Yahoo Paid Search Links

Rhett Pardon
In what may be the first volley in a duel with its former ally Google Inc., Yahoo has announced a new policy for indexing Web pages that will charge businesses to include more material currently unlisted in its online search engine.

Yahoo company officials said Tuesday that the payments won’t improve a site’s ranking on the list of results that appear after a search but they acknowledged there will be no distinguishing marks to alert Web surfers that a company had paid to be included.

If website operators want to be included in Yahoo’s new “paid inclusion” program, they must pay an annual subscription fee of $49 to list one Internet address and $29 each for the next nine addresses. In addition, the new program requires the operators to pay the nation’s second largest search engine a sliding-scale fee for each click on their search listing.

The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company has already been using a similar approach on its shopping-oriented Web pages but is now expanding the program to its entire site.

Yahoo has included a general disclosure statement about the new program, where Web surfers must click on the phrase “What’s this?” The new policy is likely to add fuel to a growing battle between Yahoo and main rival Google of Mountain View, Calif.

Google, the nation’s most popular search site, doesn’t let website operators pay to be included in search results but does allow advertisers to pay for promotions that appear alongside search results. Those sites are clearly labeled “sponsored links.”

Yahoo, as is trying to supplant its rival as the Web’s most popular search engine, terminated its 3-1/2 year deal with Google to license its search engine two weeks ago.

According to ComScore Media Metrix, nearly 35 percent of all Web searches in the U.S. are conducted on Google. Yahoo, meanwhile, commands a 28 percent market share.

Gary Ruskin, executive director of Commercial Alert, a consumer group that that has criticized search engines for co-mingling advertising and editorial results, told XBiz that in a wide variety of contexts the new policy will create a system for website operators of “haves and have-nots.”

“We are sending a letter to the FTC on the matter,” Ruskin said.

Two years ago, the Federal Trade Commission asked search-engine firms to clearly label sponsored listings so that consumers could differentiate between paid and unpaid listings. The federal agency also requested that search engines that use “paid inclusion” programs, such as Yahoo’s, offer Web surfers a clear description of how the program works.

An FTC spokesperson told XBiz that it may look at Yahoo’s new program, but declined to comment further.