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SearchMonkey Apes The Chicken Co-op

Today’s column comes with some personal news. You’ll see it at the end, but I’ll be writing MediaPost’s Online Spin this summer, taking a hiatus from Search Insider after nearly four years. If you’re reading the columns here, I’ll still post them, but look for them on Thursday instead of Tuesday. Thanks for your readership; I wouldn’t have lasted this long writing without such a warm response and great conversations.
SearchMonkey Apes The Chicken Co-op
Yahoo SearchMonkey is finally here. It’s one of the most important
developments affecting search engine optimization, and one that can
vastly improve the search experience for users. It could be the most
significant, revolutionary, unique search development this year. Yet in
its current form, hardly anyone will use it.
In another entry in Yahoo’s “God bless ‘em for trying” files
(which reside right next to Ask.com’s “Don’t you remember we were the
first to do that?” folder), Yahoo’s on to a great idea with
SearchMonkey. Here’s how it works:

  • A site owner creates a SearchMonkey application that provides more structure to search listings.  Yahoo’s developer site
    shows an example where a site for movie tickets lists facts about the
    film, ratings, and several deep links within the search result. The
    visual helps here.
  • The site listings then get included in Yahoo’s Search Gallery. Currently there are about 40 listings from Yahoo, LinkedIn, MTV, Amazon, Facebook and others.
  • Users, who must be registered with Yahoo, go to the gallery and select the search enhancements they want.
  • When the user is signed in and conducts searches that would
    ordinarily pull up those search results, the enhanced listings appear.
    Note that this doesn’t affect the order of the rankings — but the
    enhanced listings should attract more user engagement.The improvements to search results are unquestionably beneficial.
    Yet there are three problems with SearchMonkey: usability, perceived
    value, and the competitive history.
    Usability. There are way too many steps the user
    needs to go through before getting SearchMonkey to work. The biggest
    step, a real leap, is finding out about SearchMonkey. Who’s going to
    educate users? This will take an intensive amount of promotion from
    Yahoo. Presumably, participating publishers could take part in
    encouraging users to sign up, especially when those publishers will
    benefit more than their competitors in those search listings, but
    publishers probably won’t work so hard if they’re getting 75% or more
    of their search traffic from Google.
    The next steps for users are unnecessarily laborious. I wrote about this yesterday on my blog,  which also includes a  presentation
    hosted on SlideShare. To get a plug-in to work, users need to review
    the enhancements, check the box next to what they want, click a blue
    “add” button, click a yellow “add” button, click “save,” and then
    continue. A few times during the process, I thought I was done and
    tried a search only to realize I hadn’t completed the process. The fact
    that it’s a process is a bad sign.
    Perceived value. When will users know that
    SearchMonkey plug-ins are paying off for them? When they do a search
    that would have triggered one of the affected results. Odds are it
    won’t be that often. And even then, it will only improve one or two
    results on the page at most. So there’s all this work and a relatively
    small payoff, with the publisher reaping more benefits than the user.
    Competitive history. There was another service
    that allowed publishers to enhance search results, but only when users
    opted-in to those listings: Google Co-op, an essentially defunct
    project that has evolved into something vastly different, the Custom
    Search Engine. While there are differences between Co-op 1.0 (namely
    its Subscribed Links  component) and SearchMonkey, SearchMonkey will probably meet the same fate.
    Yet isn’t customization king now? Isn’t SearchMonkey at the vanguard of all the trends shaping digital media?
    There are some questions remaining, and you won’t have to wait a
    whole week for answers. I’m taking a journalistic road trip this
    summer, spending a couple months away from the Search Insider, where
    I’ve written about 200 columns since July 2004. Starting this week, I
    will be contributing to MediaPost’s Thursday Online Spin. For those
    who’ve been following all along and for those who’ve only read a column
    or two, I hope you’ll take part in the journey, keep the comments
    coming, and see where the road takes us.
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