Ask CEO Jim Lanzone Comments on Yahoo!’s Hypocrisy

I don’t know how I missed this. Possibly because the day it was posted was my birthday and I was out of the office most of the day. What I am referring to is a post on the Stepforth blog by Ross Dunn announcing Yahoo!’s revamping of their paid inclusion program. Even had I come upon the news, I probably would have merely yawned because really, who cares about their paid inclusion program anyway? Instead of revamping it, they should killing it.

Jim Lanzone, CEO of Ask seems to feel the same way. In announcing the fact that Yahoo! had revamped their paid inclusion program, Ross also highlights the fact that Ask killed their paid inclusion program back in 2004. At the time, Jim Lanzone explained that the “improved freshness in the search results achieved by its Teoma technology” meant they no longer required site owners to submit URLs that Ask’s site spider had missed. He further noted that “keeping this program alive just because people would pay for it would be hypocritical.”

What was really interesting is the comment Jim made in response to the news which was most likely triggered by the fact that he was mentioned. Here is what he had to say:

Three years later, I’m still against paid inclusion, because I still think it is hypocritical to charge for something we need to do anyway to be the best search service we can be. I also think it’s a dis-service to our users to blur the line that much between paid content and editorial content.

“Welcome to capitalism”, Jeremy Zawodny once said in a post called “Defending Paid Inclusion.” Yes, Yahoo can do what they want, they’re probably not skewing the results, and even if they did, most people probably wouldn’t notice or care. Furthermore, since sites are paying a flat fee with the “Basic” version of Yahoo’s Paid Inclusion program, there is no incentive in those instances for Yahoo to increase traffic to submitted URLs. (Except, I suppose, to encourage renewals. One can assume you wouldn’t renew if you didn’t see any traffic from this.)

On the other hand, with Yahoo’s “Pro” version of Paid Inclusion, the pricing model is cost-per-click (http://searchmarketing.yahoo.com/srchsb/ssp_pr.php). In these cases, Yahoo only makes money if a URL gets traffic. What are the odds that out of 2 million results for a given query, their partner sites will be ranked highly enough, consistently enough, on their own to: a) generate enough traffic for the partner site to make it worth participating in the program; and b) generate enough revenue for Yahoo to make it worth operating the program? I don’t know, and I’m not accusing Yahoo of anything. I just know that 75% of the clicks on a major search engine typically go into the top 5 results on the page. It would just be too much of a coincidence if paid (and unmarked) partners got those rankings/clicks instead of non-paying sites.

I’d rather not have anyone wondering if we’re gaming it. So Paid Inclusion is just not on the table for Ask.com.

Amen! I feel the same way. So many of us were excited when Yahoo finally launched their own search engine back in 2004. Then about a month or two afterwards they announce their paid inclusion program. What? This at a time when everyone else was killing theirs. Why would they do this? Did their new engine have trouble crawling content if it was not submitted directly to them? Not likely. In fact I have never had any issues getting Yahoo! to find, crawl and index any content from our own sites or client sites. We have never used their paid inclusion and do not plan to do so. So if crawling isn’t the issue what could it be? Greed! Another income stream. But as Jim puts it so eloquently, why “charge for something we need to do anyway?” Exactly.

While Yahoo! should be laying to rest an old and outdated format of indexing pages, they are revamping it. Sadly, I guess this means the program will be sticking around for awhile. I appreciate the fact that while the other two major search engines (Google & MSN) could set up their own paid inclusion programs, they are instead working to provide free ways for webmaster to submit content to their crawlers. In this way they leave no question as to whether their editorial / organic results are skewed by money as Yahoo! does.

Hat tip to Barry for bringing Jim’s comment to light.

David Wallace

David Wallace, co-founder and CEO of SearchRank, is a recognized expert in the industry of search and social media marketing. Since 1997, David has been involved in developing successful search engine and social media marketing campaigns for large and small businesses. Follow +David Wallace on Google + as well as Twitter.

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