Yahoo Opens Express Submission Service

Yahoo Opens Express Submission Service

From The Search Engine Report
March 3, 1999

Submitting to Yahoo has long been one of the more frustrating experiences for many webmasters. Submissions go in, but no action may be taken for weeks or months, if at all.

Yahoo has done a number of things to help improve matters over the past few months, and the latest was the introduction of Yahoo Business Express, a US $199 service which guarantees a yes or no answer to whether a site will be listed within seven business days.

I've read a number of negative comments about the new service in various places, and I suspect many of them are due to misconceptions to how Business Express works. There are reasons to be critical, but there are also advantages to the system.

Business Express allows webmasters to pay for guaranteed consideration of their sites, not for guaranteed listings. Payment does not ensure that a site will be listed or even exactly how it will be listed. You can pay $199 and have your site rejected, or it may be accepted but not into the category you wanted, or with a description different from what you submitted. This is all true of the normal submission process, as well.

Yahoo emphasizes what Business Express does not guarantee for a good reason. The company wants to be perfectly clear that money will not influence its editorial process. This emphasis on the negatives can make the system sound like nothing more than Yahoo collecting $199 to do its usual rejection of web sites, only faster.

This is not the case. The vast majority of sites submitted through Business Express are listed in Yahoo, in contrast to the situation where most sites submitted through the normal process are not listed.

"The rejection rate is very low," said Yahoo's Srinija Srinivasan, who oversees the listing process, of the Business Express service.

Srinivasan declined to state any actual numbers, but I have no doubt most Business Express sites get in. That's because most sites submitted to Yahoo, via Express or otherwise, would be listed if editors had enough time to look at them all.

Many people are under the impression that Yahoo rejects most of the sites submitted to it. That's not the case. Some sites are indeed rejected for not being substantial enough or for being of poor quality. But the main reason most sites don't get listed is because Yahoo editors simply don't have time to look at all the submissions they receive.

Business Express guarantees that an editor will actually look at your submission, and that fact alone greatly increases the odds of being accepted. It also helps that -- in general -- those who can afford the fee probably have more substantial web sites than those using the normal submission process.

So while Yahoo says you can't pay to be listed, the reality is that paying will help. If you have the money, and your site fits into a Business Express-enabled category, you are likely to get in over a site that hasn't paid.

Unfair! That's certainly a theme you'll hear in some comments about the service. There comes across a sense that Yahoo is now discriminating against small sites that can't afford the Express submission fee. There's also a sense that Yahoo owes something to these small sites. After all, small sites form the bulk of Yahoo's listings, and links from small sites across the web give Yahoo serious grassroots traffic.

There's some element of truth here. But to be fair, Yahoo has not removed its normal submission process. Sites can still submit for free the old way.

"There is no excluding going on that is new. We've never been able to get to everyone," Srinivasan said. "Business Express offers an avenue exactly for that person who feels they were excluded before."

It can even be argued that Business Express may help the normal system. Yahoo says new editors for Express are funded out of the fees collected. That means the old system hasn't lost anything in terms of editor power. Additionally, if Business Express did not exist, then submissions to it would go into the already overloaded normal system. Thus, the new system helps to relieve the old system to a degree -- it could even be seen as beginning to subsidize it.

The subsidy idea is interesting. GoTo once suggested to me that in the future, non-profit or educational groups might be able to get credit on their system. In this way, sites with no publicity budgets could do temporary promotions to raise their prominence within a system designed to favor those with money.

Perhaps the upset over Express would be less if Yahoo had done a better job at promoting what it has done recently to make submitting easier.

The most important improvement was establishing a URL support email address at the end of last year. I've seen this work quickly first-hand, and I've received good feedback from others who have used it to follow up on their submissions. The problem is that many webmasters have never heard of the address, which I'd blame on the poor organization of Yahoo's help pages.

