Yahoo Drops Paid Inclusion: The End of an Era

The end of 2009 will mark the end of an era in search. Web sites will no longer be able to pay to be included in organic search results now that Yahoo is winding down the practice.

Yahoo Search Submit, the program that guaranteed inclusion in Yahoo’s index, is being shuttered as of December 31. It was the last holdout among the major search engines to continue with the controversial service. While the program has never promised rankings, only the opportunity to be ranked, some search marketers have seen it as a back door into Yahoo’s results.

Yahoo had offered both the Search Submit Basic program, which offered submission of up to five URLs for a flat fee of $49 per URL for a site to be included in Yahoo’s index, and the Search Submit Pro program, which provided more options for larger sites and charged up to $5,000 a month on a cost-per-click model. Payment did not guarantee top rankings, according to Yahoo. Instead, the program guaranteed site owners that their pages would be included in Yahoo’s index.

The program seemed to be an anachronism, dating back to the days when sites needed to be submitted to get into a search engine’s index. But it did fill a need, said Amanda Watlington, owner of search consulting firm Searching for Profit.

“It was a way for us to get very large clients with very bad Web sites indexed, which was a significant challenge back then,” Watlington told ClickZ. Now, there are still some very bad Web sites out there, but the indexing technology of the search engines has improved, she said.

Today, a site most often gets included in a search engine’s index when the engine’s crawler follows a link to that site from another site in its index. Larger sites can also benefit from the submission of XML sitemaps to outline the structure of their Web site.

“I see this as a sign that the industry is growing up, that we don’t need something like this anymore,” Watlington said.

Yahoo started alerting its advertisers last week that the program will stop running at the end of December. It will work with them to find other search advertising options to suit their needs, the company said in a statement.

“I’ve never used the service, and in fact I’m glad it’s being discontinued,” David Wallace, CEO of SearchRank, told ClickZ. “I always thought it was an unnecessary service.”

Despite the objections from some, the program was mildly profitable for Yahoo, and well-regarded by the advertisers that used it. So why did Yahoo decide to end the program now? The official word from Yahoo is a recitation of its new focus areas:

We are committing our resources and efforts to our core areas of focus, including improving the search experience and relevancy of our ads to increase user engagement and ROI for advertisers, and as a result, have decided to exit Search Submit. We have stepped up innovation in Search Marketing, recently rolling out search retargeting, Rich Ads in Search and improved matching technology, and in Consumer Search, with enhancements like the new search results page…

A more complicated answer may lie in the announced Microsoft-Yahoo deal that is expected to close early in 2010. The question of Search Submit’s future was raised back in July when Yahoo announced its plans to adopt Microsoft’s Bing for its organic search results and search ad platform. Since Yahoo would no longer own the index, it seemed problematic for it to continue with the Search Submit program.

Yahoo has been making other changes to its results, which make them appear more “Bing-like,” so it would not be surprising if the timing of the program’s end is tied to the coming Bing integration.

Microsoft offered a program on MSN Search for a while, as did Ask Jeeves, but both stopped in 2004. Google has avoided paid inclusion programs, taking a stance that any form of payment to get into the organic search results would taint the value to searchers.

Paid inclusion started with Inktomi, AltaVista and FAST in 2000. Yahoo’s program has been active since acquiring Inktomi in 2003, and later

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