April 28, 2008

10 reasons why Yahoo search sucks

by Brian Turner

yahoo

Because Google is synonymous with “search” and effectively monopolises the global online search market, many of us look to rivals to at least try and even out the playing field.

The big problem is that these “rivals” often sabotage their own competitiveness by failing to focus on the user experience – despite the fact that this has been Google’s policy since inception.

For example, here are 10 reasons why Yahoo Search fails the user experience, and therefore cannot seriously claw back Google marketshare:

10 reasons why Yahoo Search provides a poor user experience

1. Domain name

If I want to find Google, I just type in a name. If I want to find Yahoo Search, I have to type in a sentence.

Example 1: http://www.google.co.uk – word
Example 2: http://uk.search.yahoo.com – sentence

No wonder Google as a name has become a verb in daily use for internet search. You can “google” yourself, but who is going to “UK Search Yahoo” themselves?

2. Cookies

When I use Google search, it at least remembers my preferences.

While privacy advocates have long raised valid questions about the implications of this, they don’t need to worry about Yahoo at all.

Yahoo search can’t even remember who I am. Even if I’m searching from the same PC, on the same IP, on the same day.

Every time I run a search on Yahoo search in a new browser window, I have to reset my preferences.

Only Yahoo could make protecting my privacy the centre of poor user experience.

3. Options

For tracking purposes I often need to look at the Top 100 results, not the Top 10.

However, if you click on “Options” next to the Yahoo search box, you are then prompted with two further options: “Advanced Search” and “Preferences”.

Which of these allows me to select 100 results per page? Usually the second one I click.

Google provides both options clearly beside it’s own search box, and Google additionally have search preferences under – um, preferences.

Google users who try Yahoo search and want to edit preferences quickly learn Yahoo calls these “Advanced Search” options.

It works against an industry standard that Google has set, and again, works against the user experience.

4. Sponsored results

Google always made it their mantra that the user experience should come first, monetisation second.

Yahoo follows the lead of more obscure search engines who figure that if they actually get any visitors, they should cash in on them quickly.

The way they do this is to try and throw in as many paid advertisements above the fold before a searcher can even get to the supposedly relevant results.

In other words, try and send the user to another page, rather than retain the user, or encourage repeat visits.

5. Paid results

While Google has tried to bend over backwards to preserve the integrity of its search results, Yahoo has traditionally sold out to the highest bidder.

So while again Google has tried to focus on the user experience, Yahoo has again tried to get rid of the user quickly.

If they can’t get the user to click on a clearly marked advert, they will sneak in a few in the “natural” results in order to get cash from user activity.

If Google Search had a motto for users, it would be “If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again”.

If Yahoo Search had a motto for users, it would be “Thanks for visiting, now feck off, thanks for the cash”

6. Search bugs

yahoo-error

Last year, Yahoo UK search (or is that UK search Yahoo?) had issues with their CSS values not loading up properly all the time.

More recently, I’ve been informed by Yahoo that I may have a virus on my PC.

While Google also has these messages displayed for certain spam bot keyword searches, Yahoo will throw these up if I use Yahoo Search too frequently.

In other words, I can search 50 times on Google without a problem, unless I’m searching how to hack a phpbb forum.

But I can’t search Yahoo 50 times without a problem, because it think the only time anyone uses Yahoo search frequently is if its a bot.

Yet another great example of trying to send away users.

7. Region specific

If I go to “uk.search.yahoo.com”, Yahoo doesn’t really seem to understand where I want to search.

Google makes this clear on their own country-specific search domains by having an option such as Search: “the web” or “Pages from your country”.

Yahoo waits until it’s presented the search box, the user has made a search, before saying “Oops! I’ve given you some results that may not be relevant to you. Did you actually mean you wanted to use Yahoo UK to search for UK results?”.

I think this comes under the heading “putting the cart before the horse”.

8. Culture, not Geography

Let’s visit Yahoo UK – oh, look – it’s actually called Yahoo UK and Ireland.

This is a massive cultural faux pas.

There are already significant cultural differences across the UK – England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

But Ireland itself – Eire – is a complete different country. It doesn’t have the same laws, the same government, or the same currency.

Ireland is also a country with a very troubled history with the UK – invasion, independence, IRA…

While English is taught as a language in Irish schools, Ireland has it’s own traditional language – Gaelic.

Funny – Google even has a Gaelic search engine.

Overall, Yahoo trying to lump the UK and Ireland together can only be explained as geographical convenience.

In doing so, completely overlooks the unique user differences between the countries.

9. Search suggestions

yahoo-search

A while back Google tried out search suggestions – you started typing a search query, and Google would suggest alternatives.

Yahoo decided to copy, gung-ho, and roll it out as a major feature of its search engine – possibly on the grounds that any gimmick Google could do, Yahoo could match.

Excepting that Google dropped the practice – an educated guess would be that Google tracked the process and decided it either did not add to the user experience, or even adversely affected it.

Yet it’s still there in Yahoo search.

