It works by extending the search interface to include a layer before the results come up. The layer typically includes a left column of related keywords & a right box that can be anything from:
3 top websites for that query
a weather forecast
the profile of a celebrity
other unique data sets
Here is an example of how the search box flies out
Here is an overview video from Yahoo!
Arbitrage or Helpful?
It is easy to laugh at Ask.com when thinking about the spammy end of the "answers engines" (or even Yahoo! Answers for that matter), but this search direct could range from highly useful to pretty weak depending on what Yahoo! decides to do with it. It's impact on various markets can range from trivial to significant.
What Powers Search Direct?
The ranking algorithm for Yahoo! Search Direct is different than their core results, being powered off a smaller index with its own algorithm, with a rapid refresh rate. Greg Sterling asked Yahoo!'s Shashi Seth about what drove the algorithm:
Seth told me that right now the links and content being shown in the right part of the box are the URLs that are the “most clicked” throughout the Yahoo network. He also implied that it might get more nuanced over time. And he added that rankings can change moment to moment because it’s dynamic.
That click bias has a natural preference toward promoting Yahoo! properties (since Yahoo! users like Yahoo! stuff) and promoting those who are featured on the Yahoo! network through editorial partnerships.
Greater Integration of Self Promotion
One of the benefits of Yahoo! outsourcing search is that they can now claim that they are not a search engine, which gets them around a ton of conflict issues, and allows them to aggressively self-promote without the type of scrutiny Google has come under for hard-coding their search results. Currently Yahoo! Search Direct is not yet running ads, but it is full of self-promotion. It is not a great sign for the longevity of Yahoo! Search that when you start typing almost every letter of the alphabet leads to a downstream Yahoo! product. In the past, search engines which have over-monetized have seen marketshare erode to Google. Hopefully this stuff pushes people to Bing though!
In key verticals where Yahoo! is well established the entire preview box is consumed by content from their vertical databases. See, for example, a search for LeBron James
If you are ESPN it becomes much harder to get traffic from Yahoo! Search directly given that sort of layout. If the model proves profitable enough Yahoo! can close off a lot of verticals. The key for web publishers is that Yahoo! has traditionally been horrible at integration, so the odds of them doing this in a way that monetizes more aggressively without harming Yahoo!'s search marketshare are pretty low. Having wrote that, last year Yahoo! bought Associated Content and has been pushing hard at growing their news, sports & finance verticals. If they are able to instantly tap a large share of the search market & can throw up a featured promotion for some of their key content then that will lead to lots of usage data (Microsoft has already mentioned using clickstream data to create a search signal) & social signals (like Facebook likes) that can bleed into improving the ranking of Yahoo! content in other search engines.
Custom Ad Units
The showing of a mini-search box not only gives them the potential for further self-promotion, but it also allows them to run more custom ad units that are in full focus of the end user. When you display a full search result you are offering a list of options, but premium placement ads in the preview box can allow for tighter integration of video, audio, or other custom ad units within search.
Yahoo! has also taken branded search ads one step further, with a wrap around on certain keyword queries, like eBay.
Where Yahoo! Search Direct falls short, especially when compared against Google Instant is it's force of pushing a single vertical for keywords that can have many meanings. Take, for example, a search on cars. If you don't want the DVD, you are still forced to view information about the cartoon movie because a Yahoo! vertical has a match.
Another thing Yahoo! seems to be doing is force feeding a local option as the last suggested keyword, even where it is totally irrelevant. In the long run I think this would harm Yahoo! local as a true destination, but it can drive short term volume. Of course this only just launched, so it will likely become more relevant as they track how users interact with it. Currently someone is likely registering a Yahoo! local profile with Viagra in it somewhere. :D
If that ranking for that 1 keyword is your strategy for building your unique competitive advantage, then of course you are going to lose badly to those who are investing into building solid brand equity. They will be able to outbid you for the clicks, so you are toast.
Domainers are already getting killed by parking revenue drops, browsers that turn the address bar into a search box, and now resell values are further being diminished by search engines which are deciding to eat the 'organic' search results with more ads.
