Yahoo! Drops Google (Get Out Your Wallets)

  |  January 12, 2004   |  Comments

On your mark, get set, raise your SEM budget. A lot.

Todd Winmill is arguably the best live sound engineer in Boston. Maybe anywhere. Todd's the visionary creator of the sound for Five O'Clock Shadow, an a cappella group who make instrument sounds into their microphones. Processed by Todd, they actually sound like a five-piece band. Listen to their clip, and remember: no instruments, just voices. Todd mixed stadium super-band Boston when they performed at Fenway Park. Todd's "the man" in town.

Six months ago, Todd built his very first Web site. One big problem: Like many first-time site owners, he lacked an understanding of the search engine landscape. It dramatically impacted his search engine visibility.

When Todd and I were neighbors, I gave him a copy of my book on search engine marketing (SEM), which he proudly displays on a top shelf in a storage closet between the Bible and an old cookbook (maybe he's hiding it?).

Todd did make an effort to place keywords on his Web pages and do some things he hoped make his site search engine friendly. Trouble is, Todd's a solo, independent business owner. No staff, no partners, no marketing support. Just Todd.

Like many small business owners, Todd wasn't aware Inktomi powers HotBot and MSN. He had no idea Yahoo was beginning to drop Google and replace it with Inktomi results.

Look how this oversight on Todd's part impacted his new site's search visibility:

Engine Name Keyword & URL Position Page
AOL Search Todd Winmill
1 1
AOL Search Todd Winmill
2 1
AOL Search live sound engineer Boston
1 1
CompuServe Todd Winmill
1 1
CompuServe Todd Winmill
2 1
CompuServe live sound engineer Boston
1 1
CompuServe sound engineer Boston
6 1
Google Todd Winmill
1 1
Google Todd Winmill
2 1
Google live sound engineer Boston
1 1
Google sound engineer Boston
6 1
Netscape Todd Winmill
1 1
Netscape Todd Winmill
2 1
Netscape live sound engineer Boston
1 1
Netscape sound engineer Boston
6 1
Yahoo Todd Winmill
1 1
Yahoo live sound engineer Boston
1 1
Yahoo sound engineer Boston
11 1

Note his site is only found in search engines powered by Google. Nothing on MSN, Lycos, AltaVista, AlltheWeb, and HotBot. They don't even have his site in their indexes. In fairness, Inktomi does have a "free crawl," but companies might perish waiting for it if they cannot afford to pay for inclusion. Inktomi doesn't update its index often, hence the benefit of paying for inclusion.

If you, like Todd, haven't invested in submitting your pages to Inktomi's database, your problems will get worse before they get better.

Inktomi Matters More Than Ever

The good news: Google powers Yahoo and some other search engines. The bad news: That's about to change.

Here's what Todd and every other Web marketer need to remember about SEM in 2004: Inktomi will matter more than ever.

Earlier this week, I responded to requests for comment on the news that Yahoo would drop Google and begin to display results from Inktomi's database.

Inktomi is the search engine that originally powered HotBot. It will begin serving primary search results to MSN (as its LookSmart deal expires) and soon to Yahoo.

How will this impact SEM campaigns? What are we advising our clients to do?

Inktomi offers two programs today. Index Connect bills customers on a CPC basis; Search Submit charges a flat fee per URL submitted. A threshold determines which program is more cost-effective for you. But you may not get a choice if Inktomi moves to a CPC-only program, which some of us are expecting (remember LookSmart?).

The impact: SEM just got much more expensive for anyone using Inktomi's CPC-based program. Companies using Search Submit could reap huge rewards without incremental costs... if Inktomi allows Search Submit customers entry into Yahoo when the change is made. But don't bank on it.

If you're a marketer whose not paying to submit your site to Inktomi and whose site isn't found in MSN or HotBot, over the next three months whatever traffic you enjoyed from Yahoo (via Google) will disappear. Todd will lose a number-one ranking for "live sound engineer Boston."

If you think the Google dance was tough, wait until you loose a majority of your Yahoo traffic. The only way back in is to pay.

If you use Inktomi feeds, expect Inktomi listings to be clicked by all Yahoo searchers. With MSN dropping LookSmart, you'll receive MSN clicks through Inktomi, too.

For some, this is great news. It means new, increased traffic from Yahoo for many who never ranked well in Google. For others, Yahoo just got too expensive.

Yahoo and MSN combined drive roughly 45 percent of all search referral traffic, according to StatMarket. Google and those powered by Google drive another 45 percent.

Inktomi will be as important as Google for many marketers, at least for a few months.

What to do Before the Switch

Index Connect customers should be prepared to move their old LookSmart budget to Inktomi. With all the Yahoo clicks to pay for, you'll likely exceed your LookSmart budget. For some, this could mean a 7- to 10-fold increase in the budget allocated to Inktomi. Much more than you've been paying LookSmart.

We believe there's a strong likelihood MSN will launch its own search engine and drop Inktomi in the fourth quarter of this year. Rumors are circulating MSN may not offer a paid-inclusion program (though that may change), so organic MSN traffic may no longer cost per click come year's end.

For those planning an SEM budget and anticipating being in Inktomi's CPC program, increase expected Inktomi spend by as much as 10 times through at least the third quarter, and hope that's enough.

By September or November, your Inktomi bill could drop a little when MSN launches its own index (assuming no MSN paid-inclusion program). But for at least 10 months, be prepared to open your wallet and say aaahhhh!

The impact no one talks about is the effect on brand loyalty. A searcher may not be able to find the best vendors in a particular search engine if these vendors can't be bothered (or can't afford) to pay the inclusion fees now required to show up in Yahoo and MSN results.

Proponents of paid inclusion will argue it doesn't matter if "everything" is available so long as searchers find "some" or "enough" things that meet their need. I'd argue if I search for the best live sound engineer in Boston and Todd Winmill wasn't included in the index, that search engine failed me. I don't care about why.

It would behoove Inktomi to at least ensure a search for a URL (not necessarily a keyword) will locate a Web site. That's the yellow pages standard and an expectation of the searching public. It could go a long way to quell criticism when smaller companies can't afford Inktomi's equivalent of a yellow pages display ad.


Fredrick Marckini

Fredrick Marckini is the founder and CEO of iProspect. Established in 1996 as the nation's first SEM-only firm, iProspect provides services that maximize online sales and marketing ROI through natural SEO, PPC advertising management, paid inclusion management, and Web analytics services.

Fredrick is recognized as a leading expert in the field of SEM and has authored three of the SEM industry's most respected books: "Secrets To Achieving Top-10 Positions" (1997), "Achieving Top-10 Rankings in Internet Search Engines" (1998), and "Search Engine Positioning" (2001, considered by most to be the industry bible). Considered a pioneer of SEM, Frederick was named to the Top 100 Marketers 2005 list from "BtoB Magazine."

Fredrick is a frequent speaker at industry conferences around the country, including Search Engine Strategies, ad:tech, Frost & Sullivan, and the eMarketing Association. In addition to ClickZ columns, He has written bylined articles for Search Engine Watch, "BtoB Magazine," "CMO Magazine," and numerous other publications. He has been interviewed and profiled in a variety of media outlets, including "The Wall Street Journal," "BusinessWeek," "The New York Times," "The Washington Post," "Financial Times," "Investor's Business Daily," "Internet Retailer," and National Public Radio.

Fredrick serves on the board for the Ad Club of Boston and was a founding board member of the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO). He earned a bachelor's degree from Franciscan University in Ohio.

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