Is Yahoo Looking to Offer SEO Services?

    February 10, 2009
    Chris Crum

A patent application filed by Yahoo is causing a bit of a stir within the SEO community. The patent is for an "Automated System to Improve Search Engine Optimization on Web Pages." The abstract for the patent reads as follows:

A system and method for automated search engine optimization (SEO) are disclosed. The automated SEO may analyze search query logs, or a search log database to determine popular concepts/units, which may be automatically utilized to optimize a site or page for search engine results. The site or page is edited based on the automated SEO. In particular, the search log database may provide a unit frequency list reflecting the popularity of various units. The more popular units that are related to the content of the page may be used in the automated SEO of the page. The unit frequency list may be compared with the existing units of a page, so that the more popular concepts within the page may be emphasized.

PerformicsA search engine owning an SEO service is kind of a conflict of interest, no? Actually, that’s why Google sold off Performics when it acquired DoubleClick. "It’s clear to us that we do not want to be in the search engine marketing business," said Google’s Tom Phillips back when the company announced plans to sell Performics. "Maintaining objectivity in both search and advertising is paramount to Google’s mission and core to the trust we ask from our users."

It would seem that that concept is not so clear to Yahoo. Mihaela Lica does a fantastic job of writing up the "echoes" within the SEO community and looking at the ethics of such a system. I asked a few SEO experts over Twitter about their thoughts as well:

Jill Whalen of HighRankings says, "Similar software has existed for ages (see some scaped sites). The fact that it’s yahoo isn’t surprising. Their PI program was pretty spammy."

"It is not surprising that search engines know the value of SEO. The only thing I find surprising is them openly admitting it,"  Aaron Wall of SEOBook tells me. "Google always tries to shape, control, and minimize the scope of the field of SEO. And here Yahoo! is trying to expand it. Exciting stuff!"

"There’s a lot more to SEO than what can be automated," says Lee Odden of Top Rank Online Marketing.

One part of the patent application that is a sore spot, talks about altering titles and URLs:

In one example, if you have a blog related to Chicago sports teams, then a title may be generic, such as "Chicago sports blog." However, after comparing the unit frequency list 306 and the existing page unit list 308, it may be determined that Chicago Cubs.RTM. are currently very popular. Accordingly, the search engine optimizer 104 may select that unit and edit the title 322 to be "Chicago Cubs blog." The popularity of the unit Chicago Cubs.RTM. may provide better search results than when the title 322 was "Chicago sports blog."

…The hyperlink 324 of the page 304 is an example of a feature that may be used for SEO. The hyperlink 324 includes the web address or domain of the page. In some cases the hyperlink 324 may be static and may not be easily changed. In one embodiment, a second hyperlink may be created that directs a user to the page associated with the original hyperlink 324. In the example discussed above, if the hyperlink for the Chicago sports blog page can be changed to reference the page as a Chicago Cubs.RTM. blog that may optimize the page in search results.

Yahoo!Changing titles and URLs…really? As Lica notes, this "may interfere with navigation and usability, which can be upsetting for the visitors."

I tried contacting Yahoo to find out a little more about it, but their Manager of Corporate Communications told me they could not comment on it. It is still only a patent application at this point, so it might not be worth getting too worked up about yet, but the curiosity has certainly been sparked. For a full look at the patent application, you can find it here.