Pretty exciting day in search seeing Bing results live on Yahoo! Search results.
There were some questions as to what might transfer and what might stay. It seems that generally algorithmically there was roughly a 1 to 1 transfer.
Yahoo! is still showing fewer characters in their page titles than Bing does. Site links (listed below some sites) may also use different anchor text. But the core results are the same. The big exceptions to the concept of the 1:1 representation would be vertical search results, left rail navigation customizations & the inline search suggestions Bing does in their search results for popular search queries.
The vertical search results & left rail navigation being home grown is no surprise, as many of the features aim to keep you on the parent portal, and that is Yahoo!'s bread and butter. Here is an example of the inline suggestions Bing does (in this example, for "loans")
Instead of inline suggestions like that, you might see the following kinds of navigational cues from Yahoo!
There has been some speculation as to if any Yahoo! penalties will get rolled into Bing (or Yahoo!'s version of Bing) & so far it seems like that is generally a no. Of course, that could change over time. There also has been speculation of Yahoo! Site Explorer going away, but it seems it will remain through early 2012.
The Yahoo! Site Explorer team is planning tighter integration between Site Explorer and Bing Webmaster Center to make the transition as smooth as possible for webmasters. At this stage in the transition, it is important for webmasters to continue using Yahoo! Site Explorer to inform us about your website and its structure so you keep getting high quality traffic from searches originating on Yahoo! and our partner sites – even from markets outside the US and Canada that haven’t yet transitioned to Microsoft systems. To keep things simple, we will share site information you provide on Site Explorer with Microsoft during this transition period.
When Microsoft fully powers the Yahoo! Search back-end globally, expected in 2012, it will be important for webmasters to use Bing Webmaster Center as well. The Bing tool will manage site, webpage and feed submissions. Yahoo! Site Explorer will shift to focus on new features for webmasters that provide richer analysis of the organic search traffic you get from the Yahoo! network and our partner sites.
Unfortunately some of Yahoo!'s advanced link query operators seem to no longer work (say you wanted to find links to a domain from .gov pages). But you can get such link data (or at least a piece of it) from Majestic SEO or SEOmoz's Linkscape (also in OSE's export feature & eventually their online interface).
Some smaller search companies, like Exalead, still offer advanced filters while performing link searches. The ability to search a full web index allows you to do cool stuff you can't do with just a link graph. I haven't looked at it yet, but I have heard good things & owe the folks at InfluenceFinder a review soon. When Blekko launches they will have a boatload of free SEO features to share as well. Members of our community have been giving it rave reviews for the past month or so.
We’ve started testing organic (also referred to as algorithmic) and paid search listings from Microsoft for up to 25 percent of Yahoo! Search traffic in the U.S. The primary change for these tests is that the listings are coming from Microsoft. However, the overall page should look the same as the Yahoo! Search you’re used to – with rich content and unique tools and features from Yahoo!. If you happen to fall into our tests, you might also notice some differences in how we’re displaying select search results due to a variety of product configurations we are testing.
If you haven't given Bing much attention now would be a great time to review your Bing SEO strategy.
In case you didn't look at the stock market today, Bloomberg highlighted what investors think of the Yahoo! / Microsoft deal
“This deal was a big disappointment,” said Moran, an analyst in Boca Raton, Florida. “They needed this deal, and it shows in terms of how the negotiations were concluded.”
...Because Their CEO Did Not Grasp the Importance of Search
In the same article Yahoo!'s CEO justified the Yahoo!/Microsoft search deal as something that clears fog:
“The priority was not to do the deal,” Bartz, 60, said in an interview. “The priority was to get the fog away from the company. Yahoo got pegged as a search company and we’re not a search company. Search is only one aspect of what our customers do.”
To look at the highest margin and highest income piece of a business and call it fog is absurd.
How Search Sets a Baseline
Search is the most direct way to target ads at consumers. It is easy to establish a baseline values and measure change. It allows you to implement (and advertise) new product ideas at no cost.
