How Yahoo’s Search Submit Pro signed its own death sentence

If you haven’t heard of Search Submit Pro (SSP) you aren’t alone. Over a decade ago Yahoo! was a key player on the search landscape and was busy working out how they could maximise revenue. They launched Search Submit Pro without the usual fanfare that would accompany an innovative product and smuggled it silently through the back door. A cynical observer might even think that Yahoo! had something to hide. In the intervening years SSP was binned, as it’s a salutatory tale about how search engines think and the perils of greed.

So what exactly was SSP? Let’s go straight to the horse’s mouth and hear what Yahoo! had to say “(SSP) URLs are included in the index that powers algorithmic search results… When Internet users visit partner sites (Yahoo! All the Web, etc) and enter keyword searches, your listings may appear within the search results… Pricing is based on cost per click”

Yes, you read it right; Yahoo! Was allowing webmasters to have their web pages algorithmically fudged into the organic search results. Given that Yahoo’s pages were already saturated with PPC advertising (at 14 ads per page they carried more than the other search engines) you’d have been forgiven for thinking that this latest initiative smacked of greed. Could there be any other explanation?

Yahoo’s marketing department was keen to sell the idea of SSP as an inclusive tool for pages that weren’t spider friendly; including CMS driven sites and those heavy with flash or relying on session IDs. However, given the well documented fact that organic results enjoy far higher click-through and conversion rates than sponsored advertising (and would presumably command a higher rate card) it was easy to come to the conclusion that there was another agenda going on here. Of course, this threw up all sorts of questions for SEO professionals, many of whom thought it was time to throw the towel in. However, it wasn’t all doom and gloom.

On the up-side SEO companies could now guarantee clients Yahoo! listings. On the downside they were going to have to pay for the privilege (SSP is “typically for customers with search marketing budgets of $5,000 per month or more”). Some would say that turning Yahoo’s search results upside-down wasn’t a bad thing (especially considering what they were dishing-up), but it did raise an ethical question.  Switch on the news in the UK and you can guarantee there will be an article on ‘transparency’ or lack of it (currently the BBC is the punch bag of choice) and you can’t help thinking that if the SSP results aren’t labelled as ‘sponsored’ there’s something a little duplicitous going on.

Of course, the advertising industry has never been held up as a beacon of morality, but SSP didn’t sit too comfortably with Yahoo’s seemingly altruistic mission statement to “connect people to their passions, their communities, and the world’s knowledge”. In reality it seemed to have more to do with connecting Yahoo! to the Federal Reserve. However, the real concern for SEO companies was that if SSP works so well for Yahoo! it wouldn’t be long before the other big guns followed suit.

However, they say that history is written by the victors and SSP tanked and was soon pulled. Yahoo! admitted defeat saying, “We are committing our resources and efforts to our core areas of focus, including improving the search experience and relevancy of our ads to increase user engagement and ROI for advertisers, and as a result, have decided to exit Search Submit” but what they really meant was ‘It wasn’t working, it’s wasn’t bringing-in enough revenue, searchers were abandoning ship so we performed a massive U-Turn”.

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