Yahoo Now Charging Annual Listing Fee

Yahoo is now requiring that new sites seeking to be listed in its commercial areas pay an annual listing fee of $299 or $600, if they are adult sites. Previously, the fee had been a one-time charge. The change transforms Yahoo from being a web guide to an online yellow pages, to some degree.

The distinction is significant. Yahoo's commercial listings have been more editorial in nature than advertising, in that once a site was approved, it was added to the guide and stayed in the guide, without further charge.

Yes, Yahoo has charged a mandatory listing fee for its commercial areas since November 2000. But that fee was relatively inexpensive, a one-off payment and initially created as an optional choice in February 1999 to help Yahoo deal with the criticism that it took too long for sites to get listed within it. It should not be forgotten that the webmaster community itself lobbied Yahoo to add such a fee.

The change to an annual fee reverses the situation with Yahoo's commercial listings, making them far more advertising in nature than editorial. As with yellow pages, if an advertiser refuses to pay the annual Yahoo listing fee, they will be dropped. That is not something that happens in an editorial scenario, where sites deemed to be important are retained, regardless of payments received.

Even Yahoo acknowledges that the new annual fee pushes its commercial areas closer to the yellow pages model, though it does note that editorial review still plays an important role.

"Certain aspects of yellow pages, you can correlate to a recurring annual fee," said Andrew Braccia, Yahoo's director of business development. "But with yellow pages, they are all ad placements. There isn't the same editorial review process."

By editorial review process, Braccia is referring to the fact that those using the Yahoo Express listing program are not guaranteed to be accepted into Yahoo. Instead, acceptance is subject to review, and Yahoo's editors ultimately decide how a site will be described and where it will reside in the directory, if accepted. The vast majority of sites are accepted.

It's important to note that the change only impacts the commercial areas of Yahoo, what it has been calling for the past several months the "Yahoo Commercial Directory." Non-commercial areas have no listing fee requirement. Web sites -- even commercial sites with non-commercial content -- can submit to appropriate non-commercial categories for free and do indeed get accepted.

Confusing Terms

By the way, a close read of section 2.1 of the Yahoo Express Service Agreement might make you think that commercial sites with non-commercial content must now pay to submit even to Yahoo's non-commercial categories.

"Yahoo Express is a fee-based expedited service provided by Yahoo to consider your web site for inclusion in Yahoo's main directory of web sites....commercial sites that wish to be considered for inclusion must use Yahoo Express," the terms say.

Fear not. Commercial sites have long been allowed to submit for free to Yahoo's non-commercial categories, and Yahoo specifically reconfirmed for me that this continues to be the case. The terms simply are incorrect.

Given this, Yahoo should change the wording of that section to say "Commercial sites that wish to be considered for inclusion to the YAHOO COMMERCIAL DIRECTORY must use Yahoo Express."

I expect you'll see this change happen. Yahoo already made a similar change elsewhere in its terms, as I'll explain next.

Good News For Non-Commercial Content

Those submitting to non-commercial categories optionally have the ability to use the Yahoo Express program. The good news is that when submitting to a non-commercial category, the fee remains a one-time charge. The bad news is that this currently isn't clear.

If you try to submit within a non-commercial category, you'll see two boxes, one allowing you to submit via Yahoo Express and the other offering free "Standard" submission.

The Yahoo Express box has the same price wording as you'll see when submitting into a commercial area: "US$299.00 non-refundable, recurring annual fee."

I asked Yahoo last Friday is this was indeed correct -- that non-commercial sites were also being forced to pay an annual fee. That would be a pretty tough on them.

After all, it's one thing for a hobbyist web site or a non-profit group to find enough money to pay for a one-time review fee. It's a harder matter for them to keep coming up with the money each year. Moreover, it's extremely worrisome to think that content in the non-commercial areas might get dropped, because someone made the "mistake" of using the Yahoo Express program to speed up the initial review.

Fortunately, the answer came back that nothing has changed for submitting to a non-commercial category. Despite the price wording, it still remains only a one-time fee to be paid.

In fact, Yahoo has now altered its terms to specifically note in section 2.4 that annual fees are only charged against sites in the "commercial Directory." Previously, the terms simply said "directory."

I expect you'll see the terms get better in the coming weeks, as well as the pricing that's listed when submitting from within a non-commercial area.

Impact On Searchers And Site Owners

For searchers, the change is unlikely to have any immediate major impact. Any substantial business is going to be able to afford the modest amount charged each year. In addition, it's extremely unlikely that Yahoo will drop major companies, should they refuse to the pay. You'll have no problem finding the Amazon's and eBay's of the world, via Yahoo.

What about smaller businesses, those providing niche products? I suspect you'll find most of these will also continue to pay the fee. There is a worry that some of them will eschew Yahoo as unaffordable, which could mean a "gap" in the results it finds. On the other hand, Yahoo still maintains its partnership with Google. If Yahoo suddenly had no matches for a particular query, chances are that Google will kick in and still direct you to an appropriate site.