The other important baseline evolving search sets is the difference between spam and value added content. If you have ever read any of Google's leaked remote quality rater documents you would see that the search result itself is a lower threshold to force the evolution of media.
Web Search Holds Everything Together
A lot of Yahoo!'s properties are somewhat average, but not remarkable. Some of them succeed ONLY because they are a part of the Yahoo! family of websites. Web search is the glue that holds the pieces together.
Search is the most profitable online ad market and having a big stake of that market allows them to promote their other business interests in a cheap & targeted way. Selling off the search assets does not suddenly put them in a strong competitive position.
It does not suddenly make their thin content sites thicker and more valuable. If anything it will make it harder for their other sites to compete as it will require them to be thicker to stay competitive when they lose the subsidy they were getting from search.
Besides better exposure for its Bing search engine by placement throughout Yahoo!, Ballmer said, Microsoft hopes to improve the quality of its searches by analyzing over a decade of data Yahoo! has on how people search. The data improves search quality for everything from correcting misspelled words to likely patterns of search behavior.
Danny highlighted how much worse this deal is for Yahoo! than the deal offered last year in a side by side comparison and wrote a search eulogy. Yahoo! spent a couple billion dollars acquiring Overture/AltaVista, Inktomi, and AllTheWeb. And they sold it for $0!
Microsoft will acquire an exclusive 10 year license to Yahoo!’s core search technologies, and Microsoft will have the ability to integrate Yahoo! search technologies into its existing web search platforms;
Microsoft’s Bing will be the exclusive algorithmic search and paid search platform for Yahoo! sites. Yahoo! will continue to use its technology and data in other areas of its business such as enhancing display advertising technology.
Yahoo! will become the exclusive worldwide relationship sales force for both companies’ premium search advertisers. Self-serve advertising for both companies will be fulfilled by Microsoft’s AdCenter platform, and prices for all search ads will continue to be set by AdCenter’s automated auction process.
Each company will maintain its own separate display advertising business and sales force.
Yahoo! will innovate and “own” the user experience on Yahoo! properties, including the user experience for search, even though it will be powered by Microsoft technology.
Microsoft will compensate Yahoo! through a revenue sharing agreement on traffic generated on Yahoo!’s network of both owned and operated (O&O) and affiliate sites.
Microsoft will pay traffic acquisition costs (TAC) to Yahoo! at an initial rate of 88% of search revenue generated on Yahoo!’s O&O sites during the first 5 years of the agreement.
Yahoo! will continue to syndicate its existing search affiliate partnerships.
Microsoft will guarantee Yahoo!’s O&O revenue per search (RPS) in each country for the first 18 months following initial implementation in that country.
At full implementation (expected to occur within 24 months following regulatory approval), Yahoo! estimates, based on current levels of revenue and current operating expenses, that this agreement will provide a benefit to annual GAAP operating income of approximately $500 million and capital expenditure savings of approximately $200 million. Yahoo! also estimates that this agreement will provide a benefit to annual operating cash flow of approximately $275 million.
The agreement protects consumer privacy by limiting the data shared between the companies to the minimum necessary to operate and improve the combined search platform, and restricts the use of search data shared between the companies. The agreement maintains the industry-leading privacy practices that each company follows today.
What is not in the deal terms is that Yahoo! will slowly erode search market share to Bing. By the end of the 10 year period Yahoo! could become AOL.
Imagine selling web traffic as a commodity in a blind auction, while touting its value based on the traffic being targeted, relevant, precise, and trackable. Then imagine taking away the default keyword tool on the internet that has been written about in thousands of marketing books, ebooks, and web pages - and replacing it with nothing. Then imagine signing up some seedy publishing partners that run clickbots against your highest value keywords, and giving them the lion's share of the click "value" on those keywords. Then imagine not making it easy for advertisers to opt out of that "traffic." Then imagine editing your advertisers accounts without their permission to alter ad text and keywords, and only informing some of them about the changes sometime after they take place...with 1 in 5 rejecting the changes!
