Semel On Yahoo Being New To Search, More Open To Google

Terry Semel at Web 2.0: "We'll Always Be More Open Than Google" from Yahoo's Jeffrey McManus is a very nice rundown of the Q&A between Yahoo CEO Terry Semel and John Battelle out at Web 2.0. But man, my jaw dropped at some of the positioning of Yahoo as both "new kid on the block" and being "more open" than Google, especially with paid inclusion still hanging in there at Yahoo.

Battelle: What do you make of Google's strategy?
Semel: I think Google have clearly done a very good job in search. I think that probably the difference would be that they were the pioneers. We're now full speed ahead, been in search less than two years, others are coming in, and I think that's healthy.

Google the pioneers? Yahoo just turned 10 years old earlier this year and has been doing search from day one. Literally. It was born out of search. Yes, Yahoo has only had its own crawler-based search engine using its own technology for about two years, rolled out in February 2004. But to suggest that the other eight years of life weren't about search?

Let's be clear. Yahoo was the pioneer. Google was the second mover. Yahoo rediscovered search religion (helped by realizing what a lucrative religion it is), and that competition is very, very welcomed. I love Yahoo for coming in and giving Google a renewed, healthy and tough run for the money. Forget Microsoft as the threat, as I've written before. Yahoo is Google's most serious threat, breathing down its neck in many ways, ahead of it in some others. But it's hardly some new kid of search.

Battelle: [Google may enter the jobs space] You've got hotjobs. From the historic approach that goog takes is scrape and aggregate as opposed to own. Will you give a feed to google?

Semel: We'll always be more open than they are. [applause from audience] we began with RSS. yahoo in general sees ourselves as an open platform with the ability to publish on yahoo.

I guess it's never struck me personally that Yahoo is somehow more open than Google. I've seen them both fairly open and closed in their own ways. But it is interesting to hear the audience at Web 2.0 apparently feels they are closed, hence the applause. Then again, I'm also curious how much of that audience feels Google is closed because Google may not be interested in partnering for their products and technologies. Google definitely has a "we'll invent it ourselves" attitude.

If openness is in terms of accepting content, Google deserves more credit here. Google has never played the paid inclusion game, sending out mixed messages of saying they have everything to searchers but to site owners that they'd better pay to make sure they're included.

Let's take shopping as an example.

Want your products listed in Froogle? Go to the Froogle home page, and you'll see at the bottom:

Information for Merchants

And that link takes you to a page that tells you:

  • You can list your products on Froogle for free.
    Unlike other online shopping sites, Froogle costs nothing. There's no spending account to set up and maintain. No cost-per-click. No cost, period....
  • You can upload a feed containing addresses, phone numbers, and hours for your physical stores. We'll display this information along with your business listings on Google Local. Learn more.

Now go to Yahoo Shopping. Want to get listed? Look at the bottom of the page, and you'll see:

Want to see your products in Yahoo! Shopping? Build your own online store or Advertise with us

The "Advertise with us" link takes you to this:

Promote Your Products Your products will be featured prominently in Yahoo! Shopping and appear in highly relevant areas across Yahoo!, giving you access to millions of motivated buyers.

Pay for Performance Inclusion in Yahoo! Product Search and buyer?s guide pages is based on a cost-per-click price that varies by product category. You pay only for leads directly to your site.

So who is open in this case? Not Yahoo, in my book. Yes, Yahoo does also scrape content from across the web, but paid inclusion is the main way you get in as a merchant. There are benefits to payment -- merchants do complain about wishing they could pay Google for better support. But the fact you aren't paying by the click to be included at Google while Yahoo does -- what's going to make you think Yahoo's more open there.

From the searcher perspective, I think it's fair to say that when you come to Yahoo Shopping, you're expecting a comprehensive search experience and not assuming payment is an influence. It tells you on the home page:

Welcome to Yahoo! Shopping.
Sign in to save products, find the lowest total prices, and get recommendations! We have tech product recommendations for you with SmartSort.

Say you go into the FAQ area and decide you want to understand what's offered. You'll probably reach the What Is Yahoo Product Search page, the first page listed that says:

Yahoo! Product Search is a new search tool designed to help you find a comprehensive listing of products available on the Web. Yahoo! Product Search enables you to search through millions of items from thousands of merchants, so you can find, compare, and buy almost anything.

To be fair, if you go to the third link on the FAQ, the What are Yahoo! Shopping listing page results? page, you'll then learn:

Yahoo! Shopping listing page results are Yahoo! Product Search results relevant to a specific Yahoo! Shopping browse category.

By default, all products from a particular store are grouped into one listing. Each listing features an individual product and includes a link to "more results" from that store. Listing page results generally include products from merchants affiliated with Yahoo! Shopping or in other financial relationships with Yahoo!, but they also may include results from other, non-affiliated merchants.

Disclosure is there, but it would be so much more open to make this directly in the actual search results -- or better, figure out a way to not charge for inclusion or shift away from a pay-per-click model for it. Paid inclusion remains the big fly-in-the-ointment with me about Yahoo. I hate constantly having to bring it up, as a spoiler to all the other great things that they do. But it is a spoiler of Yahoo's making and one completely within its control to eliminate.