Back when I did my Yahoo Submission Survey in mid-1997, I made detailed comments about how little online help Yahoo provided regarding submissions. They made a number of helpful changes soon after that. Then at the beginning of this year, Yahoo added even more information to help those submitting -- but it's very hard to find.

If you go to the Yahoo home page, down at the bottom is a link that says "How to Suggest a Site." This leads to a single page with some relatively basic tips on submitting.

In contrast, a much better guide can be found if you enter the Yahoo help area, by clicking on the help icon at the top of the Yahoo home page. This leads to Yahoo How-To, where you'll in turn find a link called "Suggesting a Site." This brings up a more helpful seven page tutorial on submitting to Yahoo.

Did you follow all that? It's no wonder webmasters may be overlooking this tutorial.

The real gold mine of submission help is buried even deeper. Going back to the main Yahoo How-To page, you'll see an option called Yahoo Help Central. Selecting that takes you to a page where there's an easily missed link called "My Site in Yahoo." Added earlier this year, the area provides answers to many specific questions about submitting, as well as the valuable URL support address. Each page also leads to a feedback form, if you are not happy with the answer provided.

I suspect people would have more success submitting to Yahoo if this information was easier to find. Centralizing the different resources mentioned above would help. It would also be good to provide these answers in a single page format, for those who want to read them offline. Most important, the home page "How to Suggest a Site" link should lead directly to the high-quality information available in the "My Site in Yahoo" section. That's the obvious link submitters will be following, so they shouldn't have to play hopscotch through the help area to locate other submission tips.

Yahoo says it's in the midst of reorganizing its help pages, so perhaps these type of changes will come. This also means some of the help URLs I've noted below may change in as little as a week.

So Yahoo has made changes to improve the submission situation, and I certainly hear fewer complaints now than I have in the past. But many people obviously still have problems getting listed. Good sites may be missed. Getting entries changed can still take time. Sites face serious problems in the fact that Yahoo may not subcategorize them as well as they should do. Isn't there more that can be done other than instituting a fee-based express submission service?

Certainly Yahoo could, and probably should, hire many more editors. It is facing new competition from players like LookSmart and the Netscape Open Directory. To maintain its editorial lead, it will need to expand and improve its listing system.

Srinivasan disagrees, at least in terms of scale. "I wouldn't characterize it as a weakness that we don't get to everything," she said, explaining as she has in the past that Yahoo wants to exercise some degree of selectivity and to prioritize editor time around the areas of most interest to users, not to submitters.

Fair enough. Users do benefit from a selectively-assembled directory. But as mentioned above, most sites aren't getting in because they are bad but because editors are not reviewing them at all. That's a weakness, in my book.

Perhaps Express will be a first step in a reform of Yahoo's submission system. Webmasters that need an immediate answer now have an option for getting one.

"We realize there are some folks for whom it is really critical that they hear something quickly. It is extremely pertinent that they know in a timely manner if their listing is going to appear, Srinivasan said. "We know this because they are telling us this."

Indeed, the reason for moving ahead came out of the positive feedback Yahoo got when they polled submitters on the subject last year. I've received similar feedback from webmasters that this was something they wanted. That's another reason Srinivasan is perplexed that people are upset over the system. She says it is Yahoo reacting to what webmasters want, not as an attempt to make money.

"In terms of revenue stream, this is very small," Srinivasan said. "We're not asking anyone to take us up on this. We were asked to do this time and time again."

Here we'll differ, though. I think most webmasters who have wanted a paid submission system didn't expect for it to be limited to e-commerce sites. To me, this is one of the biggest flaws the system has.

Srinivasan said the decision to limit express consideration to e-commerce sites was made in part for logistical reasons. They needed a core group of categories that was manageable.

"This was sort of a line we could draw in the sand that made a good step that was maintainable and supportable," she said.

Additionally, e-commerce sites were also seen as needing an option for fast responses more than other site owners.

"This is serving the narrow segment of folks who's livelihood is made online," Srinivasan said. "It helps that segment where it really is mission critical to get an answer, and it also helps support and foster the growth of online commerce."