Google offers about a half-dozen public keyword tools, makes it easy to filter out bad traffic, has way more volume, offers enterprise level analytics for free, and does not edit your keywords and ad copy against your permission. Is it any wonder Yahoo! managed to lose hundreds of millions of dollars last quarter, while Google keeps exceeding market expectations - even during a recession?
I just hope that when Yahoo! gets bought out by Microsoft that they keep Site Explorer around for us SEOs, and don't do us as poorly as they did their advertisers. ;)
The WSJ reported that Jerry Yang is stepping down from the Yahoo! CEO role as soon as the board can find a replacement. May the bleeding soon stop. To appreciate the agony Jerry Yang lived through watch this Web 2.0 interview of him by John Battelle
To appreciate the agony that Jerry put shareholders through, look at Yahoo!'s stock chart
The WSJ reported that Google and Yahoo! have inked a non-exclusive ad deal
Yahoo said it will display some ads sold by Google in an agreement estimated to generate $800 million in annual revenue. In the first 12 months following implementation, Yahoo expects the deal to generate an estimated $250 million to $450 million in incremental operating cash flow.
Both companies have agreed to "delay implementing the deal for up to three and a half months while regulators review it." The deal can be terminated at any point in time, but if it is terminated within 24 months Yahoo! will owe Google $250 million.
The partnership is only for the US and Canadian markets, but expands beyond Yahoo!'s search results into Yahoo! content ads and even the syndicated Yahoo! Publisher Network. Given Yahoo!'s poor ad relevancy and that they are reselling Google ads, how will the Yahoo! Publisher Network ever gain marketshare from AdSense?
Beyond the incremental revenue stream, this also gives Google another opportunity to spy on web users who use their largest competitor - allowing Google to get a better view of the average web user and making it easier for Google to clone and beat Yahoo! in any market where Yahoo! leads.
Here is Google's take, and the full Yahoo! press release is below
Yahoo! to Strengthen Competitive Position in Online Advertising Through Non-Exclusive Agreement With Google
Thursday June 12, 6:16 pm ET
Agreement Advances Yahoo!'s Open Strategy; Enhances Ability to Compete in Converging Search and Display Marketplace
SUNNYVALE, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Yahoo! Inc. (Nasdaq:YHOO), a leading global Internet company, announced today that it has reached an agreement with Google Inc. that will enhance its ability to compete in the converging search and display marketplace, advancing the company’s open strategy. The agreement enables Yahoo! to run ads supplied by Google alongside Yahoo!’s search results and on some of its web properties in the United States and Canada. The agreement is non-exclusive, giving Yahoo! the ability to display paid search results from Google, other third parties, and Yahoo!’s own Panama marketplace.
Under the terms of the agreement, Yahoo! will select the search term queries for which – and the pages on which – Yahoo! may offer Google paid search results. Yahoo! will define its users’ experience and will determine the number and placement of the results provided by Google and the mix of paid results provided by Panama, Google or other providers. The agreement applies to paid search and content match and does not apply to algorithmic search. The agreement also applies to current partners in Yahoo’s publisher network.
Yahoo! CEO and co-founder Jerry Yang said, “We believe that the convergence of search and display is the next major development in the evolution of the rapidly changing online advertising industry. Our strategies are specifically designed to capitalize on this convergence -- and this agreement helps us move them forward in a significant way. It also represents an important next step in our open strategy, building on the progress we have already made in advancing a more open marketplace.”
“This agreement provides a source of funds to both deliver financial value to stockholders from search monetization and to invest in our broader strategy to transform display advertising and advance our starting point objectives with users,” said Yahoo! President Sue Decker. “It enhances competition by promoting our ability to compete in the marketplace where we are especially well positioned: in the convergence of search and display.”
Agreement Provides Attractive Economics and Enhances Search Monetization
Yahoo! believes that this agreement will enable the Company to better monetize Yahoo!’s search inventory in the United States and Canada. At current monetization rates, this is an approximately $800 million annual revenue opportunity. In the first 12 months following implementation, Yahoo! expects the agreement to generate an estimated $250 million to $450 million in incremental operating cash flow.
