Mozilla Firefox Dumps Google in Favor of Yahoo! Search

Nov 20th
posted in

Firefox users conduct over 100 billion searches per year & starting in December Yahoo! will be the default search choice in the US, under a new 5 year agreement.

Google has been the Firefox global search default since 2004. Our agreement came up for renewal this year, and we took this as an opportunity to review our competitive strategy and explore our options.

In evaluating our search partnerships, our primary consideration was to ensure our strategy aligned with our values of choice and independence, and positions us to innovate and advance our mission in ways that best serve our users and the Web. In the end, each of the partnership options available to us had strong, improved economic terms reflecting the significant value that Firefox brings to the ecosystem. But one strategy stood out from the rest.

In Russia they'll default to Yandex & in China they'll default to Baidu.

One weird thing about that announcement is there is no mention of Europe & Google's dominance is far greater in Europe. I wonder if there was a quiet deal with Google in Europe, if they still don't have their Europe strategy in place, or what their strategy is.

Added: Danny Sullivan confirmed Google remain the default search engine in Firefox in Europe, though there is no formal financial deal associated with the relationship.

Google paid Firefox roughly $300 million per year for the default search placement. Yahoo!'s annual search revenue is on the order of $1.8 billion per year, so if they came close to paying $300 million a year, then Yahoo! has to presume they are going to get at least a few percentage points of search marketshare lift for this to pay for itself.

It also makes sense that Yahoo! would be a more natural partner fit for Mozilla than Bing would. If Mozilla partnered with Bing they would risk developer blowback from pent up rage about anti-competitive Internet Explorer business practices from 10 or 15 years ago.

It is also worth mentioning our recent post about how Yahoo! boosts search RPM by doing about a half dozen different tricks to preference paid search results while blending in the organic results.

  Yahoo Ads Yahoo Organic Results
Placement top of the page below the ads
Background color none / totally blended none
Ad label small gray text to right of advertiser URL n/a
Sitelinks often 5 or 6 usually none, unless branded query
Extensions star ratings, etc. typically none
Keyword bolding on for title, description, URL & sitelinks off
Underlines ad title & sitelinks, URL on scroll over off
Click target entire background of ad area is clickable only the listing title is clickable

 

Though the revenue juicing stuff from above wasn't present in the screenshot Mozilla shared about Yahoo!'s new clean search layout they will offer Firefox users.

It shows red ad labels to the left of the ads and bolding on both the ads & organics.

Here is Marissa Mayer's take:

At Yahoo, we believe deeply in search – it’s an area of investment and opportunity for us. It’s also a key growth area for us - we’ve now seen 11 consecutive quarters of growth in our search revenue on an ex-TAC basis. This partnership helps to expand our reach in search and gives us an opportunity to work even more closely with Mozilla to find ways to innovate in search, communications, and digital content. I’m also excited about the long-term framework we developed with Mozilla for future product integrations and expansion into international markets.

Our teams worked closely with Mozilla to build a clean, modern, and immersive search experience that will launch first to Firefox’s U.S. users in December and then to all Yahoo users in early 2015.

Even if Microsoft is only getting a slice of the revenues, this makes the Bing organic & ad ecosystem stronger while hurting Google. (Unless of course this is a step 1 before Marissa finds a way to nix the Bing deal and partner back up with Google on search). Yahoo! already has a partnership to run Google contextual ads. A potential Yahoo! Google search partnership was blocked back in 2008. Yahoo! also syndicates Bing search ads in a contextual format to other sites through Media.net and has their Gemini Stream Ads product which powers some of their search ads on mobile devices and on content sites is a native ad alternative to Outbrain and Taboola. When they syndicate the native ads to other sites, the ads are called Yahoo! Recommends.

Both Amazon and eBay have recently defected (at least partially) from the Google ad ecosystem. Amazon has also been pushing to extend their ad network out to other sites.

Greg Sterling worries this might be a revenue risk for Firefox: "there may be some monetary risk for Firefox in leaving Google." Missing from that perspective:

  • How much less Google paid Mozilla before the most recent contract lifted by a competitive bid from Microsoft
  • If Bing goes away, Google will drastically claw down on the revenue share offered to other search partners.
    • Google takes 45% from YouTube publishers
    • Google took over a half-decade (and a lawsuit) to even share what their AdSense revenue share was
    • look at eHow's stock performance
    • While Google's search ad revenue has grown about 20% per year their partner ad network revenues have stagnated as their traffic acquisition costs as a percent of revenue have dropped

The good thing about all the Google defections is the more networks there are the more opportunities there are to find one which works well / is a good fit for whatever you are selling, particularly as Google adds various force purchased junk to their ad network - be it mobile "Enhanced" campaigns or destroying exact match keyword targeting.

How Does Yahoo! Increase Search Ad Clicks?

Nov 11th
posted in

One wonders how Yahoo Search revenues keep growing even as Yahoo's search marketshare is in perpetual decline.

Then one looks at a Yahoo SERP and quickly understands what is going on.

Here's a Yahoo SERP test I saw this morning

I sometimes play a "spot the difference" game with my wife. She's far better at it than I am, but even to a blind man like me there are about a half-dozen enhancements to the above search results to juice ad clicks. Some of them are hard to notice unless you interact with the page, but here's a few of them I noticed...

