Most of your SEO attention is probably focused on what makes Google tick and, considering the search market share numbers, that makes perfect sense. But you must diversify your traffic sources, and ignoring all other search engines is a mistake.
Eric Enge’s recent interview with Yahoo’s Priyank Garg gives us all a chance to peek under the hood of their search engine. Even though this interview didn’t play well on Sphinn, I think there’s a lot of valuable information in the conversation that’s worth talking about. Here’s what caught my eye, and why….
Links and Yahoo’s Algorithm
Garg offered some specific thoughts on where links fit into Yahoo’s algorithm at the moment:
“…over the last few years as we have been building out our search engine and incorporating lots of data, the absolute percentage contribution of links and anchor text to the natural ranking of algorithms or to the importance in our ranking algorithms has gone down somewhat.”
That’s really not too surprising. I think most of my SEO peers would agree that Yahoo has never relied as heavily on links as Google; no search engine does, for that matter. Lest you think links don’t matter at all with Yahoo, Garg quickly added this in a follow-up question:
“They continue to be a very significant factor.”
Yahoo’s Take on Paid Links
We know Google’s stance on paid links and how they can pollute the SERPs. In the interview, Garg says Yahoo is somewhat less adamant about paid links and what they mean as a signal:
“There’s no black and white policy that makes sense in our mind for paid links. The principle remains value to the users. If a paid link is not valuable to the users, we will not want to give it value. Our algorithms are being organized for detecting value to users. We feel most of the time that paid links are less valuable to users than organic links.”
Social Media and Yahoo’s Algorithm
Yahoo owns some of my favorite social media sites: Flickr, del.icio.us, Upcoming.org, etc. Can those sites provide valuable data to the main search engine? You bet.
“…the locations that provide the most signals are the ones where users are taking active steps to recognize the value of content, whether it be through links they have created on their clean Web pages, or through social media sites like del.icio.us.”
Yahoo Keeps Some Spam in its Index
The interview took a really interesting turn when Eric asked about spam in the index. Garg explained that Yahoo is not trying to purge all spammy pages from its index. Here’s why:
“There is a query out there for which each page is relevant, and so the completion of our goal requires our algorithm to keep all the content we can, even the spammy ones. Of course, that’s something that becomes egregious on resources, and then sometimes, we have to make other choices. However, if there is a page that is generally okay but has some spamming techniques, someone might search for that URL, and as a search engine we want to make sure we have the most comprehensive experience we can.”
That statement speaks to something I’ve heard search engineers say at various conferences: There are some niches where fighting spam isn’t worth the effort. Porn, pills, and casinos are obvious ones. But even consider a vertical like real estate: If Yahoo (or Google) removed all spammy pages from the index, there are plenty of [city real estate] queries that would produce a barren wasteland of results.
Yahoo and Crawling Your Site
For whatever reason, you might want to keep a page out of Yahoo’s index. You could do that via robots.txt or by using the NOINDEX meta tag. And it still may not matter. Garg explained that a super-popular page (as measured by incoming links) might still end up in Yahoo’s search results:
“We do index a page and we will show its URL in search results if it is very heavily linked to the Web, even if it has a NoIndex tag on it.
“We do currently show pages which have a NoIndex if anchor text recommends that. We also discover links from a NoIndex page and pass the link weights and anchors to destination documents.
“If robots.txt files says don’t crawl, we will not crawl, we will not even try to retrieve that page at all from our crawling. But if the anchor text to that URL, as discovered on the Web, indicates a strong preference for it to show up for certain queries, it might show up.”
Garg says if you’re blocking the page via robots.txt or NOINDEX, they won’t use your page title and meta description in the search results — they’ll use other signals (like incoming anchor text) when possible to create the listing in its SERPs.
I would’ve liked Eric to press for more insight into the impact of Yahoo’s other properties on its main SERPs, but that’s a minor quibble. This is yet another great interview Eric’s done, and it’s well worth the 15 minutes or so you’ll need to read it.