Yahoo! Revs Up Own Search Tech, to Mostly Cheers

Yahoo flipped the switch on its algorithmic search function Wednesday, deploying its own technology on its portal and leaving Google’s algorithmic results behind. Thus far, the new functionality is meeting with approval from the industry.

The move, though widely expected, will still result in a bit of a shake-up as search engine marketers determine where their sites stand in the new Yahoo results. Yahoo will continue to deploy its technology, dubbed “Yahoo Search Technology” (YST), worldwide over the next several weeks.

“Within the next few weeks and months, consumers will continue to see improvements to Yahoo’s search technology in addition to advancements in search personalization and other user features,” said Jeff Weiner, senior vice president of Yahoo Search and Marketplace.

Some Webmasters had already seen evidence of Yahoo’s search strategy in their site logs, where a bot known as Yahoo Slurp has been making the rounds. The Slurp name comes from Inktomi, which Yahoo acquired for $235 million in December of 2002 and has used as one of its building blocks for the new technology. Other algorithmic search assets, AltaVista and AllTheWeb, came along with Overture when Yahoo made that purchase in July of 2003.

The new Yahoo search results pages appear very similar to those that previously displayed Google results. Paid listings from Overture appear on the top and bottom of algorithmic results, and also in colored boxes to the right.

Sources in the search engine marketing community say Inktomi paid inclusion results have been integrated into the algorithmic search results, but Yahoo didn’t return requests for comment by press time. Whether or when paid inclusion listings from AltaVista or AllTheWeb will be integrated into the search technology is up for speculation. Many in the industry believe Yahoo will start a new program that incorporates all of the previous paid inclusion programs. Such an approach would be consistent with the way it has handled algorithmic search.

The algorithmic results themselves are also laid out in a manner very similar to Google’s with a couple of surprises. First is the large number of words Yahoo uses to help searchers determine whether the result is what they’re looking for. One result in a recent search featured as many as 58 words, while the same result in Google displayed only 24.

Once they’ve chosen a result, searchers have the option of opening a link in a new browser window, going to a cache of the page (a feature Inktomi didn’t previously have), and, for RSS feeds, adding that feed to their My Yahoo page. The latter feature will likely be lauded by fans of RSS, an XML technology used to syndicate content.

Thus far, the new Yahoo search is meeting with approval from industry-watchers.

“I think one thing that has to be said is that Yahoo has really hit this one out of the park,” said Fredrick Marckini, CEO of search engine marketing firm iProspect. “This is a really impressive set of search results.”

Chris Sherman of SearchEngineWatch, which shares a parent company with this publication, agreed. “It’s very relevant, very comprehensive,” he said. “I think once the sort of initial buzz settles down, the Webmaster community should welcome this. It is truly, for the first time in a long time, a viable alternative. It’s another platform, so it should, in theory, offer more opportunities for people to get traffic.”

Though Google’s algorithmic Web search listings were dropped as part of the new deployment, executives at the search giant say it won’t have a big impact on Google’s business. Though the exact terms of the companies’ agreement was never made public, Yahoo never carried Google AdWords.

“This really doesn’t impact our advertisers,” said Jonathan Rosenberg, VP of product management at Google.

Where it might impact Google is at the negotiating table with distribution partners. Yahoo now has its own package of algorithmic and paid placement search to offer potential partners — a combination Overture had come to believe was critical, before it was acquired by Yahoo.

“We’ll let the market decide on that one,” said Rosenberg, adding that Google would continue to be flexible with partners, forging both AdWords partnerships, algorithmic search deals, and agreements that encompass both.

According to ComScore Media Metrix, Yahoo sites have a 27 percent share of the search pie, while Google has a 35 percent share. Yahoo has a better penetration among searchers, though, reaching 48 percent as compared to Google’s 44 percent.

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