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 Google Chrome, 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 being “closed.” 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 other examples.

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 for itself.

Consider that Yahoo still runs 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 doing.

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 companies.

Related Topics: Channel: Content | Yahoo: Business Issues | Yahoo: News


About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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