The other day I received an email from a client noting that some of his Yahoo rankings have slipped as of late. They are still ranking strong on Google as well as MSN and heck, many of their Yahoo rankings are still very strong. But there was, in fact, some slippage and the client was concerned.

Well, first we know that there is more to web marketing than top rankings. In fact rankings are just a small piece of the bigger web marketing pie. I know that and you know that, but for whatever reason, we all still have to deal with clients that refuse to accept that. But that's a story for another post.

So what do you do in this situation? I know for a fact that the client's business has seen 100-200% growth year over year since we started working with them oh-so long ago. They obviously see the big picture, but they still come back looking at rankings. And Yahoo rankings at that.

Ok, so let's put the question aside about whether the client should focus on rankings or not. We know better, but they'll do it anyway. Instead, let's come at this from another angle.

Across the board rankings: Possible, but not plausible
From experience, we know that it's not that uncommon to rank semi well across the board on all the top five search engines. I'm looking at several rankings for this client that are in the top five on Google, Yahoo, and MSN. But it's not a majority. Looking deeper I see some places where they hold a #1 spot on Yahoo and Google but nowhere to be found on MSN. Similarly they also have keywords in top spots on Google and MSN and way down to page five for Yahoo. And even in a few places we see great rankings on Yahoo and MSN and piss poor showings on Google. Is this the norm?

Well, apparently it is. According to a recent study by the folks at Dogpile, there is less than a 1% overlap of top rankings between Google, Yahoo, MSN and Ask. That may or may not be surprising. After all we are talking about four different algorithms here. But what really struck me were these stats:
  • 88.3% of total results were unique to one search engine.
  • 8.9% of total results were shared by any two search engines.
That doesn't leave much room for holding top spots in more than one search engine. In fact, that means on any given SERPs page (results 1-10), you'll find only one of those listings on the first page of the <em>second</em> search engine.

It's interesting to note that Google has the lowest uniqueness value of each of the top four engines, with MSN being the highest:
  • 69.6% of Google’s were unique to Google.
  • 79.4% of Yahoo’s were unique to Yahoo.
  • 80.1% of Live’s were unique to Live.
  • 75.0% Ask’s were unique to Ask.
Translation: when looking at the first page of results on Google, three of those listings may be found on any of the other search engines. However when looking at the first page of results on MSN only two may be found elsewhere.

Chasing your tail - or just chasing rankings?
I politely explained to my client that 1) we'll analyze the situation and do what we can do bring the Yahoo rankings back up. And we will. But I also pointed out that 2) we don't want to make changes to gain Yahoo ranking that may cause him to lose Google rankings. Of course if the roles were reversed, if they had good Yahoo but poor Google rankings, we would upset the apple cart. But Google rankings are far more valuable than Yahoo. Sacrificing Google rankings for Yahoo rankings is just bad business sense.

So after analyzing the situation, what do we do if we feel we can't improve the Yahoo rankings without disrupting the Google rankings? Nothing. Because we all know it's not about rankings, it’s about business. A lower ranking on Google will most likely bring them more business than a higher ranking on Yahoo. (Your results may vary, contact your SEO for more details and take the most appropriate action as necessary.) So in this case the proper course of action is to do nothing at all whatsoever. Except to go back to the client and try to get them, once again, to look at the big picture and not individual rankings. Anything else is just a fool's errand.

January 22, 2008

Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.

If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.

Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.

Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.


Too true. Thanks for this article.

Here in South Africa the ONLY search engine is Google. So that pretty much cuts out the rise and fall in the other engines.

Excellent article.

'piss poor', have you been spending time in the UK? I didn't know this phrase existed in the US :)

The SEO & SEM industries are toast.

Good article, good to know/reinforce that you can't be top everywhere.

What I really want to understand (at some broad level) is what drives the differences. Our gift basket company ranks first page for New Zealand gift basket searches on google but is third or fourth page or worse for Yahoo. It seems we are so poor on Yahoo that we should be able to improve without sacrificing google rankings.

Are there any resources out there which cover the current best approaches for each engine, or factors which may penalise us on Yahoo. The difference seems so stark as to suggest maybe we are doing something to annoy Yahoo.

There used to be quite a bit on optimizing for each engine but I have not seen anything like that lately. Sometimes you can offset the on-page optimization by utilizing the off-page factors such as links.

Here here, the right honourable gentleman's 'piss poor' reference made me chuckle..

I just can't imagine it spoken in a US accent!

Some really cool stuff here, dude. Congrats on a great article.

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