Not long ago I wrote a really cynical piece about Yahoo’s Paid Search program. Well, I got some people mad at me, and follow-up is in order.

The best feedback was from a technical Yahoo insider, and I’ll quote:

You translated one bit as follows:

“Translation: Cadogan claims that people who send money can’t count on getting better results.”

and then ridiculed the idea. But I work there, and I can tell you that that is quite literally true. The paid inclusion program gets your content in the door, but it does not determine where you rank in search results.

I offered to point to a posting by this person, who got all nervous because Yahoo is “very unhappy if you make statements on their behalf that are not phrased in the kind of bizspeak that needs to be translated.”

Earth to Yahoo: Get a clue! This was a smart, articulate person who could probably do more to dispel my kind of skepticism than an acre of official statements and a legion of PR professionals. When someone says “I’m writing the software, and the software isn’t like that,” you tend to believe them. Yahoo ought to be begging people like this to stick their necks out.

Do I Take It All Back? · No. Because I still don’t buy it. I mean, I do believe there are people at Yahoo writing services that will do nothing more in exchange for money than “get your content in the door,” but if that’s all the service does, I don’t believe it will sell.

Maybe I’m too old and too cynical, but I’ve sold Web advertising on a few occasions, and the people who buy advertising aren’t romantic and they aren’t principled and they want results for their money. Because senior executives hate spending money on this. The popular saying goes “We know that half of our advertising is a complete waste, we just don’t know which half.” Which is true; but thinking that only half of it is wasted is pretty optimistic.

So the people who run the marketing budget know it’s going to get whacked the first time the company has a bad quarter (I’ve done that myself) unless they have something concrete to show the boss by way of results. “Getting the content in the door” ain’t gonna cut it.

And then there’s the unavoidable issue of quality.

The Quality Factor · Here’s the unfortunate fact: if you’ve got a Web property that’s good in and of itself, or is pushing a product that people want to buy, or performs a service that people want to use, well then people will notice that, and your PageRank will go up, and you’ll start to get good search results.

You may want to buy some keyword advertising on one or more of Google and Yahoo and MSN and AOL—real advertising I mean, not search-result inflation—to get people to take the initial look at you; word on the street is that that works great.

On the other hand, if your web site sucks or your product sucks or your service sucks or your pricing sucks, and you’ve already bought those keyword ads but your search ranking remains obstinately low, who ya gonna call? You’ll call someone who’ll let you buy your way out of that box; someone who’ll take your money and give you the results you want.

That’s the problem; sites that are worth finding are, by and large, being ranked fairly well by Google and its competition. And if they’re not, there’s usually a good reason for that.

So, let me see, I suppose that if the problem is your Web site as opposed to your product or your service or your pricing, then Yahoo might give you some useful advice on how to improve that, Yahoo knows a lot about the Web.

But I don’t believe that’s what the marketing executives of the world want. I think they want to buy higher positions in the result list.

But hey, pretty soon, we’ll find out if I’m right or wrong. If Yahoo’s service really is “Send us money but we won’t necessarily give you better search results,” and if that works, then I’m wrong and I’ll say so here.

I’m Sorry · There are lots of smart honourable people over there at Yahoo who don’t think they’re doing anything wrong and I apologize for my overwhelming cynicism. But at the moment, I don’t buy the premise.


author · Dad · software · colophon · rights
picture of the day
March 26, 2004
· Business (112 fragments)
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I am an employee of Amazon.com, but the opinions expressed here are my own, and no other party necessarily agrees with them.

A full disclosure of my professional interests is on the author page.