For site owners, paying the annual fee is still likely to be well worth the cost. Yahoo continues to deliver plenty of traffic to web sites. Being listed within it remains a must. Pay the submission fee, and if you don't feel you got the value out of it by the end of the year, then don't renew.

What Happens At Renewal Time?

The poorly worded Yahoo Express Service Agreement has caused concern with some that once listed with Yahoo, your credit card will be eternally billed each year, on your anniversary date. Digging into the terms, they do say that as long as the agreement is cancelled at least five business days before your anniversary date, there will be no additional annual charge.

More specifically, Yahoo said that you won't have to remember to do this, if you wish to cancel. Instead, shortly before your anniversary date, you'll receive an email reminding you that it is time to renew. You'll be able to cancel that way or change your credit card details, in case your original card has expired.

In addition, Yahoo will give you the opportunity to change your listing, on your renewal date. If your site has altered in purpose, products or other ways, you'll be able to request that your listing be updated.

"Youre going to receive an email that will allow you to do three things. One of those things will be for us to notify you that your credit card will be charged. It you are OK with that, you can delete your email. If you decide the value wasnt created for you in that first year, you can opt out, and your listing will be removed. Thirdly, youll be able to change your credit card and all your information. The important part is that editors will be reviewing all sites that are up for renewal," Braccia said.

Of course, you can already use the free Yahoo Change Form to request a listing. The problem is that there is no guarantee that the change request will be acted upon. In contrast, when submitting changes as part of a renewal, you'll be guaranteed to hear back from a Yahoo editor. That's not a guarantee that your exact changes will be processed, but it is an improvement over the current limbo some site owners find themselves in.

The annual fee is only charged for sites submitted on or after December 28, 2001. If you got listed before this, congratulations! You've escaped the annual fee. Yahoo wouldn't say as much, but it is almost certain sites submitted before December 28 have escaped the annual fee for legal reasons. After all, when they signed up, the listing fee was essentially presented as a one time charge.

Naturally, those who escaped the listing fee are going to be watching to see if they are dropped, in order to get them to resubmit. Yahoo generally does not routinely drop sites, unless they no longer operate, so this worry is likely to be minimal.

A significant downside is that those who submitted before December 28 have no choice but to use the free change option, if they need a site description changed. One would hope that Yahoo follows LookSmart's lead and introduces a paid changes option, but the company says it has no immediate plans to do this.

"If we believe there to be a demand and a value to have that, well explore it," Braccia said.

Similarly, there are still no plans to allow for multiple category listings, in the way that LookSmart or the Open Directory allow. For the most part, a typical web site can still expect to be only listed in one or two categories, at Yahoo.

Speaking of LookSmart, the company had no comment on whether it would soon follow Yahoo's lead and implement its own annual charges. I think it's pretty likely they will, however. That means if you have sites to submit, get them in now, so that you can escape it the way older sites at Yahoo have. Next newsletter, I'll let you know if there are any firm plans for LookSmart to move to an annual fee.

By the way, the Yahoo annual fee is only being charged within the global-US oriented Yahoo.com site. If you regularly submit to a regional Yahoo, and if they charge a one-time fee, I'd expect to see this change over the long term. So, again as with LookSmart, don't wait around on doing those submissions.

Finally, be aware that the terms for Yahoo Express can change at any time. That means you are not locking in a $299 renewal price forever. Instead, it is entirely possible that Yahoo might up the renewal price to whatever it wants.

Yahoo
http://www.yahoo.com

Yahoo Express Help
http://help.yahoo.com/help/us/express/

Answers from Yahoo about how the Yahoo Express listing program works.

Yahoo Express Service Agreement
http://docs.yahoo.com/info/suggest/terms.html

Terms of the Yahoo Express program.

How to Suggest a Change to Your Yahoo Listing
http://add.yahoo.com/fast/change

The free change form.

How Yahoo Works
http://searchenginewatch.com/subscribers/yahoo.html

Comprehensive guide to getting listed properly with Yahoo, for Search Engine Watch members. Covers issues such as multiple category submission, how commercial sites can submit non-commercial content, making change requests and more.

Yahoo introduces annual fee
Pandia, Dec. 30, 2001
http://www.pandia.com/sw-2001/68-yahoo.html

Thoughts on how the annual fee will hit hard at hobbyist sites, those that aren't non-profit but which are barely commercial.

Recurring annual fee on Yahoo Express
SearchEngineForums.com, Dec. 28, 2001
http://searchengineforums.com/Forum8/HTML/003476.html

Reaction to the change, with suggestion that the renewal price should be less, some upset over the change and some support for it.

Pay $300 for Yahoo inclusion And another $300 annually!
WebmasterWorld.com, Dec. 29, 2001
http://www.webmasterworld.com/forum35/555.htm

Much more upset over the change, at Webmaster World.