Yahoo! Search Testing Google Search Results

Jul 1st
posted in

Search PandaMonium

A couple days ago Microsoft announced a deal with AOL to have AOL sell Microsoft display ads & for Bing to power AOL's organic search results and paid search ads for a decade starting in January.

The search landscape is still undergoing changes.

I am uncertain to what degree they are testing search results from Google, but on some web browsers I am seeing Yahoo! organics and ads powered by Bing & in other browsers I am seeing Yahoo! organics and ads powered by Google. Here are a couple screenshots.

Bing Version

Google Version

Comparing The SERPs

Notable differences between the versions:

search provider Bing Google
top ad color purple blue
top ad favicon yes no
clickable ad area all headline
ad label right of each ad near URL once in gray above all ads
ad URL redirect r.msn.com google.com
ad units above organics 5 4
ad sitelinks many fewer
ad star rating color blue yellow
Yahoo! verticals like Tumblr & Answers mixed into organic results not mixed in
footer "powered by Bing" message shown missing

When the Google ads run on the Yahoo! SERPs for many keywords I am seeing many of the search arbitrage players in the top ads. Typically these ads are more commonly relegated to Google.com's right rail ad positions.

The Google Yahoo! Search Backstory

Back in 2008 when Yahoo! was fighting to not get acquired they signed an ad agreement with Google, but it was blocked by the DOJ due to antitrust concerns. Unless Google loses Apple as a search partner, they are arguably more dominant today in general web search than they were back in 2008. Some have argued apps drastically change the way people search, but Google has went to great lengths to depreciate the roll of apps & suck people back into their search ecosystem with features baked into Google Now on tap & in-app keyword highlighting that can push a user from an app into a Google search result.

In Q4 last year Yahoo! replaced Google as the default search provider in Firefox in the United States.

And Yahoo! recently signed a deal with Oracle to bundle default Yahoo! Search settings on Java updates. Almost all the Bing network gains of late have been driven by Yahoo!.

A little over a year ago Yahoo! launched Gemini to begin rebuilding their own search ad network, starting with mobile. In their Q1 report, RKG stated "Among advertisers adopting Gemini, 36% of combined Bing and Yahoo mobile traffic was served by Yahoo in March 2015."

When Yahoo! recently renewed their search deal with Microsoft, Yahoo! was once again allowed to sell their own desktop search ads & they are only required to give 51% of the search volume to Bing. There has been significant speculation as to what Yahoo! would do with the carve out. Would they build their own search technology? Would they outsource to Google to increase search ad revenues? It appears they are doing a bit of everything - some Bing ads, some Yahoo! ads, some Google ads.

Bing reports the relative share of Yahoo! search ad volume they deliver on a rolling basis: "data covers all device-types. The relative volume (y-axis) is an index based on average traffic in April, therefore it is possible for the volume to go above 1.0. The chart is updated on a weekly basis."

If Yahoo! gives Google significant share it could create issues where users who switch between the different algorithms might get frustrated by the results being significantly different. Or if users don't care it could prove general web search is so highly commoditized the average searcher is totally unaware of the changes. The latter is more likely, given most searchers can't even distinguish between search ads and organic search results.

The FTC was lenient toward Google in spite of Google's clearly articulated intent to abuse their dominant market position. Google has until August 17th to respond to EU antitrust charges. I am a bit surprised Google would be willing to run this type of test while still undergoing antitrust scrutiny in Europe.

Choosing to Choose Choice

When Mozilla signed the deal with Yahoo! & dumped Google they pushed it as "promoting choice."

A cynic might question how much actual choice there is if on many searches the logo is different but the underlying ads & organic results are powered by Google, and an ex-Google executive runs Yahoo!.

"Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black." - Henry Ford

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.

Sign Up for Yahoo! Gemini Ads

Feb 19th
posted in

How to Get a free $50 Yahoo! Gemini Coupon

  • Step 1: click here
  • Step 2: after clicking that link, enter the promo code YAHOOADS for a $50 credit when you sign up today

What is Yahoo! Gemini?

Yahoo! announced the launch of Gemini, which allows advertisers to buy in-content native Yahoo! Stream ads on the Yahoo! homepage and other key Yahoo! properties. In addition Gemini will allow Yahoo! to sell their own search ads on mobile devices rather than Microsoft's Bing Ads.

Here is an example of a stream ad right on the Yahoo! homepage.

These ads are sold on a cost per click basis like Google AdWords and Bing Ads. They appear on both desktop and mobile versions of Yahoo!.

You can sign up for Gemini here.

Gemini's Growing Importance in the Search Landscape

Late in 2014 Yahoo! shocked the search landscape when they announced a deal with Mozilla to become the default search provider in Firefox.

In RKG's Q1 2015 digital marketing report they highlighted how Yahoo! Gemini is quickly growing and now powering a significant share of mobile search ad clicks in the Yahoo!/Bing ad network.

Yahoo! is further expanding the reach of their network through powering in-app search on thousands of apps and story recommendations on popular publishing networks like Vox Media, CBS Interactive

Gemini will soon likely power many of the desktop search ads on Yahoo! Search as well, as when Marissa Mayer renewed the Yahoo! Search contract with Microsoft, she lowered the guaranteed inventory delivered to Microsoft to 51% and got Yahoo! a carve out to enable them to deliver their own ads on desktops, laptops and tablets along with mobile devices. Yahoo! now has the ability to use Bing algorithmic search results without using the ads on up to 49% of their search volume.

Get in Early & Save

Since Gemini is a relatively new ad network their clicks tend to be significantly cheaper than clicks on ad networks established long ago. Gemini can represent a significant savings over buying Google AdWords ads.

Activate your Gemini account today

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.

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