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Sunday, February 22, 2004

Could Transparency Give Yahoo the Edge?

The concept of transparency in business -- the idea that companies should be as open as possible while still maintaining their competitive advantage -- is a hot topic this days as the media and authors focus on ways to overcome corporate scandals and thrive in the age of instant information.

"Transparent" is hardly the word one would use to describe Google's search-indexing technology. Webmasters and unscrupulous marketers are always trying to game Google thanks to high rankings often being worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in free advertising dollars. Naturally, Google wants to protect its efforts to ward off spammers and scammers.

But, as a frustrated search engine marketer myself, I know there has to be a way for Google to protect its secret sauce yet reveal some of the recipe so that searchers and business owners know the rules better.

These thoughts came to me while reading a New York Times article about Yahoo's recent replacing of Google as its search technology provider with its own in-house engine. I keep thinking how Yahoo can also hope to replace Google as the leading search engine. I think it's a tall task despite all the media reports that are already predicting Google's decline in relevancy.

In the post before this one, Andrew wisely points out that it's very likely that Yahoo won't devote the energy necessary to create and maintain a top-quality index. As Google has proved, it's a lot harder than it looks. The New York Times article says that in interviews with top Yahoo execs, they've strongly asserted that search is a priority, not just another feature in a big portal.

Still, if that's true, Yahoo will have to do more to wrest the search crown from Google. But, neither FAST nor Teoma could do that, and they all three have indexes of similar quality. Sure, those two don't have the marketing muscle and budgets of Yahoo, but if it were that easy to dethrone Google, surely they could have done it. Instead, Google is only stronger, thanks to its star brand power.

So, what could Yahoo do, then? How about being more transparent? Why not offer a subscription service where search engine marketers who participate in the new paid-inclusion program could be advised of changes to the Yahoo search algorithm and make necessary changes before they're implemented? It seems a bit useless to pay for inclusion on an annual basis per URL and then just guess at the factors that could make your site appear nearer the top rankings.

Yahoo wouldn't have to give away the store to give helpful advice to marketers who desperately crave basic guidance on which search engine optimization techniques are acceptable practices and which are not. Google is so utterly non-transparent (opaque?) that it forces marketers to spend hundreds of hours per year trying to deconstruct monthly changes to try to keep up with the times.

The issue of relevance with free listings is one thing, but when you have to pay for pay-per-click ads and to be indexed, marketers deserve more. With all those smart people on their payroll, I'm sure someone can devise a plan that would strike a balance between relevancy and fairness to customers whose fortunes rise and fall by search engine rankings.

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




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