If the appearance of paid placement listings on search engines has been a revolution over the past few months, then the war is over, because they've now come to that most conservative of search engines, Yahoo. A new "Sponsored Sites" program launched last Thursday allows web sites to be positioned at the top of Yahoo's commercial category listings.
"I hope this is yet another way that the directory can serve as a powerful vehicle for merchants to reach their intended audience, just as that has been a side effect until now," said Srinija Srinivasan, Yahoo's editor in chief, about the new program.
Srinivasan also saw value for Yahoo's users, likening the way paid listings are called out to the way advertisers in Yellow Pages may call attention to themselves by running larger ads or using bold text.
"That information is extremely salient, the size of the ad, bolding, both of these things add elements to that page," Srinivasan said. "From the users' standpoint, this information literally didn't exist before [at Yahoo”."
Before October of last year, virtually no major search engine offered paid placement listings. Now, with the new Yahoo program, Excite remains the only major service not to have them. The growth underscores the popularity of paid listings as a new revenue stream for search engines.
Nearly all of the major services have opted to use GoTo's paid links, which means any site that can prove some type of basic relevancy for a particular term is able to buy its way to the top of the results, for that term. In contrast, Yahoo's system is more restrictive. Only sites already approved by Yahoo editors and listed with its directory can purchase paid listings.
Yahoo's paid listings do not appear on the search results page that appears in response to a keyword search, as is the case with most other services. Instead, they only show up within a well-defined "Sponsored" box at the top of Yahoo's category pages. Paid listings also only appear within commercial category, which are easily identified because of the new yellow reverse bar used to highlight the category name, rather than the normal blue one. For example, compare these two categories:
Shopping & Services: Beanie Babies
Recreation: Beanie Babies
The first is a commercial category about Beanie Babies, so it features yellow bars and has a spot for any sponsored listings. The second is a non-commercial category about the stuffed animals, so it has blue bars and no sponsored listings area.
The advantage to the site owner is that Yahoo's sponsored listings allow them to leap to the top of their category page, where users might more easily find them. Ordinarily, sites are listed alphabetically, though Yahoo uses an automated system to identify sites it considers "Most Popular," in order to place them above the Alphabetical listings.
Previously restricted to only non-commercial categories, this Most Popular section has been expanded throughout the directory, Yahoo says. This means that on commercial category pages, you'll see Sponsored links first, the Most Popular section second and Alphabetical listings last. In non-commercial areas, it will be the Most Popular section first, then Alphabetical listings, as has been the case since last April. Most Popular results are only supposed to appear in categories with 20 or more listings.
Paid listings are sold by the month, with the fee ranging from $25 to $300, depending on the popularity of the category. Some categories may be priced higher than $300, and these must be purchased through Yahoo's ad department, rather than the online self-serve program.
To enroll, begin the process from the Yahoo Sponsored Sites home page (see link below). After entering your URL, you'll be shown what categories your site is already listed in at Yahoo, and you can then choose to promote it into the Sponsored links box at the top of those categories. You'll also be told exactly how much it costs to promote your site, for each particular category.
Remember, your site MUST already be listed in a Yahoo category to be eligible to use the Sponsored Sites program. If you are not already listed, submit using the Yahoo Business Express program. If accepted, you can then go back and pay to promote your site higher on the page.
Unfortunately, you can only appear on the same page where your site is already listed. Many people complain that they are listed within only one of several possible and appropriate places at Yahoo, and this program does not solve that problem. In short, it will make you more visible in the categories where you are already listed, but it will not increase your visibility elsewhere in Yahoo.
"A truly useful commercial directory needs to be commercial, but there are certainly editorial aspects, also," Srinivasan said, explaining the limitation. "The real value that our editors bring is the organization of that information. To allow sites to be listed wherever they want would be a compromise," she said.
Similarly, this also means that you cannot customize the description that appears for your site within the Sponsored box. Instead, it will match whatever Yahoo editors have approved for your regular listing.
The connection between where your site is listed and where sponsored links can be purchased makes it even more important to lobby for multiple category listing of your web site. If you are submitting for the first time, be sure to provide any truly appropriate alternative categories and succinctly explain why your site should be included. Don't be afraid to [politely” argue your case.
"We'd absolutely be receptive to the feedback when people say they are relevant to other areas," Srinivasan said. "Now that we have Business Express, each submitter has that one on one handholding through the process."
If you've already submitted and feel you should be added elsewhere, make use of the Yahoo Change Form to request an alternative category. Additionally, it may make sense to consider breaking up your site into separate web sites. Both of these topics are covered on the "How Yahoo Works" page listed below.
Do keep in mind that you are not going to have the possibility of deep categorization, such as offered (on a per click basis) by LookSmart. Instead, you'll probably be most successful if you focus on one or two additional areas where you have a strong case for inclusion.
Of course, another common complaint about Yahoo is that requests sent via the change form may go nowhere, prompting some to ask for a paid service like Business Express but just for changes. Yahoo still has no plans to do something like this. The main challenge is that offering a "yes" or "no" answer to listing a site, as with Business Express, is simple in comparison to dealing with the range of different change requests that come in to Yahoo.
"The question of changes come down to such shades of editorial judgment that it is hard to articulate and justify to the submitters' satisfaction why our perspectives differ, if we don't agree," Srinivasan said. "If there were extremely hard and fast criteria we could articulate, then we would be able have such a program."
Approval of your paid listing should come within five days. Up to five paid links can appear in the Sponsored box. If there are more than this, Yahoo then rotates all advertisers equally. Unfortunately, Yahoo provides no statistics to measure clickthrough. That means you will have no easy way to tell if people are clicking on your sponsored link or your regular link further down the page.
Sponsored links will also have the word "Sponsored" appear next to them in the regular editorial listings, which I think is somewhat unfortunate. It may give the impression that sites are only being listed in these editorial areas because they have paid, when this is not the case.
Interestingly, Yahoo felt adding "Sponsored" to listings in the editorial areas would actually be a benefit to both users and site owners.
"I hope that being a Sponsored Site says something about your site and being a business that wants to be around that differentiates you in a good way," said Srinivasan.
Upon reflection, she said Yahoo might reconsider this part of the program, if users indeed took the sponsored flags the wrong way.
"If that's the perception, then I'd certainly want to rethink that, Srinivasan said.
Yahoo Sponsored Sites Home Page
Sign up for the program here.
Yahoo Sponsored Sites Help
More information and assistance about the program can be found here.
How Yahoo Works
In depth coverage of submitting your site to Yahoo.