they made the Google results their primary search results. Last spring, they severed their relationship with Google and started using Inktomi results. Finally, a month later, they started using a combination of Inktomi results (until your annual Inktomi subscription expires, and you can't renew it), "organic" search results (based on Inktomi's Slurp! search spider), and the new Overture Site Match (a sort of PPC hybrid that functions much like LookSmart, and replaced Inktomi).
These listings are a source of great frustration for internet marketers and searchers alike. The results of many searches are heavily spammed, with a sadly high percentage of bad sites showing up on the first page of search results. Excellent sites that would seem to meet all of the listing criteria are often buried with no explanation. No one can figure out if the spam sites are coming from the old Inktomi database (which had often been accused of being spam-friendly), from the Slurp! search spider (also frequently accused of being spam-friendly), or from the paid Overture Site Match listings (which no one can really figure out).
Yahoo! encourages everyone to submit to Overture Site Match, but in return they offer no guarantees of listings or rankings. They insist that Site Match results carry no more weight than organic results. That being the case, there is precious little incentive for people to sign up for Site Match, which is a paid inclusion program.
On the other hand, numerous posts in industry newsletters and forums are citing cases of people who had paid for Site Match listings for a while and then cancelled them. Universally, they say that as soon as they cancelled Site Match, they lost their top rankings. Their sites were still listed, but virtually invisible. This would imply that doing Site Match does in fact guarantee you some rankings despite Yahoo!'s claims to the contrary -- although the other thing frequently mentioned is that people have paid for Site Match and seen absolutely nothing in return.
IS IT WORTH PAYING FOR A YAHOO! LISTING OF ANY TYPE?
That's a judgement call, and your advertising budget will determine the answer.
Site Match is getting mixed reviews at best, with many people very unhappy with the cost and lack of results for their money, along with the ambiguity of the listing in general -- or in other words, what exactly are we paying for here?
Directory results are lonely orphans, relegated to a back corner and only pulled in when they also have a strong ranking in the web results. If that is the case, the description given by the human editor is the one that will show up, and this could have the advantage over a spidered description. They also still show up on other search results, including Google, because it's such a highly relevant backlink. However, again, the $300 annual investment is not going to pay off for many smaller businesses. Compared to other available forms of advertising such as co-registration, for example, it simply doesn't give the same return on investment.
THE FUTURE OF YAHOO!
Yahoo!'s future seems cloudy at this time. Rumblings of discontent with their search results are growing, and not just in the industry. Average internet users, formerly loyal to Yahoo!, are starting to complain about the poor quality search results they are getting in many cases. A few are even starting to mention moving over to Google, and other lesser-known engines, in an attempt to find better results. If they find what they are looking for, they'll tell their friends, and pretty soon you've got an anti-Yahoo! viral marketing campaign going on which could seriously hurt Yahoo! down the line. This is particularly true if MSN's new proprietary search spider ever gets launched, and lives up to its hype once it does.
It would seem wise for Yahoo! to start taking some of this seriously, and put some serious effort into improving their search results. Update the Slurp! spider so it's less spam-friendly, and so that it crawls more often (8 weeks is a bit excessive). Be more critical with the Site Match listings. If they want Site Match to stay alive, they need to find some way to encourage people to invest in those listings, which for a start means being very clear about what benefits you get through Site Match that are not available to you in any other way.
And finally, revive the Directory results in some way and make them more prominent, and more relevant. There is obviously a value to be had from having sites reviewed and approved by human editors. Yahoo! Directory will die a slow death if it doesn't get some kind of life support soon, and that would be a sad end to something that used to provide one of the most valuable search resources on the web.