New Yahoo! Formula Requires Different Optimizing Strategies

  |  October 10, 2001   |  Comments

Yahoo! has announced significant changes in the way the directory will display and rank its listings -- changes with implications for users and optimizers alike.

People have been complaining for years about search engine relevancy. Finally, the industry is responding. Users will love these changes because they'll find more relevant content. The trend toward relevancy was pioneered by Google, unofficially dubbed "the best search engine on the Web." A spate of new search technology that permits indexing of deep Web content also provides users with more relevant results, a trend that continues to gain momentum.

How does this affect search engine optimization (SEO)? Yahoo changed three basic factors in its algorithm formula that affect positioning of categories, Web sites (directory listings), and Web pages (Google listings): alphanumeric importance; keyword use in title, description, and URL; and category weight.

Alpha No Longer Rules

Yahoo has finally eliminated emphasis on alphanumeric order (like the yellow pages). Top-listed sites formerly had names such as AAA Diabetes Support Information, Ace Hardware, or 1st Choice Marketing Promotions.

Yahoo's directory no longer sorts arbitrarily by alphanumeric standard. The new default search will sort data more like a search engine, determining relevancy based on a specific set of algorithmic factors.

Keywords Are More Important Than Ever

The emphasis is now on keyword density and placement in the title, description, and URL. Yahoo provides default search results weighted more heavily toward these factors than alphanumeric and category factors.

Density. Consideration is given to the ratio of keywords versus nonkeywords appearing in your title, description, and URL. For example, consider the hypothetical title, description, and URL below:

  • HTML Title: Diabetes Support Group
  • Description: provides information on Diabetes etiology, treatment, and support resources
  • URL: www.AAADiabetesSupportInformation.net

For the search phrase "Diabetes information," your title keyword density would be 33 percent (one out of three words match). Your description keyword density would be 22 percent (two out of nine words). Your URL keyword density would be 50 percent (two out of four words). If the URL were simply www.Diabetes-Information.net (eliminating AAA), you would improve relevancy considerably to 100 percent keyword density. Note the hyphen (more on that later).

Tweaking the title and description can improve relevancy, but you can't tweak your URL (without changing your domain name). Don't get carried away by repeating keywords needlessly. Yahoo editors are known to edit copy, especially if it has redundant keywords. It's more important than ever to write your page's HTML title and description carefully to create high-relevancy ratings while not inviting a change by Yahoo editors. That's why I suggest a brief description rather than a lengthy one, to avoid outside editing that risks the removal of keywords.

Placement. The location of your keywords in your title, description, and URL is also important. In the past, you were advised to use a variety of different keyword combinations in your title and description to enhance relevancy for a number of different searches.

Now, it matters where you put these keywords. The closer your keyword phrase is to the beginning of your title, description, or URL, the better. Having your keywords in your URL is now very important, and it's best to separate them with hyphens in order to score well for all of them.

When searching for the keyword phrase "Diabetes information" in the URL www.AAA-Diabetes-Support-Information.net, both "Diabetes" and "information" will count toward relevancy if separated by hyphens. But if your URL is www.AAADiabetesSupportInformation.net, you won't score for relevancy on either one of those keywords because the first word is AAA, and the keywords are not separated by hyphens. Yahoo assigns importance to the first keyword, and only to a subsequent keyword if it is separated by a hyphen.

Use a keyword as the first word in your title, description, and URL if possible, because that is now more valuable than any subsequent keywords. Keep keywords together. Yahoo's new algorithm places more weight on the first word used in a searched phrase and on keywords grouped together rather than separated by nonkeywords. For instance, "current medical information on Diabetes" is less powerful than "current medical Diabetes information."

I can't overemphasize the importance of keyword research. You can use tools such as the GoTo Search Suggestion Tool, Wordtracker, or WordSpot to identify your most popular keyword phrases. This process is easy to oversimplify, resulting in mistakes that can penalize your rankings. For that reason, many marketers hire consultants for keyword research.

Keywords in your URL. You might consider purchasing some URLs in .net and .org extensions to include your keywords in your domain name if appropriate.

Main Categories Carry More Weight

You've all seen Yahoo's 14 main categories and the subcategories within them. In the new algorithm formula, the category closest to the main category now carries more weight. For instance, a search for the phrase "Diabetes information" would score better if the site were listed as shown in the first example (hypothetical) than it would if listed as shown in the second example (actual):

  • Business and Economy > Shopping and Services > Health > Diabetes Information

  • Business and Economy > Shopping and Services > Health > Diseases and Conditions > Diabetes
If your keyword phrase appears in a category name, categories closer to the main category carry more weight.

Results Are Displayed Differently

There is a noticeable change in the way Yahoo displays results. You will note that the site now offers searchers a choice between "Category Matches" and "Web Site Matches." In the past, results defaulted to the directory "Categories" when answering search queries. Now the results default to "Web Sites." This change has implications for Web page design.

So how should you design your pages -- optimized for search engine results or alphanumerically friendly for category results? The short answer is to design for search-engine friendliness. More people are familiar with simple search strategies than with navigating a directory through categories.

Implications for SEO

You need more expertise than ever to optimize and list your site on Yahoo in light of this new algorithm formula. Besides expert keyword research, you need pro copywriting to nail the title and description. And since keywords in the URL are important, you might need domain name consulting. Research suggests that marketers could benefit from outsourcing SEO services.

Several SEO studies have been released recently, including those from CyberAtlas and MarketingSherpa.

It was interesting to read in MarketingSherpa that "more than 90 percent of the Fortune 100's sites are NOT optimized properly (although they have in-house 'experts') and most marketers spend less than half of one percent of their budgets on optimization even though it can bring them up to 75 percent of their site traffic!" CyberAtlas stated that most marketers (nearly 70 percent) were less than satisfied with the Web traffic they currently receive from search engines.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Paul J. Bruemmer

Paul J. Bruemmer is CEO of Web-Ignite Corporation, a search engine optimization (SEO) and positioning provider. Founded in 1995, Web-Ignite has helped promote over 15,000 Web sites and was recognized by ICONOCAST as one of the top 10 most reputable SEO firms. Services include optimization, submission, registration, positioning, monitoring, maintenance, paid-inclusion, and paid-placement management for fixed monthly fees. Recent client testimonials report search engine traffic increased from 150 to 500 percent.

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