In a move that clearly sets the two companies as competitors, Yahoo yesterday began to switch from search results from Google to results using its own algorithmic search technologies.
Yahoo said it would roll out its search technology over the next several weeks on its own site and those contracted with subsidiary Overture's algorithmic search, including Microsoft's MSN. By using its own search technology, Yahoo hopes to differentiate its search experience from Google's. Yahoo spent about $2 billion to acquire an arsenal of search technologies in the past year, including Inktomi, AltaVista and FAST, in addition to paid listings provider Overture.
The widely expected switch from Google comes as Yahoo makes some headway cutting into Google's lead in search use. According to comScore Media Metrix, Google handled 35 percent of all searches in December compared with Yahoo's 27 percent, AOL's 16 percent and MSN's 15 percent. Two months earlier, Yahoo's search share was 26 percent compared with Google's 35 percent. The reach of Yahoo's search technology now will rival Google's, which handles search for AOL.
The switch ends a long relationship between the two companies. Google's corporate history notes that founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page began the company in 1998 with the encouragement of David Filo, a founder of Yahoo. In June 2000, Yahoo chose Google as its search provider to back up its directory listings.
Now Yahoo has its eyes firmly on Google as a rival.
“This is just further evidence that Yahoo is pulling out all the stops,” said Fredrick Marckini, chief executive of Arlington, MA, search marketing firm iProspect. “I think they've raised the bar as far as what is the next level.”
Yahoo executives estimate that each percentage point of search market share is worth $200 million to the company, making search a priority.
Last April, Yahoo overhauled its search to embed it throughout the site and add personalization features. It remade its shopping section into a comparison-shopping search engine in September and added search to Yahoo News. The company said it would embed search in other areas like finance, music, travel and personals.
Yahoo said it also would integrate search with its My Yahoo feature to return links to Web pages using XML/RSS syndication, a content syndication technology used by many sites, including Web logs, to constantly update headlines and links.
The company also has featured its search technology in ad campaigns in an attempt to cut into Google's strong brand. Earlier this month, a BrandChannel.com survey tabbed Google as the top global brand for the second year in a row.
With Yahoo and Microsoft hot on its heels, Google is widely expected to file for an initial public offering that could net the company as much as $20 billion. Such a windfall would put Google on equal footing with its deep-pocketed rivals.
Google declined to comment specifically on Yahoo's move, but announced Tuesday that its search index added 1 billion more Web pages, bringing it to 4.3 billion. (Google's index also includes 880 million images, 845 million Usenet messages and an undisclosed number of scanned book pages.) Yahoo did not reveal the size of its index, but search experts said it crawled far fewer Web pages.
Matthew Berk, an independent search industry analyst, said a larger index did not necessarily mean better results.
“If you want to ask very specific questions, having a bigger index can sometimes overwhelm the results with things that are not appropriate,” he said. “Folks like Yahoo and Google have to play the size game because they're taking on all comers.”
Yahoo's move also could spur further interest in paid inclusion, in which advertisers pay to have Web pages crawled but results are based on relevance. Jupiter Research forecasts that the paid inclusion market could grow from a projected $110 million this year to $500 million in 2006, if Yahoo and MSN fully embrace it. If just Yahoo adopts it, Jupiter expects the market to reach $293 million.
Paid inclusion's proponents say it improves the relevancy of search results by providing updated information on Web pages deep in sites that might not be regularly crawled.
Google does not use paid inclusion; company representatives have said it would taint search results. Still, Kevin Lee, chief executive of search engine marketing firm Did-it.com, sees softening in Google's stand against outside inclusion. He notes that results from Froogle, Google's shopping search engine, already appear on many commercial results. Froogle results are based partly on Web pages submitted by marketers, although not paid for.
“They've acknowledged the fact that just because we got this data feed from a marketer doesn't mean it's garbage,” Lee said.
Yahoo has devoted considerable resources to developing new search technologies, recently starting a search research unit to explore Web search breakthroughs using machine learning, data mining and efficient algorithms. Yahoo is not alone in targeting search. Microsoft has said it will develop its own algorithmic search technology in order to take on Google.
Brian Morrissey covers search marketing for DM News.com. To keep up with the latest search marketing news subscribe to our free e-mail weekly newsletter Search Engine Marketing by visiting www.dmnews.com/cgi-bin/newslettersub.cgi .