It also doesn't hurt that Yahoo runs an e-commerce hosting service called Yahoo Store, where users can easily establish online shops. What they haven't been able to do easily is get listed within the Yahoo directory.

"Can't you get me listed in Yahoo?" or similar queries were the number one questions that Yahoo Store merchants were asking Yahoo Store's support department, it was reported last fall. The answer was "No." Yahoo Store had no way to help its customers get listed faster in Yahoo.

Now Yahoo Store has an excellent and easy to understand answer to hand out -- "Sure, it just costs a little extra." And to sweeten the deal, Yahoo has a special promotional offer that bundles Business Express with some other promotional opportunities within Yahoo.

Srinivasan denied that satisfying Yahoo Store merchants was a primary reason for targeting e-commerce with Business Express.

"I don't think it is true we are targeting that particular audience because it coincides with Yahoo Store," she said. "That audience overall is important, as is the idea of supporting online commerce in anyway."

Overall, I completely disagree with the idea that e-commerce sites have a more "mission critical" need to know if they'll be listed in Yahoo than other sites. There are plenty of sites that don't sell products but which do need to know quickly if they'll appear in the directory. I can understand starting off slowly with Business Express, but Yahoo needs to commit to offering this service to anyone in the near future.

Several people have also asked me if I think charging is fair, in general. I have mixed feelings on this.

The pro part of me thinks this is inevitable, and to some degree, desirable. It borders on the absurd to explain to a large company that it may or may not get listed in the web's most important directory, and that it may involve submitting over months. Paying for prompt attention makes a lot of sense, and it is easier to understand.

The con part of me likes small sites. I don't want them to be excluded or bumped into second class just because they don't have the money. They ought to get prompt attention also. That means I don't have a problem with the fee-based system as long as it is clear that the free system is also being improved alongside it.

Yahoo Business Express Home Page

General details about the service, with links to terms and through another page, to Business Express-enabled categories.

Business Express Categories

Here's which categories have been Business Express-enabled.

Yahoo Business Express Help

Yahoo How-To: Suggesting Sites to Yahoo

A seven page tutorial on submitting properly to the directory.

My Site in Yahoo

Excellent answers to specific submission questions, a URL-support email address and feedback forms.

Boo for Yahoo
Salon, Feb. 22, 1999

Aaron Weiss flies past too quickly over what's likely to be one of Yahoo's biggest future problems -- the fact that it continues to want its surfers to be rooted in California. I was amazed awhile back when an ad came up for a surfer to cover the UK, along with the requirement that the person had to based in California. It just makes good sense to have your regional editors live in their regions.

Yay for Yahoo
Salon, Feb. 22, 1999

Andrew Leonard still likes Yahoo, even if Business Express gives him pause for concern.

Unsolicited Pundit: #1
Glenn Fleishman, Feb. 27, 1999

Glenn Fleishman was the force that united online marketers back in the web's early days and remains a voice to be respected. He shakes his head at Yahoo's inability to process submissions promptly. A note here: Yahoo deliberately does not send out formal notices even though its system is already wired to do so as quickly as Fleishman would like. The reason is to avoid a situation where someone submitting begins to argue their case after being rejected. There are arguments for not opening this type of dialog, and issues of submission spamming also come into play. Still, it would still be nice to see Yahoo provide more feedback along the lines that Fleishman proposes.

Yahoo asks sites to pay for privilege
ZDNN, Feb. 10, 1999,4586,2206436,00.html

Skip the basic details about the service and head into the feedback area to see what some web users think. It's mostly negative comments. But keep in mind these are not site promoters.

AudetteMedia, Feb. 1999

Arguments pro and con regarding Business Express, from participants on this list dedicated to search issues. Discussion started around issue 99, which should appear on the second link when the archives are finally posted.

Yahoo Considers Express Submission Service
The Search Engine Report, Oct. 5, 1998

Explains some of the reasons why Yahoo has created the new service.