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SearchMonkey Apes the Chicken Co-Op

in Search Marketing with tags

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’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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