Does Site Match Influence Organic Results in Yahoo!?

    November 29, 2004

In March of 2004 Yahoo! consolidated its paid inclusion programs and branded them under the Overture Site Match brand. Site Match allows you to submit sites to Yahoo, AllTheWeb, and AltaVista for a $49 review fee and a category based cost per click of $0.15 or $0.30. In other words Yahoo! combined their Pay for Inclusion with Pay Per Click.

It seems that now, within organic SEO, there exists the potential for a rich and poor separation line. If someone paid to be included for the term “Web Hosting” and the other person didn’t, given both sites are equally strong, which site will show up as #1? The possibility exists that the one that paid has a slight advantage. So has Site Match tainted Yahoo!’s ability to properly serve results to web searchers?

During March of 2004 Yahoo! was also quoted as saying that their primary goal was to discover and include all content on the web through their free web crawling process. They claimed that 99% of the information in the index comes from the free crawl and that sites would be ranked equally whether they were free or paid listings.

Yahoo! states that the program may not be valuable to everyone. Site Match is aimed at site owners with sites that have hard to find content such as dynamic content, sites seeking more control over how this content is discovered and presented, sites with changing content seeking faster refresh rates, and sites concerned about better and clearer user data reporting. The expectation is that search engine users will get higher quality search results and also a reduced amount of search spam.

One obvious implication of Site Match is that it motivates site owners to provide relevant content as they do not want unwanted click through visitors. This helps guarantee the end user a high quality search experience.

However do the search engine results sacrifice quality by favoring sites that pay for the Site Match program? Yahoo claim “Absolutely not!” They claim it is the overall quality of the results defined by relevancy, comprehensiveness, freshness and presentation which matter. This is how they measure the success of the program.

The introduction of Site Match has led to a perception amongst some that the largest corporations with the most money will be able pay their way into the high rankings. This is in opposition to the general perception that the web should give everyone, whether large or small, an equal chance to gain a high rank.

One of the biggest bones of contention regarding Site Match is that Yahoo combines paid listings and unpaid listings within their search rankings. Therefore there is no way for users to differentiate between the two. Some people may determine that this is a very questionable business practice. Others may say, “Does it really matter?” The vast majority of search engine users assume that search engine results are free from paid influence. However, the truth is that organic search engine results are often heavily influenced by money spent on a site’s SEO to rank near the top. What makes the Site Match situation unique is that it is Yahoo!, the actual search engine, who is getting the money. This leads to the question of whether the paid listings should be disclosed by Yahoo!

Many people would never use the service on the premise of why would you pay for something you can do for free? And Site Match does not guarantee high rankings. It just assures you that your site will be indexed. Another issue for site owners is that the Yahoo! spider Slurp does not index as many pages as Googlebot or MSNbot. This leads to the suspicion that the only way to get some pages indexed is by using Site Match. This can be viewed as a major failure for a search engine that had the potential to match Google.

To make matters worse there have been many complaints from users of Site Match that their sites are not being indexed as promised and so it has made no difference to their actual search engine rankings.

So Site Match has caused quite a stir in the first six months of existence. It is important to remember that it will benefit some sites and not affect the rankings of others. It could be especially useful for new sites and sites with content that changes daily. This daily update gives the user the option to optimize their site on a daily basis and discover what works best for them. However if you do get a high ranking and then decide to stop using the program you will probably revert back to your original state.

For me it’s a case of not putting all your eggs in one basket. Total natural optimization including building links, good keywords, and content is always the sensible way to go in this fast changing environment. It gives you the building blocks on which to build your web presence. You option is then to determine whether a tool such as Site Match can be of use to you. Remember your site should always be optimized before investing in Site Match.

Does Site Match give paying customers the edge in the rankings? Yahoo says no. However there are a lot of people who are suspicious. In the mean time it is advisable to keep on with all your optimization efforts. Decide what your best options are and what is within your budget. As we see over and over again there is no shortcut to permanent natural high rankings.

James Peggie is the marketing manager for Elixir Systems a search engine optimization company located in Scottsdale, Arizona.