About.com No Longer Poster Child
For Yahoo Abuse
From The Search Engine Report
Updated March 7, 2000
(added new quotes and information from Yahoo that came in late Friday, March 3, after this was originally written)
Just over two years ago, I did a big write up on problems getting listed with Yahoo, using About.com (then the Mining Co.) as a poster child for the troubles many people encountered. Yahoo refused to list most of the company's individual web sites, which I thought was unfair. More importantly, I thought the policy made Yahoo less useful to searchers. About.com later got a lot of mileage out of this by running its "The 500 Sites Yahoo is Afraid to List" banner campaign in mid-1998.
Things have changed since then, but no one seems to have told that to About.com's CEO Scott Kurnit. He recently lashed out at Yahoo at a public forum, complaining that most of his network's sites are not listed. His comments were then widely reported -- even Jessie Berst's important Berst Alert column gave them credit at face value.
For the record, I found at least 200 individual About.com sites available within Yahoo, just about 1/3 of all the sites About.com has. Yes, that's not "most," but it is far more than About.com used to have listed, when it first raised its complaints in 1998. Yahoo also denies that there is still a policy against listing About.com sites.
"There are About.com sites listed throughout the Yahoo directory, and there have been for a very long time. There is no exclusionary policy here. We review their sites just like any others, on a case by case basis," said Srinija Srinivasan, Yahoo's editor in chief.
I also think it's pretty obvious this policy was lifted. When I first reported on the issue, I doubt About.com had more than 25 sites listed with Yahoo -- if even that many. For so many sites to now be listed, it's clear Yahoo had a change of heart regarding About.com.
In fact, when reviewing About.com's listings at Yahoo, one could even see that Yahoo editors have prefaced all About.com's various sites with the company's name, such as "About.com Bicycling" or "About.com Urban Legends." That has the effect of ensuring About.com's sites are right at the top of Yahoo's listings, which are organized alphabetically. If Yahoo was trying to be mean-spirited, they could have easily lopped the About.com portion off of each site name, which would have moved many About.com sites lower in the listings.
I also asked Yahoo whether About.com could increase its listings further by using Yahoo's $199 "Business Express" service, which guarantees that an editor will make time to review and approve or decline a site within a week. Most sites of good quality that use the service do get in, and the service has greatly reduced the number of complaints I hear about getting listed with Yahoo.
"It's really geared at commercial sites, so that wouldn't be the appropriate channel for About.com sites," Srinivasan said.
I'd agree that About.com's sites should still be evaluated independently by Yahoo and other directories, since they provide so much quality information that benefits searchers. If they are good, why not list all of them? But Kurnit's suggestion that About.com is being specifically censored by Yahoo no longer carries as much weight.
It's also interesting to flip the situation around. Yahoo could complain that its thousands of categories should be listed within appropriate areas at LookSmart, Snap, the Open Directory. To paraphrase Kurnit's words, search engine results "would be corrupt" if they failed to list Yahoo categories in the top 10 results on most queries.
Indeed, its arguable that since Yahoo is, using Kurnit's words again, "an objective search service representing all content to be found on the net," then any search engine would benefit its users by promoting Yahoo's listings. And since About.com has positioned itself more strongly as a web-wide search resource for users over the past year, then wouldn't it be fair for Yahoo to complain that no links to their site show up in About.com's top search results? Yes, you will find links to Yahoo once you actually arrive within a particular About.com site -- but they aren't given any special placement or promotion in the way Kurnit seems to feel his sites deserve.
The reality is search services compete with each other, and large scale cross linking between them simply doesn't happen, just as two television networks don't share programming.
Yes, Yahoo has had its listing troubles, but I would say they are much less so than in the past. Yes, Yahoo is still perceived by many as a semi-official guide to the entire web, giving it a special obligation to be representative. But the rise of the Open Directory is taking over some of that role from Yahoo. As the Open Directory is available for anyone to use, competitive issues about cross linking are less of a concern.
Overall, I got the impression that Kurnit was in some type of time warp. If anything, Yahoo seems to have done a lot to promote and benefit About.com, even despite a prominent banner campaign that mocked them. That's not just being fair; it's more than fair.
Yahoo accused of blocking rivals
ZDNet, March 1, 2000
Coverage of Kurnit's recent comments regarding Yahoo.
About.com Upset over Lack of Yahoo Listings
InternetNews.com, March 1, 2000
More coverage of Kurnit's complaints.
Why GuruNet is a Natural Born Killer
AnchorDesk: Berst Alert, March 2, 2000
Shows how Kurnit's comments are taken as a fact and used for slamming Yahoo in this incredibly influential column.
DejaNews, Mining Company Make Significant Relaunches
The Search Engine Report, June 2, 1999
Explains how and why the Mining Co. became About.com
Mining Co. Ads Play Up Yahoo Exclusion
The Search Engine Report, July 1, 1998
See how About.com turned the failure to be listed well on Yahoo into an ad campaign.
Mining Company Illustrates Yahoo Limits
The Search Engine Report, Jan. 9, 1998
Explains both sides in the old dispute over listings.