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Yahoo: How Open When You Compete With Others?
Yahoo had a press day yesterday designed in part to pump up the media
about the company’s prospects and progress post the Microsoft-fiasco. As
someone who’s been
positive about Yahoo, I oddly found the day leaving me less reassured,
not more. In the end, ironically it might have been the Open! Open! Open!
mantra that each Yahoo exec put out as part of the company’s strategy. I’m
weary of “Open” somehow being magic fairy dust that if sprinkled on a
problem is something companies hope makes everything better.
Google’s tried this with
to stem fears its somehow trying to take over the web. “But it’s open.”
Sure, open for anyone to use your code if they want to take months working
it into what they’ve already put out there, as Google itself admitted when I
pressed on this issue. Chrome potentially gives them a competitive advantage
over others, if it takes off and has killer features. “Open” doesn’t take
that away. “Open” doesn’t make things all sweetness and light.
Similarly, Google’s trotted out the Open card when it wants to play
catch-up, in a way — in my view — to cast competitors as somehow dirty for
Google: As Open As It Wants To Be (i.e., When It’s Convenient) that I
wrote last year gets into this more.
So now Yahoo’s big on open, weaving in that word into all of its
strategies, as if it will somehow make everything better in the way that
when Yahoo was all “social” in 2006, that was supposed to do it.
Short response to Yahoo: I don’t care. Be open where it makes sense. Be
closed where it makes sense. Skip the big strategy period, frankly. Just
build some nice products. Don’t try to pigeonhole “open” into everything.
But if you’re going to be so open, make sure you really are.
For example, during the press day, Scott Moore — who’s in charge of
Yahoo’s media operations, — started talking about Yahoo News. He described
how during the Olympics, Yahoo could watch the query stream coming in
real-time and craft articles that matched the most popular requests.
Well isn’t that nice? I mean, if you’re a marketer trying to get traffic
from a major search engine, how handy to have access to see spikes like
that. Well sure, there’s
Google Trends —
but that’s still only a small glimpse into some of the most valuable data
that’s out there. Being able to see and react to this data, we were told,
was an advantage Yahoo had over other publishers.
Um, but aren’t those publishers also your partners? I mean, as part of
the open mantra of the day, we were told how Yahoo is planning to make it
even easier for publishers to put their content on Yahoo News pages. That’s
nice, but doesn’t it kind of also backstab those partners if you’re also
vying with them for page views?
I talked with Moore after his presentation a bit. He agreed there was
competition that was happening. Indeed, he kind of smiled and said it was
“coopetition,” smiling I think because on the web, we’ve been kind of used
to companies that compete with each other also working with each other. I
mean, Yahoo and Google will be working together, as they did year ago — as
Yahoo and Microsoft worked together years ago — and there are plenty of
So it’s normal, right? It’s one of those weird things that make sense on
the web. Maybe. But maybe it’s also me, but I have a real problem when a
company that makes much or most of its money by being a guide to the web
also wants to make money by being a destination.
My Google’s Knol
Launches: Like Wikipedia, With Moderation and
Google Knol –
Google’s Play To Aggregate Knowledge Pages articles got into this issue
recently with Google. There was lots and lots of commentary in general from
people concerned that Knol was just another way that Google wanted to
dominate the web and grab everything for itself. Plenty of people were
negative about it.
But criticism of Yahoo News competing with the same news sites it’s
supposed to be pointing at? I rarely come across concerns about this,
despite the fact that Yahoo News still is
far more popular than Google News.
Moore also got me riled when he talked about how Yahoo’s openness can be
seen in terms of the sites it links to. I didn’t get the quote exactly, but
it was something like: “There aren’t really many other news
organization that will put in links that take you away from their own content.”
Except Google, of course — where practically every link takes you away
from Google News, with the key exception of some wire content. And in that
case, Google does that primarily
because the AP
was threatening to sue it.
Again, I asked Moore about this later, and he made a good point of
explaining that Google News isn’t a news organization — it’s not a news
publisher. True, but I guess that brings me back to thinking that Yahoo
shouldn’t be a news publisher either.
This is a tough nut for Yahoo. They’ve had success on the publishing
front, such as with their new Shine women’s site, which we were told is now
the leading women’s site on the web. But personally, I’ve felt the more
Yahoo tries to play publisher and guide/search engine, the less well it does
in both places. Pick one or the other.
And in particular, I want my search engine not to be competing with spots
that others might get. I see nothing “open” about that. Instead, I see a
system where if the search engine wants to, it can take all the best toys
Consider that Yahoo
a paid inclusion program. Mention this to any Yahoo exec, and they all look
embarrassed. Eyes go down, because I think they know it’s not right. And it
isn’t. Yahoo remains the only major search engine still charging people to
be included in its web index. Yes, you might get included for fee anyway.
Yes, it’s not supposed to change the rankings. Yes, yes, yes. But if you do
things like that, it makes everything you include open to questions.
For example, we were shown how some stories from Politico are given good
play on Yahoo News pages. Politico is a partner. I guess “in conjunction
with Politico” that I see on the
Yahoo News elections page is all the disclosure I need about this.
To be fair, it’s not like Politico content is being exclusively shown or
in my face. But I don’t want to go to Yahoo News and constantly have to
wonder why a link is there, if it’s due to a paid deal or not.
And for a company that’s so open, why isn’t Yahoo powering 20 percent of
the search traffic that sites get. I’ve been pondering and investigating
this a lot over the past few weeks. My past article,
Google By Far The
Leader, If You Look At Site Owner Traffic Stats, explains this issue
more. In short, if Yahoo has 20 percent of the search activity in the United
States, then you’d expect a typical site to get 20 percent of its search
traffic from Yahoo.
Our search traffic on Search Engine Land from Yahoo yesterday? Just over
3% came from Yahoo, in contrast to 93% coming from Google.
We’re not unique. Site owner after site owner will tell you this is the
same. When I asked Yahoo why, Moore suggested that site owners are simply
targeting their content to do better on Google.
No, they’re not. Google isn’t that different from Yahoo, and trust me, if
building a completely separate site just for Yahoo would bring in tons of
new visitors, plenty of search marketers would be doing it.
Instead, I think a key reason why Yahoo’s outbound referrals from search
are so low is because Yahoo recirculates people back into its own
properties. Remember, it’s a publisher. I mean back to news,
it’s been talking again recently on the original coverage it has been
Fine, be a publisher. Or be a search engine. But don’t be both. That
ain’t open in my books.
For more on the day overall, Jessica Guynn from the Los Angeles Times
has a nice rundown. I’ll also come back to Yahoo’s press day next week
and talk more about the Google-Yahoo ad deal. And Google as the “hive mind”
company that can’t say no. And how blocking Google-Yahoo doesn’t mean
Google’s not going to still grow. Especially given that if it doesn’t
happen, Microsoft will end up with Yahoo and potentially wreck both
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.