  Yahoo Ads Yahoo Organic Results
Placement top of the page below the ads
Background color none / totally blended none
Ad label small gray text to right of advertiser URL n/a
Sitelinks often 5 or 6 usually none, unless branded query
Extensions star ratings, etc. typically none
Keyword bolding on for title, description, URL & sitelinks off
Underlines ad title & sitelinks, URL on scroll over off
Click target entire background of ad area is clickable only the listing title is clickable

 

What is even more telling about how Yahoo disadvantages the organic result set is when one of their verticals is included in the result set they include the bolding which is missing from other listings. Some of their organic result sets are crazy with the amount of vertical inclusions. On a single result set I've seen separate "organic" inclusions for

  • Yahoo News
  • stories on Yahoo
  • Yahoo Answers

They also have other inclusions like shopping search, local search, image search, Yahoo screen, video search, Tumblr and more.

Here are a couple examples.

This one includes an extended paid affiliate listing with SeatGeek & Tumblr.

This one includes rich formatting on Instructibles and Yahoo Answers.

This one includes product search blended into the middle of the organic result set.

Yahoo! Secured Search Rolls Out

Jan 22nd
posted in

Yahoo! is currently rolling out secured search, which prevents sending referrers to unsecured sites. The roll out is ongoing, but currently they do pass data to secured sites. Unlike Google's secured search roll out:

  • rather than showing a referrer without keyword data the traffic will show up as direct site visitors
  • there is no default automated workaround for advertisers

Even though the data is being blocked for both ads & organics right now, advertisers can quickly use Bing Ads Editor to add tracking strings to their URLs passing the relevant keyword data likeso

http://www.site.com/folder/page.html?utm_source=bing&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=mycampaign{IfContent:content}&utm_term={Keyword}&utm_content={QueryString}&match={MatchType}

A couple quick questions:

  • Will Yahoo! add a Google-like data flow exemption for advertisers beyond URL tracking parameters?
  • Will Yahoo! make guarantees to secured sites that organic data will flow to justify the cost & significant risks associated with site migrations?
  • How accessible will Yahoo! data remain within Bing?
  • If/when Bing makes secured search a default, how will their solution differ from those of Google & Yahoo!?

Update: It looks like Yahoo! is now passing about 36% of their search traffic through an internal redirect which strips keyword referral data. The r.search.yahoo.com redirect is still used & does not pass keyword information to the publisher website, even if the site which is being linked to is secured.

Yahoo! Search Direct

Mar 24th
posted in

What is Search Direct?

Yahoo! announced search direct, a new beta product launched in the United States which is similar to Google Instant, but extends a bit further.

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
  • stock information
  • 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 already put sponsored mortgage rates table in their search results. Now if they want to do something like that they can have it own the whole of the interface, sorta like Google has done with their local results. It will also allow Yahoo! to test video results in the search results, something Google is getting into as well.

Yahoo! has also taken branded search ads one step further, with a wrap around on certain keyword queries, like eBay.

Shortcomings

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

Yahoo! Begins Monetizing Their 'Organic' Search Results

Dec 1st
posted in

You need to be from the United States (or have access to a US IP address) to see this ad, but Yahoo! is testing monetizing their organic search results.

An ad in the "organic" results? A sponsored shortcut? Say it ain't so.

And that is *before* Google releases their vouchers program & other ad options which will frequently extend AdWords ads and further push down the organic search results.

A bit of home cooking for the fellow IAC company.

Not that long ago I highlighted how exact match domains are often over-stated as an SEO strategy. The above is another dimension as to why. When you have 3 or 4 ads above the organics AND in some cases the organic results are monetized too, then if you rank #2 algorithmically you might be below the fold.

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.

The Yahoo! Story

Nov 11th
posted in

Worth a click, and full of cautionary reminders :D

The Yahoo! Story.

Yahoo! Search Now Powered by Bing

Aug 19th
posted in

Pretty exciting day in search seeing Bing results live on Yahoo! Search results.

Yahoo! Search Powered by Bing.

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.

Same Rankings.

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")

Inline Suggest.

Instead of inline suggestions like that, you might see the following kinds of navigational cues from Yahoo!

Also Try.

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.

Yahoo! Tests Microsoft Search Results

Jul 21st
posted in

Straight from the horse's mouth:

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.

Why Buy The Milk When You Can Get the Cow for Free?

Jul 30th

Yahoo Had No Leverage...

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.

And Microsoft bought Yahoo! Search for $0:

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!

Deal Terms

From Microsoft's press release:

  • The term of the agreement is 10 years;
  • 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.

SEO Stuff Up in the Air

As far as SEO goes, a lot of stuff is still up in the air. If this deal goes through, what happens to...

  • the Yahoo! Directory (a wonderful link source)
  • Yahoo! link data (they are the best free public source)
  • Yahoo! SearchMonkey & BOSS
  • Yahoo!'s paid inclusion

There is a good chance all 4 of them go away.

Increased SEO Costs & Increased Barrier to Entry

For established marketers there would be some major upsides as well...

  • anyone with a well established website has a bigger advantage over new sites, and
  • with less public link data link buying might become less risky as reporting paid links might decline, and
  • it would be harder for competitors to clone your link strategy

Bing SEO Tips

If you have not yet read Bing's SEO Guide for Wembasters [PDF] then now would be a good time to get up to speed on it. When Bing launched we created a thread with a bunch of Bing SEO tips.

Has Yahoo! Search Marketing Lost Their Minds?

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!

So inefficient and sloppy. They can call that account optimization, but only in an Orwellian sense. Why not give advertisers the tools to do optimization themselves?

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. ;)

[update: Danny Sullivan also covered this issue.]

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