20th July 2007

I’m not talking about them selling the company, (although there are rumors) I’m talking about their integrity and their overall credibility as a search engine, by appearing to sell the number one organic search result to the highest bidder.

Yesterday I attended the Internet strategy conference in Portland, and one of the speakers was Cammie Dunaway, the chief marketing officer for Yahoo.

During her presentation, she explained some new ways that Yahoo is working with advertisers, and she showed a TV commercial where the words “Special K” were typed into a Yahoo search box.

When the search result page appeared, there was Kellogs, at the top of the search results, with a Special K logo right there by the SERP.

Something about it looked odd to me, then it hit me… Directly above the advertisement, were the words “Search Results” but the tinted box and the words “Sponsored Results” had been removed.

Apparently this campaign is still running, as I just tried a search and here’s the result -


Perhaps this is nothing new, and Yahoo has done it before, but I’ve personally never noticed it.

What bothers me about this, is that by removing the tinted box and leaving out the words “sponsored results“, Yahoo is effectively selling the number one search result.

Is that option available for all advertisers? Is that option available for all phrases? Are they selling the number two, three, fours and five search results as well?

Cool, where do I sign up before my competition does, and how much does it cost?

Yahoo does seem to be leaving the actual ranking numeral to the left of the organic result, does not make this any less confusing for the end user.

Yahoo, I think I would I would like my graphic for my “ad” to be a large red #1? Would that be all right?

Clearly, it appears that Yahoo has gone out of their way to seamlessly blend an advertisement with their search results. Has anyone seen other instances of this?

Do you think we’re seeing the beginning of the end of organic search on Yahoo?

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    23 Comments    

    • Jerry West says:

      This is quite interesting. My rep at Yahoo! isn’t in yet, and I noticed that there aren’t any paid listings on that search result. I just attempted to add it to one of my accounts through YSM and got a message back that the keyword phrase was not available for bidding.

      Interesting.

      I want to wait until I hear from a real person the intent here. Getting an autoresponder back leads to too much speculation!

    • Kent Schnepp says:

      Scott -

      Good catch! I have seen similar results from Yahoo! Shortcuts but nothing this commercial, and nothing with a logo. Usually it’s just links to promotions and Yahoo! related products.

    • Robert Frost says:

      VERY interesting. I noticed this post referenced over on Search Engine Land today.

    • randfish says:

      Nice catch, Scott. Google does the same thing, a little quieter, for travel searches – try Seattle to Denver, for example. Those 4 folks listed have some paid relationships :)

    • Scott says:

      Wow, you’re right Rand… I’ve never seen that before! This search shows Google doing the same thing, and not all that much quieter. I suppose the font is a little different… Is that enough to meet meet the Webmaster guidelines for disclosing paid links?

      I definitely see this falling under the banner of “full disclosure”. Google and Yahoo are both appear to be selling links in their serps, as far as the end user can tell.

    • Gary Pool says:

      Scott, I enjoyed your post. I had noticed this sort of thing happening at Google since just before they went public. I just figured this was the way the giants did these things. I guess the bidding can be closed if you throw enough money at the auctioneer. I never thought it was fair just the way it is.

    • Anonymous says:

      Is Yahoo Selling Out?…

      Yahoo is showing advertisements without designating the listing as a paid link….

    • Matt Cutts says:

      The links in Google’s flight OneBox were chosen for merit. They’re not paid in any way and no money changed hands. So this is completely different than Yahoo’s paid-but-unlabeled Special K promotion. :)

      (Added to your other post as well.)

    • Matt Cutts says:

      P.S. Rand, you’re going to get an earful from me tomorrow..

    • Kevin Taylor says:

      I’ve not seen this in the UK yet, are Yahoo planning to role this out in all countries? Pretty poor show and not something I’m in favour of seeing.
      Kevin Taylor
      Gravytrain Limited

    • Aditya says:

      Yahoo is a big organisation

      Lets see i dont think they gonna sell themself to anyone

      still yahoo is no.1 site in the world

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