Webmasters and online merchants today are in a somewhat unique position: Many ranking reports look great overall, with rankings all over many of the search engines. Traffic, although down in some cases, is still holding steady at respectable levels.
So why can't they convert to sales?
There is one obvious omission in many ranking reports: Yahoo! Web, the primary search results for Yahoo! at this time. Yahoo! has gone through so many changes, many people have found themselves disappearing off their listings. Obviously this is bad, but that's not all. Yahoo! spent the past couple of years quietly buying up search engines. If you don't get Yahoo! Web, then you also don't get All The Web, AltaVista, and in most cases Lycos. You also don't get MSN, which is currently using their results. Yahoo!, MSN and Google command more than 90% of the search engine traffic, and get roughly equal numbers of visitors. Lose Yahoo! and you've lost 2/3 of the traffic. MSN has been promising to unveil their new, proprietary search spider for months, but so far, no sign of it.
So why does a site lose Yahoo! Web, when they've never had a problem on Yahoo! before? In order to understand, a little Yahoo! history lesson is required:
Once upon a time, you submitted your site to the Yahoo! Directory, and it would show up in the search results. True, it cost $200, and then $300, and then they made that $300 a recurring annual fee. But you still had the listing, and it was almost always worth far more in sales than you invested in it.
One day, Yahoo! decided to use Google results as their primary search results. Yahoo! Directory became a separate set of results, although if your site appeared in both Yahoo! Directory and in Google, then the Directory description would be the one used with the Google results. Slightly confusing, but what it boiled down to was, if you had Google, you had your Yahoo! listing.
A day came when Yahoo! decided that they did not wish to use Google for any of their search results, so instead they started using the newly-purchased Inktomi database as their primary search results. Inktomi was a paid annual subscription, so it seemed that the days of any free Yahoo! listing were over. However, Inktomi's fee was very modest, and if you paid it, voila! There you were, in the search results!
Still with me? So far, so good. Still pretty easy to have a Yahoo! search result listing.
But then Yahoo! decided that Inktomi should change, and become more than it was before, and introduced Overture Site Match. This was an interesting metamorphosis. Yahoo! had purchased Overture, and Site Match is a Pay Per Click program managed through PPC giants Overture. However, it consisted initially of all the Inktomi results, although it was structured almost identically to LookSmart. As they expired, they had to renew under the new terms.
But Yahoo! had enough love to spread to more than one set of search results, so they also commenced with using their own free spider. Free listings were once again available! This was good, but also confusing. The free listings were to be combined with the Site Match listings. No preference would be given to Site Match listings, raising the question of just why you should pay for it? Site Match was expensive and unproven, so SharpNET (in company with just about every other major SEO firm) chose to see what the free crawler could offer.
So, the current state on Yahoo! is that in order to be listed in their primary search results, one of two things must happen: You must subscribe to Site Match, or their spider must pick you up. There is no guarantee of ranking either way, and many grumblings have been heard about the poor quality of search results (many spam sites appear to be getting listed). The spider crawls so slowly (every 8 weeks, instead of the usual 3 - 4) that it took weeks to see if tweaks to the optimization were doing the job, or if something new had to be tried. In fact, it wasn't until this month that ranking reports began to reflect work I'd done back in June.
So what is the verdict? It's still a guessing game but a few trends seem to be emerging:
1) Branding sites perform perform well even without "SEO friendly" domain names
2) Older sites perform better than younger ones, even if they aren't great sites
3) Once you grab a ranking or two, you're in -- it may take a couple or three more months, but suddenly those will explode
What does this mean to the webmaster? It means type your exact URL into Yahoo!, and see what comes up in response. Find the pages that the spider is already looking at, and optimize those in the normal way. And don't be surprised if your carefully constructed SEO site doesn't perform up to the level of a competitor's 3-page (2 of those pages being forms), 4 year old spammed site (the one they forgot even existed).
And again, remember: In internet marketing, the wise never rely on one sole source of advertising. Don't count solely on Google, or Yahoo! Web, or email, or any other single technique. Because you never know when it's going to be abruptly taken away from you.