The agreement will enhance Yahoo!’s ability to achieve its goal to grow operating cash flow significantly, while at the same time providing flexibility to continue to invest in ongoing initiatives such as algorithmic search innovation and search and display advertising platforms. It gives Yahoo! complete flexibility to continue to use its Panama paid search results.
Significant Benefits Will Flow to Users, Advertisers, Publishers and Employees
Users will also benefit from Yahoo!’s ability to invest incremental operating cash flow in ongoing improvements to its search services, building upon recent major innovations such as Search Assist and SearchMonkey. Advertisers will continue to benefit from multiple marketplace alternatives including Panama, Google and others. Publishers will benefit from a winning combination of distribution, monetization and services to help them grow their businesses. The financial benefits will enable Yahoo! to broaden the scope of its investments and initiatives, enhancing Yahoo!’s ability to offer attractive career opportunities to its employees.
Terms of the Agreement
The agreement will enable Yahoo! to run ads supplied by Google's AdSense™ for Search and AdSense™ for Content services next to Yahoo!’s internally generated paid search and algorithmic search results. Yahoo may also run Google-supplied ads on non-search Yahoo web properties, as well as on current members of its partner network. The agreement has a term of up to ten years: a four-year initial term and two, three-year renewals at Yahoo!’s option. It applies to Yahoo!’s operations in the U.S. and Canada only. Advertisers will continue to pay Yahoo! directly for clicks served by Yahoo! from Yahoo!’s Panama and Content Match marketplaces. Advertisers will pay Google directly for each click on Google paid search results appearing on Yahoo! owned and operated network or certain affiliate sites. Google will share a percentage of such revenue with Yahoo!.
In addition, Yahoo! and Google agreed to enable interoperability between their respective instant messaging services, bringing easier and broader communication to users.
The agreement allows either party to terminate the agreement in the event of a change in control of either party. The agreement also requires Yahoo! to pay a termination fee if the agreement is terminated as a result of a change in control that occurs within 24 months. The termination fee is $250 million, subject to reduction by 50 percent of revenues earned by Google under the agreement.
Although Google and Yahoo! are not required to receive regulatory approval of the deal before implementing it, the companies have voluntarily agreed to delay implementation for up to three and a half months while the U.S. Department of Justice reviews the arrangement.
Goldman, Sachs & Co., Lehman Brothers and Moelis & Company are acting as financial advisors to Yahoo!. Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP is acting as legal advisor to Yahoo!, and Munger Tolles & Olson LLP is acting as counsel to the outside directors of Yahoo!.
Yahoo! will host a conference call to discuss the agreement with Google at 6:30 p.m. Eastern Time today. To listen to the call live, please dial 877-391-6847 (reservation number 70308474#). A live audiocast of the conference call can be accessed through the Company's Investor Relations website at http://yhoo.client.shareholder.com/index.cfm. In addition, an archive of the audiocast can be accessed through the same link. An audio replay of the call will be available following the conference call by calling 888-286-8010 (reservation number 84138579).
After hearing a few people mention the NBA finals I went over to Yahoo! Sports to check it out. The Celtics are ahead of the Lakers 1 game to 0. Given the history of that rivalry it is no surprise that decent NBA Finals Tickets are selling for over $1,000 and courtside tickets fetch $20,000 or more. Yahoo! paid the editorial costs to create great content relevant for this high profit margin niche, and what do they do with it? They waste it.
How are these ads relevant to an article about the NBA finals? Mind you this is Yahoo!'s own editoral content located on sports.yahoo.com, so it can't be hard to make an algorithm a bit more relevant than that.
Given Yahoo!'s irrelevancy it is no wonder that they are heavily reliant on arbitrage and syndication - they need those players to add relevancy to their broken ad platform. At least the people who are paying for the clicks care about a relevant experience, though one would imagine Yahoo! could earn more with an honest attempt at relevancy.