Optimization for Yahoo

Google may seem to own the search space these days, but Yahoo still sees a respectable amount of traffic. Unlike Google, Yahoo is a content producer as well as a search engine; additionally, they didn’t start out as an algorithm-based search engine. How does that affect it today? And what does that mean for you if you’re trying to get your site viewed by Yahoo users? Keep reading for the answers.

According to Comscore stats, Yahoo holds around 20% of the search engine market share. Compete.com also supports this, giving Yahoo 19.4%. Hitwise awards Yahoo 22.55%, so it’s safe to say Yahoo holds around 20% of the search engine market share in the United States. That number differs for UK, Canada and other countries.

Yahoo Inc originally started in 1994 as a web directory by Jerry Yang and David Filo. Its original URL resided on akebono.stanford.edu/yahoo, and the name Yahoo translated to “Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle.” After keeping up Yahoo for a bit, the founders saw business potential and attracted $3 million in investments. On March 8, 1997, Yahoo acquired Rocketmail, which became Yahoo Mail.

Yahoo Search Technology

Yahoo outsourced search to Google for four years. The partnership started on June 26, 2000, and ended in February 2004. It ended after Yahoo and Microsoft realized the importance of search as a standalone business. Yahoo purchased Overture for $1.6 and the Inktomi search engine for $280 million. Yahoo renamed Overture to Yahoo Search Marketing, and Inktomi, along with other search technologies, were combined into Yahoo Search.

The move ended Google’s near-monopoly in search.

Yahoo Search Partnerships

Yahoo supplies search results to AllTheWeb and AltaVista.

Yahoo has a paid inclusion program called Yahoo Search Submit that allows advertisers put their site into the natural search results.

  • Search Submit Basic – designed for small sites with low budgets. Up to 5 URLs.

  • Search Submit Pro – for corporate level clients, with $5000 minimum to spend. It uses the classic pay-per-click model

Sites using Search Submit are usually allowed to get away with some cloaking and other shady stuff that would otherwise be punishable. Yahoo’s Search Submit program generally hurts Yahoo’s search results, because it forces Yahoo search technology to be more biased towards on-page criteria.

Yahoo also serves pay-per-click ads along with search results. PPC ads are on the top, bottom and on the right side. Yahoo crams up to 4 – 5 PPC ads on top, making their search engine less relevant and less information-focused.

On top of being a search engine, Yahoo serves as a portal. In fact, the earlier initial business model revolved around the portal, while search came later. Yahoo wants to be a content authority on the web, and they’ve spent a lot of money producing their own content. Search results are also biased towards that content. Some examples are: Yahoo Answers, Yahoo Real Estate, Yahoo Sports, Yahoo Lifestyle, Yahoo Health and a lot more.

Yahoo Acquisitions

Yahoo has made over 50 acquisitions since its birth. Some of the most notable are:

  • October 8, 1997: Four 11 (Rocketmail), which became Yahoo Mail), $92,000,000.

  • April 1, 1999: Broadcast.com, which became LaunchCase, $5,700,000,000.

  • May 28, 1999: GeoCities, a web hosting service which became Yahoo GeoCities, $3,600,000,000.

  • June 14, 2003: Overture, which became Yahoo Search Marketing, $1,630,000,000.

  • December 23, 2002: Inktomi, which became Yahoo Search, $235,000,000.

  • December 12, 2005: Del.icio.us, now delicious.com, $20,000,000.

  • February 12, 2008: Video on Demand, which became Yahoo Video, $160,000,000

The fastest way to show up in Yahoo’s search results is to pay Yahoo to join their Search Submit Program. Once you’ve submitted your site, Yahoo will send out a SLURP crawler to index the site and put it up for review by one of Yahoo’s editors.

If you’re after Google, expect to see rankings on Yahoo before you see them on Google.

Links and On-page Factors

Yahoo places more value on on-page factors than Google does. Google will usually aim to filter out pages too aligned with a targeted keyword in inbound anchor text, title, H1 and H2 headings, while Yahoo is more forgiving. Yahoo is also much easier on link quality than Google. While Google is top-heavy on power links, Yahoo will count many spammy links that Google would drop. Be careful though, since too many spammy links can hurt Google rankings.

