Changes At MSN & Yahoo

Updated February 22, 2004

Search engine marketers have long been awaiting changes at Yahoo and MSN. Finally, signs of transition are beginning to appear. I hope to update you with more details directly from both services in the near future. In the meantime, here’s what’s happening at each place.

MSN Loses LookSmart

MSN was to end its relationship with LookSmart in the middle of January, and LookSmart’s information — the former “Web Directory” listings at MSN — did disappear for some users. However, MSN has also occasionally shown them again.

What’s happening?

According to Karen Redetzki, MSN product manager, “LookSmart paid listings may still appear within the Inktomi listings on MSN Search and secondly web directory listings still come from the LookSmart database which MSN continues to have the right to utilize.” MSN is also updating those listings, when necessary.

Featured Sites continue to carry ads sold directly by MSN as in the past, while Sponsored Sites show Overture listings. The MSN Search Featured Sites program allows the advertiser to have links listed at the top of the results page in the main body. While advertisers purchase multiple keywords direct through MSN for the Search Featured Sites program, advertisers can bid on and purchase keywords direct through Overture to get placement on MSN’s Sponsored Sites.

After these, the “Web Pages” section is now generally what you’ll see. This section generally seems to carry results from Inktomi.

So compared to the past (see How MSN Search Works), all that seems to have changed is the dropping of LookSmart-powered “Web Directory” results. However, MSN does continue to allow you to browse directory categories from its home page.

Occasionally, Web Directory listings have also been spotted returning at MSN. This could mean that LookSmart data is still being used. It might also reflect that for some queries, MSN is still using editor-compiled results. These sometimes appeared within the Web Directory area in place of LookSmart results.

MSN Search Beta Launched

Just to confuse everything, MSN Search has also released a new beta version. Gary Price has a short statement from MSN talking vaguely about how what you see there may not the same as what other see of any final version of what MSN does. However, MSN has tended to rollout the “looks” tested on its beta site.

In general, this beta version shows only two main sections: Sponsored Sites above and to the right of the search pages. As with Google, these are paid listings. Unlike Google, these come from MSN’s own internal sales or from Overture listings.

Ads that previously were sold through MSN and put in the Featured Sites area now appear to get top billing in Sponsored Sites. Overture listings then backfill these.

The other results on the page, which have no heading, appear to be those from Inktomi’s crawling of the web. That means they contain both unpaid and paid inclusion listings.

There is no sign that MSN is using any data from the crawler it is developing. That’s not surprising. The company hasn’t said it expect that crawler to be ready any time soon.

Yahoo Gets A Crawler

So MSN has transitioned to using Inktomi results — what about Inktomi’s-owner, Yahoo? The company has previously said that it will use its own results by the end of March, if not earlier. We’d already seen it test Inktomi results prior to that announcement. Now more reports of such testing is coming in. People are also noting that the results don’t always appear to be the same as you might find when comparing to Inktomi results shown on HotBot.

So is Yahoo up to something new? The company won’t make any public comment beyond what it has already said. However, it has said that Inktomi’s crawler is now being renamed “Yahoo Slurp” and references to Yahoo Slurp powering Inktomi are noticeably absent.

Instead, Yahoo Slurp will be powering what’s now called in help pages about the crawler the “Yahoo search engine.”

Expect more news as I get it. Meanwhile, a reminder of recent statements from Yahoo that I’ve covered in past newsletters:

Yahoo, Google primed for search war, Jan. 14, 2004

Yahoo finally gives a date about when Google results will be replaced by Inktomi results — by March 31 or earlier. It means Google will drop from powering about 80 percent of the web’s non-paid listing to only 50 percent — and Yahoo will pick up nearly all of the other half. But in terms of bottom line, it will have little impact on Google. Yahoo doesn’t carry Google’s ads now, so dropping Google will not hurt Google’s ad distribution.

Yahoo to drop Google as main search engine -WSJ
Reuters, Jan. 6, 2004

File this under duh. Yahoo is going to drop Google for its primary web search results. We’ve expected this since Yahoo paid nearly $250 million to buy Inktomi last year. It’s been a mystery why it’s taken Yahoo so long. In fact, the sometimes voiced explanation from Yahoo that the transition would happen when Inktomi was “ready” is downright embarrassing. Inktomi is apparently good enough for MSN to make full use of it later this month but owner Yahoo still needs to test it? Anyway, Yahoo’s been quietly telling paid inclusion providers that Inktomi will go live as early as the first quarter of this year. Expect a new, unified paid inclusion program to also be rolled out around the same time.

Yahoo Gets Set to Give Google Run for the Money
Wall Street Journal, Jan. 6, 2004,,SB107334921060956000,00.html

This is the source of Inktomi rollout timing. In addition, the story also discusses that Yahoo plans to use personalization and customization to improve the search experience, plus the company plans to expand the use of paid inclusion. Yep — there’s a good way to come out strong against Google, by confusing consumers with more paid content mixed in with what many consider to be unsold listings. Relatively few details on exact plans are in the article, but that’s not surprising given that Yahoo hasn’t been talking much specifically about what will happen in the future.

Yahoo puts Inktomi to the test, Aug. 21, 2003

Yahoo is testing Inktomi results in Australia, Brazil and the US and fully expects to roll it out across all of its properties eventually. You’ve got to love the quote from Yahoo Australia, about how they’ll switch to Inktomi if it can do as well as current results that come from Google — and the lack of support for Yahoo-owned Inktomi is even more noticeable in another report: Um — perhaps that evaluation should have been done before Yahoo spent $235 million to buy Inktomi earlier this year?

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