The Homogenization of Web Search

Many times I’ve cussed out Yahoo — in my sleep! Its multi-layered administration with stratum upon stratum of infrastructure, buck passing by seemingly everyone, inflated pricing for promotional banners, listings that disappear or get relocated, and announcement of new categories without notice all stockpile to make doing business tough.

With all my Yahoo bashing, you’d think I was about to blow off the largest, most successful Internet search engine and directory on the planet. No way! Despite some shortcomings, Yahoo is truly the Internet search engine king and an exemplary model for all other search engines to emulate.

It displays its leadership by respecting the Internet culture and its users (searchers) while promoting new business (revenue streams) without deception or information segregation. What amazes me is how far off the beaten path most of the other Internet search engines have migrated.

Several others active in the Internet search engine business appear to be in serious trouble. Many of the larger, once-distinguished sources for Internet search results information now use the same No. 1 GoTo.com search results. Searchers are being presented with the same paid link advertisements at the top of the fold. This occurs almost everywhere you go, and when it’s not disclosed as paid advertising, it can be considered an infringement of the sacred distinction between editorial and advertising in search engine content.

All of GoTo.com’s paid-for links are being repackaged on most major search engines as “featured links” or “search marketplace.” You get the same repeated links almost everywhere you go, leading to the question: Are there now only three major search engines on the entire Internet — Yahoo, LookSmart, and GoTo.com?

As to the cause for market penetration, my hat goes off to GoTo.com’s team of negotiators and business development experts. However, as to the effect across an array of once-distinguished search engine databases, I’ve become bulimic from clicking and throwing up information I’ve already eaten.

Last week, I canvassed readers about pay for ranking and here’s what I got.

  • “Paid for ranking” should be clearly marked as such (not “featured listings”) and perhaps off to the side, segregated from other links ranked by content.

  • “The landscape for search engine results is looking similar to yellow pages advertising.”
  • “Companies that buy the No. 1 spot on paid-link search results are making a big mistake.” Though the No. 1 position gets the most clicks, those visitors tend to be the least qualified.
  • “That leaves us with Google and FAST as the best remaining free spidering engines.”
  • “How long can GoTo.com pay-per-click last? In competitive business categories, the system has serious spam and hacker problems. A large deposit can be gone in less than 48 hours. After checking IPs, we found that many of the hits came from the same IP, and every IP had at least a couple of hits.”
  • “Even though they paid to be No. 1, I find funky sites paying for top position. Their web site is unprofessional, and I would be uncomfortable doing business with them.”

When it’s all said and done, Yahoo, LookSmart, Google, FAST, and Inktomi are going to be providing search results for the more experienced Internet users. Experienced users are more likely to spend money on the Internet, whereas newbies tend to click around a lot but are gun-shy when it comes to purchasing on the web.

Although GoTo.com and its partners have homogenized the Internet search experience, Yahoo’s presentation and delivery stands tall and delivers to a huge, loyal crowd. When people search Yahoo, LookSmart, FAST, Google, or any Inktomi-based engine, they’ll get an unbiased representation of robot-spidered or editor-reviewed web sites.

Yahoo, with its proven Business Express service, has set the stage for very powerful and relevant directory and web-site searches without redundancy, homogenization, or non-disclosed advertising. Yahoo’s diversity through the use of Google, a superior spidering robot, demonstrates how it continues to set trends for others to follow.

Next week, I’ll discuss what’s in it for the buyers of paid links. Is search engine optimization on the way out? Will GoTo.com be the only answer to being found on the Internet?

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