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Small Price, Big Time

From the August 08, 2000 issue
Glenn Fleishman

Getting a Website listed on Yahoo!’s directory is a dream come true for most marketers. We want Yahoo! because surveys and statistics galore show that Yahoo! is the portal of choice for millions of users. For example, StatMarket.com, which tracks tens of millions of users a day, shows that about 55 percent of users arrive via Yahoo! at the sites it tracks. The next nearest competitor is AltaVista, at just 11 percent. 

But everyone knows that Yahoo! is the biggest. It isn’t the most responsive, however. Although Yahoo! operates its site directory as an "editorial" operation, it accepts Website listing submissions in two distinctly different modes: free and paid. Guess which one produces better results. 

Free no more

 A simple inquiry to Yahoo! reveals why the free model doesn’t always work. For one thing, tens of thousands of suggested site listings are actually ignored. Srinija Srinivasan, a vice president of Yahoo! and editor in chief of the directory, explains that the company has constantly changed priorities and criteria in its listing policy to reflect a wide variety of user behavior data it has collected from the services it runs. 

"It’s never been our goal to process every submission," she says. Rather, 

Yahoo! looks at suggestions that meet its current needs. 

Many–perhaps most–submissions never reach the eyes of the editors who make the real determination of whether the site meets Yahoo!’s criteria of quality and uniqueness. Srinivasan adds, "For the free service, we get to what we get to, and we do everything we can to get to as much as possible. We simply don’t get to everything." 

How do you find out whether your site meets Yahoo!’s criteria once and for all? You pay, that’s how. 

Crystal clear criteria

 Yahoo!’s Business Express service was first introduced in February 1999. The service guarantees a yes or no response within seven business days–for $199. The process for submitting a Website is identical to the free method until you reach the final step, when you agree to terms and provide a credit card number for a nonrefundable fee. 

Suddenly, Yahoo!’s criteria become crystal clear. 

Before you (like me) become too indignant, it’s important to take a step back and understand whether a service is intended for you as a marketer or for the service’s users. Yahoo!’s directory lives and breathes for those who search it, not for those who want to be listed in it. Some pay-for-play directories, such as GoTo.com, try to subvert that in a marketer’s favor, but such search engines are distinctly in the minority at present. 

Business Express tries to provide marketers with a consistent result inside Yahoo!’s editorial process. The fees, according to Srinivasan, essentially underwrite the cost of dedicating staff to the task of responding. This is not a profit center for Yahoo!. Although Srinivasan won’t discuss specific numbers, she says that Business Express represents a very small fraction of all submissions, and thus relatively little revenue. 

Many search engine and promotion experts recommend using Business Express for speed and peace of mind. Regardless of whether your site is accepted, you get a response in a predictable period of time. You also get an explanation if the site is rejected, and an email address to which you can respond if you want to appeal Yahoo!’s decision or have made changes to your site in response to the criticisms and would like to resubmit it. 

Worth the fee

 Users at www.searchengineforums.com, an excellent place to get tips and exchange advice on Web posting, seem to agree that being able to use follow-up email to address problems with the site is almost worth the fee in itself. 

Danny Sullivan, editor at Search Engine Watch, says, "People think nothing of paying $70 for domain names that don’t actually generate traffic, so I think Yahoo!’s fee is minimal, especially for guaranteeing that people can get an answer. And most people who use it do get in." 

Eric Ward, owner of the linking and submission strategy service NetPost, advises time-sensitive sites, such as those getting ready for a launch, to pay the fee. Ward claims he has had 100 percent success using either Business Express or the free method with his clients. But his clients are self-selected in that they’re willing to pay him for promotion. "My experience may be unique in that I only submit high-end, deep-content sites, which Yahoo! is more likely to accept," he admits. 

In truth, Yahoo! sets its own agenda, period. And although marketers might carp and chafe at paying for a no answer–in fact, when I paid recently to list a site, I got a yes within two days–it’s still important to figure out whether your site is worth spending $199 to be listed in the world’s most popular directory. It shouldn’t take most good marketers a lot of time to come up with a yes answer to that one. 

Glenn Fleishman(glenn@glennf.com )a Seattle-based marketing consultant, is a regular contributor to Business 2.0.

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