Yahoo is more tolerant of site wide links. I did an article in the past on a technique shared by Patrick Altoft from Link Building Secrets Revealed by Top Linking Experts:

“I cloak links so that MSN and Yahoo see different links than Google. For example, if I had a site with thousands of pages, I would add a site wide link to one of my other sites. I would do some simple cloaking so that Google didn’t see the site wide link, but MSN & Yahoo did. This allows you to be really aggressive with link building for Yahoo & MSN and not raise any flags with Google. You get quick rankings in 2 search engines without harming your link profile in the one that matters.”

As you can see, you can get away with much more with Yahoo than Google. Yahoo also looks at links that go to a page vs links that go to a site when determining its relevancy. The down side of the technology is that they don’t count link age and link domain as much as Google does, so it’s easier to manipulate their results. Pages from a new site can do well as long as there are inbounds with targeted anchor text.

It’s okay to be more aggressive with anchor text, but be careful not to hurt your standing in Google.

Site Age

Yahoo places some weight on site and domain age, but not as much as Google does.

Human Editors

Yahoo is known to review its index and adjust search results for some popular categories like credit cards, Viagra, loans and others. When you use Search Submit, the site is reviewed by human editors by default.

To keep the index cleaner, human editors review competitive categories. If a site is of good quality it can be given a boost in the search results, while low quality or spam sites can be easily dropped. It’s not clear how the review process works in Yahoo. Where Google relies primarily on math and uses human editors to review sites flagged by algorithms, Yahoo may go in 100% manual and do section reviews without regard for algorithms.

You can check Yahoo’s Search Content Quality Guidelines to see what Yahoo considers spam. If a site gets flagged, you’ll need to clean it up and then ask Yahoo to put it back in the search results.

Crawls

Yahoo is pretty good at crawling the web. One of Yahoo’s better features is Yahoo Site Explorer and Search Command, which help with competitive link analysis. It’s not as good at detecting spam as Google, so it crawls far more spam.

Spam

Yahoo has trouble with differentiating spam links from editorial links; Google is far better at this. This is partly due to saturation of Yahoo’s team on many unrelated fronts. While Google’s 20,000 employees are primarily focused on search, Yahoos 15,000 staff members work on many unrelated projects. Yahoo needs to focus more on search technology than on content-based products to decrease Google’s lead in the search arena.

Yahoo’s best tools  and features include the following:

Yahoo Site Explorer – This tool shows a large portion of the links that Yahoo is aware of (but not all of them). It does so for any website, making this a neat competitive link intelligence tool. You’ll hear many SEOs say that Yahoo links don’t matter in Google, but Google does not show the inbound link profile for any site, so this is the only tool that we have. Features include “Inlinks to all pages,” “inlinks to URL,” “inlinks except this domain.” You can also use Majestic SEO and Linkscape for link data.

Yahoo Keyword Tool – To get access to this tool, you need to have a Yahoo Search Marketing account. If you don’t want to pay them $50 and open an account, just follow the registration steps until you get to the keyword tool; you won’t need to actually finish registration to use the tool.

Advanced Search – Use the advanced search tool to look for .gov, .edu and other quality links. You’ll actually find check boxes designed for that purpose.

Yahoo Universal Search – Yahoo followed Google’s lead and introduced Universal Search.

Yahoo Maps – Yahoo owns a map service called Yahoo Maps, and features business listings for local search results like “new York pizza” or “Montreal limo.” The results are similar to Google, but are limited to three listings.

Videos and Images – Yahoo also blends videos and images in search results. It also experimented with featuring video ads for some brand searches like Honda. At one point there was a campaign on TV that went something like ”search for Honda on Yahoo” and the results gave a Honda-sponsored listing with video and detailed descriptions of a car.

Celebrity searches yield a lot of images. Yahoo also owns Flikr, a popular image hosting website, so they bias their results towards Flikr.

News – Yahoo News works in a similar way to Google News, but with more of a bias towards their own content. Search for politicians, celebrities and any keywords that have a lot of news and you’ll see blended news results.

Conclusion

Aggressive optimization for Yahoo can actually hurt Google rankings. Yahoo still holds considerable market share (~20%), so it makes sense to optimize for some of their traffic, as long as it doesn’t come at the cost of Google rankings.

The fastest way to be featured in Yahoo search results is through the Yahoo Search Submit program.

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