The Impact of Yahoo!’s Annual Listing Fee

Yahoo is now requiring that new sites seeking to be listed in its commercial areas pay an annual listing fee of $299 ($600 if they are adult sites). Previously, the fee had been a one-time charge. The change transforms Yahoo from being a Web guide to an online yellow pages, to some degree.

The distinction is significant. Yahoo’s commercial listings have been more editorial than advertising in nature, in that once a site was approved it was added to the guide and stayed in the guide, without further charge.

Yes, Yahoo has charged a mandatory listing fee for its commercial areas since November 2000. But that fee was relatively inexpensive — a one-off payment — and initially created as an optional choice in February 1999 to help Yahoo deal with the criticism that it took too long for sites to get listed within it. It should not be forgotten that the Webmaster community itself lobbied Yahoo to add such a fee.

The change to an annual fee reverses the situation with Yahoo’s commercial listings, making them far more like advertising than editorial in nature. As with yellow pages, if an advertiser refuses to pay the annual Yahoo listing fee, it will be dropped. That is not something that happens in an editorial scenario, where sites deemed to be important are retained, regardless of payments received.

Even Yahoo acknowledges that the new annual fee pushes its commercial areas closer to the yellow-pages model, though it does note that editorial review still plays an important role.

“Certain aspects of yellow pages, you can correlate to a recurring annual fee,” said Andrew Braccia, Yahoo’s director of business development. “But with yellow pages, they are all ad placements. There isn’t the same editorial review process.”

By “editorial review process,” Braccia is referring to the fact that those using the Yahoo Express listing program are not guaranteed to be accepted into Yahoo Instead, acceptance is subject to review, and Yahoo’s editors ultimately decide how a site will be described and where it will reside in the directory, if accepted. The vast majority of sites are accepted.

It’s important to note that the change only impacts the commercial areas of Yahoo, what it has been calling for the past several months the “Yahoo Commercial Directory.” Noncommercial areas have no listing fee requirement. Web sites — even commercial sites with noncommercial content — can submit to appropriate noncommercial categories for free and do indeed get accepted.

Good News for Noncommercial Content

Those submitting to noncommercial categories optionally have the ability to use the Yahoo Express program. The good news is that when submitting to a noncommercial category, the fee remains a one-time charge. The bad news is that this currently isn’t clear.

If you try to submit within a noncommercial category, you’ll see two boxes: one allowing you to submit via Yahoo Express and the other offering free “Standard” submission.

The Yahoo Express box has the same price wording as you see when submitting into a commercial area: “US$299.00 non-refundable, recurring annual fee.”

I asked Yahoo last Friday if this was indeed correct — that noncommercial sites were also being forced to pay an annual fee. That would be a pretty tough on them.

After all, it’s one thing for a hobbyist Web site or a nonprofit group to find enough money to pay for a one-time review fee. It’s a harder matter for them to keep coming up with the money each year. Moreover, it’s extremely worrisome to think that content in the noncommercial areas might get dropped, because someone made the “mistake” of using the Yahoo Express program to speed up the initial review.

Fortunately, the answer came back that nothing has changed for submitting to a noncommercial category. Despite the price wording, it still remains only a one-time fee.

I expect you’ll see improvement in the terms in the coming weeks, as well as in the pricing that’s listed when you’re submitting from within a noncommercial area.

Impact on Searchers and Site Owners

For searchers, the change is unlikely to have any immediate major impact. Any substantial business is going to be able to afford the modest amount charged each year. In addition, it’s extremely unlikely that Yahoo will drop major companies, should they refuse to the pay. You’ll have no problem finding the Amazons and eBays of the world via Yahoo

What about smaller businesses, those providing niche products? I suspect you’ll find most of these will also continue to pay the fee.

There is a worry that some of them will eschew Yahoo as unaffordable, which could mean a gap in the results it finds. On the other hand, Yahoo still maintains its partnership with Google. If Yahoo suddenly had no matches for a particular query, chances are that Google will kick in and still direct you to an appropriate site.

For site owners, paying the annual fee is still likely to be well worth the cost. Yahoo continues to deliver plenty of traffic to Web sites. Being listed within it remains a must. Pay the submission fee, and if you don’t feel you got the value out of it by the end of the year, then don’t renew.

What Happens at Renewal Time?

The poorly worded Yahoo Express Service Agreement has caused concern with some that, once listed with Yahoo, your credit card will be eternally billed each year, on your anniversary date. Digging into the terms, they do say that as long as the agreement is cancelled at least five business days before your anniversary date, there will be no additional annual charge.

More specifically, Yahoo said that you won’t have to remember to do this if you wish to cancel. Instead, shortly before your anniversary date, you’ll receive an email reminding you that it is time to renew. You’ll be able to cancel that way or change your credit card details, in case your original card has expired.

In addition, Yahoo will give you the opportunity to change your listing on your renewal date. If your site has altered in purpose, products, or in other ways, you’ll be able to request that your listing be updated.

The annual fee is only charged for sites submitted on or after December 28, 2001. If you got listed before this, congratulations! You’ve escaped the annual fee. Yahoo wouldn’t say as much, but it is almost certain that sites submitted before December 28 have escaped the annual fee for legal reasons. After all, when they signed up, the listing fee was essentially presented as a one-time charge.

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