Yahoo Displays SERP Title Based On Anchor Text
The dichotomy of having a Yahoo directory listing has been known for years.
You want a directory listing for the authority link and the improved Yahoo ranking, but your home page link will then show in search results with your directory listing title and not the page title you spent so much time crafting. Your site gets more visibility, but potentially suffers from lower click through. Even if you don’t have a listing in their directory Yahoo may now be grabbing page titles from another source that could potentially be damaging to your brand.
John Kline of SearchBliss called my attention to this through a thread he started at the Webmaster-Talk forums. John noticed an odd result with Yahoo’s SERPs when he searched for his site by name. If you search Yahoo for searchbliss you’ll notice the link shows ‘powered by SearchBliss’ instead of his page title.
SearchBliss doesn’t have a Yahoo directory listing so the title result isn’t coming from there. The site’s DMOZ listing is simply the site name so that’s not it either.
The culprit seems to be the free tools SearchBliss uses as linkbait. John lets other sites grab the form code to allow you to make use of his tools on your site. Each of these tools comes with an image link back to the SearchBliss site with ‘powered by SearchBliss’ as the alt attribute text. Search engines will generally fall back on alt text as anchor text for an image link. Yahoo seems to be using this anchor text as the link title because it’s the most common anchor text pointing back to the home page of the site.
I checked a few other sites at Yahoo with searches for the company name and all are showing something other than the actual page title. The sites I looked at were my own, some client sites, and a handful of other sites I know not to be in the Yahoo directory. In all cases something other than the page title is showing in the Yahoo results.
The Danger Of Using Anchor Text For Link Text In Search Results
For most sites this is not a big deal, no more so than the situation of being included in the directory. The majority saw their company name as the link in the results, but the SearchBliss case shows how this might not always be the case and it also shows how using anchor text as SERP titles can be dangerous for a site.
You’re probably familiar with the keyword phrase ‘miserable failure.’ A lot of bloggers not liking George W. Bush used that phrase as anchor text to point to his bio at the WhiteHouse.gov site. Consequently it if you search ‘miserable failure’ at major search engines guess what page shows up #1. The search is an example of the power of anchor text in rank, but let’s take it a step further.
Imagine that the term ‘miserable failure’ was the most used anchor text pointing to the page. If Yahoo is basing SERP titles on the most common anchor text, not only would the George W. Bush page rank #1 in Yahoo, but the link would be Miserable Failure.
So you’ve recently entered a new market that’s not overly competitive. Most of your competition has only a few links back to their domain. You decide to send links their way with the anchor text ‘domain sucks’ or ‘domain ripped me off’ or something else that sheds a negative light on their brand. I can think of a lot worse things to say, but hey it’s a family blog.
Admittedly most of the extreme anchor text would be quickly spotted. How about simply rewriting their page title in a more subtle way to reduce click throughs on their link? Many site owners would never notice. You would conceivably be giving your competition some links and perhaps improving their search results for certain keywords, but if you link to them from some bad neighborhood sites you probably won’t be improving their TrustRank scores with the links.
It’s possible Yahoo has some guards against this happening, but a hunch tells me they don’t. Yahoo using the information from their own directory in SERPs is something webmasters have been complaining about for years, but giving the control over the text displayed in search results to the competition is unacceptable.
Steven Bradley is a web designer and search engine optimization
specialist. Known to many in the webmaster/seo community by the username
vangogh, he is the author of TheVanBlog, which focuses on how to build
and optimize websites and market them online.