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Tuesday, March 02, 2004

More on the Yahoo and Overture Developments: It's Almost All Good?

After hearing a fuller briefing, it sounds as it Yahoo's new initiative has a lot going for it. Consider:


  • For advertisers (what Yahoo calls "commercial content providers"), the process of paying to be included in the index has become both more streamlined and fuller-featured. By dealing with only one provider, Overture (the Overture brand supersedes Inktomi), advertisers aka commercial content providers aka listing clients no longer need to worry about paying to be included in disparate indexes such as AlltheWeb, AltaVista, Inktomi, and FAST. They get pretty much what they need with one provider. Moreover, the degree of customer service that can be offered by a company the size of Overture (under the auspices of Yahoo) is probably going to be higher. Overture also promises better reporting, and more "transparency and structure" to the listing relationship, which, as always, makes it easier for commercial sites to be refreshed frequently in the index even if they have dynamic URL's.

  • Yahoo's index aims to be as comprehensive as possible. The claim is that 99% of the pages in the index will be from the free crawler. As such, the noncommercial sites that take advantage of special status in Overture's Content Acquisition Program are just "icing on the cake" providing additional convenience to these content providers. Yahoo is still, they say, strongly committed to spidering the whole web, although they emphasize that fewer quality checks can be made on all pages in the larger index.

  • There will be continuity and useful overlap for advertisers who use Overture to buy sponsored listings, as well.


At a certain point, of course, there remain unanswered questions. The fact that Yahoo is supposedly aggressively spidering the web may bear little relationship to how prominently these "free crawl" pages will be displayed. Perhaps many such pages will only be there in spirit.

The other possibility is that spammy sites will make short work of Yahoo's algo so that unusual queries display spammy results. The implicit message sent to users may be that if you type in common commercial search queries, you'll get high-quality, quality-tested results from advertisers who are paying to be listed, but if you type in strange and unusual queries, it might be a crapshoot.

On the whole, Yahoo's initiative offers clarity and convenience to advertisers, which might be enough to offset the higher prices many will now be paying for visibility in Yahoo's index (15 or 30 cents per click after the initial inclusion fee). As for how well the user performing non-commercial searches will fare here, we'll just have to wait and see. We've heard this tune before, notably from MSN, and for many users, the "heavily-managed" style of big-portal search has worked out OK. "OK" doesn't seem interesting enough to grab significant market share away from Google, but it does seem likely to provide a decent user experience, make plenty of money for Yahoo, and above all, sharply reduce the number of uncertainties and headaches that have thus far faced content providers, advertisers, and the agencies that serve them when it comes to the index inclusion relationship.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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