I was sad to hear the news that Yahoo will be folding its Search Submit Pro (SSP) program at the end of the year. It was fairly predictable, given the new Bing/Yahoo tie up and Microsoft’s not too-ancient history of jettisoning paid inclusion when they broke free from Yahoo in 2004. However, I agree with Matt Kain that SSP was a misunderstood program that unduly received a bad wrap. For years I worked directly with Yahoo helping customers submit millions of URLs of content to the SPP program and developed a pretty good sense of its pros and cons.
The argument against SSP has always been that allowing companies to pay for inclusion in organic search results “pollutes” the purity of search and leads to bad user experience. I admit this argument has visceral gut-level appeal (fox guarding the hen-house and all that), but those deeply involved in search and Yahoo’s implementation of the program also saw the other side of the coin:
1) By permitting web sites to submit their content via feeds, Yahoo was better able to control what it indexed. Unlike web crawlers that need to interpret web pages to find what’s most important, and which is always susceptible to black hat SEO tricks and the like, Yahoo was able to force participants to abide by certain standards. If these standards weren’t met they simply rejected the content. Anecdotally, I remember being frustrated at times that my paying clients were being outranked by less relevant organic listings. The reason? The organic sites were playing black hat games, getting away with it, and were not as easily identified and controlled as folks participating in paid inclusion.
2) Anyone who thinks companies are not paying to be in Google’s organic search results is naive. The amount of money spent on SEO experts to help companies restructure their site, their internal linking, their external link strategies, etc. is enormous. Now you can argue that Google isn’t being paid and this makes it different…..but the point is, there is gaming going on on that side as well which clutters Google’s results and leads, often, to bad search experiences.
3) Those companies that game SEO to rise high on Google were not those participating in Yahoo SSP. They weren’t the type of companies that are generally willing to pay for traffic, they are looking for a free ride. Yahoo was able to screen which sites could be included in SSP and make sure that those with a track record of abuse were barred from the program.
4) On the technical side, SSP had the potential to accomplish a great thing : it theoretically allowed web developers to design for user experience without worrying about SEO impact. The conflation of these two objectives often leads to twisted web design. Content publishers forced to make simple article headlines, rather than pithy ones (which may be the site’s authoring style), fashion sites moving away from rich media so they are more easily crawled and indexed, etc. By divorcing descriptions of web pages from the pages themselves, SSP really allowed more flexibility and innovation in web design techniques. Of course, because everyone was running after Google rankings, it didn’t much matter. But the idea of submitting structured data to search engines, rather than waiting for them to come to you, could be really helpful. Google Base has been an attempt at a free version of this but the ambiguity of how content submitted to Base is used in organic Google.com results makes it fairly useless.
So in sum, I am disappointed to see the end of SSP.
Sure, there were always problems with the program, for instance editorial rules were not enforced by Yahoo’s algorithm as well as they should have been (they relied too much on people police, not tech policing). But overall, it had good potential and served a good purpose. Best of luck to those Yahoos who worked on the program and to those SEM/SEO pros who were expert at using it.