Yahoo confirmed that it will shutter its paid inclusion program by the end of the year to focus on display advertising, mobile services and producing more and better content, according to
a spokesperson for the Sunnyvale, Calif. company.
The advance notice from Yahoo aims to get marketers thinking differently about how they will optimize natural search results. Both paid inclusion programs -- Search Submit Basic, which required an annual fee per URL submitted to the search index, and Search Submit Pro, the cost-per-click (CPC) program -- end Dec. 31.
The Search Submit services focus on optimizing natural search engine results, not paid search. This enables marketers to submit URL and Web site information to Yahoo's search index, rather than relying on technology to have the engine crawl the pages. "It was nice while it lasted," says Marty Weintraub, founder of marketing agency aimClear, which supports companies such as CourseAdvisor, a division of Avenue100 Media Solutions.
Addie Conner, CourseAdvisor director of interactive marketing, has been involved with Yahoo's Search Submit program since 2005. Although she believes that Microsoft Bing will one day power Yahoo's organic listing, she doesn't think it's the main reason that Yahoo terminated the program.
"Yahoo's actions point to attempts to slow the bleeding until it can regain focus and compete on search," Conner says. "Does this signal search is the most profitable business? Yes, search is the most profitable business for Yahoo. Watch them dump a whole lot of their smaller properties and programs and refocus on search and the client service attached."
If Yahoo and Microsoft can join forces to leverage combined strengths -- Yahoo's customer service and Microsoft's engineering -- they might actually have the formula to successfully compete against Google, Conner believes.
And while Search Submit may disappear at the end of the year, Yahoo Spokesperson Dana Lengkeek insists that Yahoo will commit resources and efforts to improving the search experience and relevancy of ads in an effort to increase user engagement and return on investment (ROI) for advertisers. "We are delivering enhancements 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," she says.
John Ragals, chief operating officer of digital marketing agency 360i, says Search Submit gives marketers more control on Web page content indexed by Yahoo's natural search engine crawler.
Rather then rely on Yahoo's engine to schedule the crawl, information fed into the Search Submit program would typically return in search engine query results within 48 hours. If a marketer updates a Web page and misses the crawl, the page may not update within a week.
"You're not paying for rankings, but you do have more control of what and how quickly the information indexes in search engine results," Ragals says. "You control the copy and quick links that appear in natural search engine results."
About one-third of 360i's clients use Yahoo's Search Submit Pro. Those who are focused on e-commerce comprise the majority. Retail stores especially like the service when running seasonal promotions.
Neither Google or Microsoft offers a similar service. But if another search engine or company could replicate the Search Submit service, perhaps marketers would buy into it as they have in the past, Ragals says. 360i executives have been talking with marketers and colleagues across the industry to find an alternative, but it's not clear if that alternative would transform into a service offered by 360i.
360i has been developing recommendations, such as making sure to optimize content well, so that when Yahoo's service gets pulled, marketers have a smooth transition. The agency is also looking at moving budgets into paid search and other programs.
Moving more money into paid search would likely make marketing experts like Clix Marketing Founder David Szetela happy. His company has never used the program. "I always viewed it as kind of a bribe to Yahoo, and an anachronism based on the fact that in the 'old days' Yahoo couldn't guarantee a site would be crawled or included in their directory," he says, hoping it's a sign that the transition to Microhoo is proceeding.