So instead of being able to search for something, Yahoo now offers a complete reference list of alternative searches, and even provides alternative lists of alternative lists for users to use.

It gets in the way of the user experience, and offers nothing to it. In fact, it’s in danger of overwhelming or even insulting users.

At least if you may get something wrong at Google, they state “Did you mean … ?”

Yahoo, on the other hand, seems to be saying:

“Sorry, you can’t mean that. You must be a bit thick. Try these references instead as you obviously have problems using search engines. Maybe that’s why you’re here and not at Google?”.

10. Where?

I mentioned at the beginning that if you just want to use Yahoo Search, you have to type in a sentence in the address bar of your browser.

Okay, now that we’re at the end of this list, I’d like you to try – without looking – to find Yahoo search for the UK.

I’ll make it easy for you – I’ll provide a multiple choice:

1. http://search.yahoo.co.uk
2. http://uk.search.yahoo.co.uk
3. http://uk.search.yahoo.com

Without checking, would you know which one to use?

If you did, how you you communicate the URL in conversation?

Ironically, two of the above URLs work – the third leads to a 404 error.

The fact I can even pose this question speaks volumes when compared to finding Google.

Google can be found on all major domain types. Just type Google, add domain extension.

Yahoo’s country-level targeting is simply confused, and this confuses users.

Overall: Yahoo search has no user experience

Overall, the big problem with Yahoo search is simple – there’s no real focus on the user experience.

We’ve gone through all of the above issues, and haven’t even got to looking at the search results themselves, because there are so many obstacles to the Yahoo search user experience before even getting to results.

Yahoo could have the greatest search relevancy in the world, but without a greater focus on user experience, who is going to use it?

Yahoo as a company has constantly been overshadowed by Google. The problem isn’t so much the difference in business models, traffic, or monetisation, as much as that Yahoo doesn’t take the user experience as seriously.

While buying up social networking sites may show some degree of vision in the company, if Yahoo continue to fail to understand the basics of accessibility of their internet assets, how on earth will they compete?

The company seems unhealthily focused on the US and Asian markets, and doesn’t seem to take European – not least UK – markets seriously.

This has to be a serious business mistake because the UK and other European economies such as France and Germany are among the world’s most powerful.

Google reported this quarter that 51% of their profits were from overseas operations. 97% of Google revenues comes from its Adsense model, used on its own search and partner sites. Yet the Yahoo Publisher Network remains available only in America.

Perhaps if Yahoo were to open its mind a little and apply an approach of focusing on providing a great user experience, it might become a more serious competitor.

ADDED May 1st: Google’s Eric Schmidt is interviewed by CNBC and makes the important statement:

the Internet is growing faster outside the United States than in the United States. Also advertising online growth rates are higher outside the United States than they are in the United States.
You’ve got–and of course you have a weak dollar strategy–because the US has
a very weak dollar–so that also helps. For all of those reasons, revenue
outside of the United States should grow dramatically over the next while, and
that’s great.

Are you listening, Yahoo?

Discuss this in the Internet Business forums

Story link: 10 reasons why Yahoo search sucks

 

8 Responses to “10 reasons why Yahoo search sucks”

  1. Geld Lenene on April 29th, 2008 3:14 pm

    11. Yahoo Advertising isn’t available for (smaller) publishers in the Netherlands!

  2. George on May 1st, 2008 5:28 pm

    While some of your points concerning user experience might be valid, I believe some of them just appear advantageous for Google because in this comparison it is assumed as defacto standard – which in itself is probably not a neutral way to compare. Google indeed focusses in first instance on search, while Yahoo’s empasis is more on the portal functionality – in my view.

    Some thoughts on your list:

    To point 1. Domain name :

    You write: “…If I want to find Google, I just type in a name. If I want to find Yahoo Search, I have to type in a sentence….” while then you give the example of Google UK and Yahoo Search UK and refer the one as “word” and the other one as “sentence”.

    For me two words are not yet a sentence… ;-)) – However I don’t follow exactly. First you want to find Google, but then you are referring to the UK specific sub-search ?!

    If I want to find Google, I just type the name “Google” and it brings me to google.com. If I type in “Yahoo”, it brings me to yahoo.com. Both offer a search-box, while indeed there is a difference as Yahoo has an explicit search.yahoo entry. But if your aim is to get a search-box, it’s the same user experience: just one word and you get a the search-box.

    To point 7. Region specific :

    You write: “…If I go to “uk.search.yahoo.com”, Yahoo doesn’t really seem to understand where I want to search….”

    This is a question on how you define what the search-engine should understand what you want….

    Probably most of the people are happy with a broad search before deciding to restrict there search only to a specific country. The question whether it should be indeed the other way around if you are on a country-specific search page ?!

    Because I would see it rather that way: None of the two really understands where I want to search:

    If I go to “www.google.co.uk” it offers me as default “search the web” rather than “pages from UK”. Why is

    that and why not by default the other way round ? – In that sense, “uk.search.yahoo.com” behaves the same way : it starts searching the whole web instead of starting with UK search first.

    In my view this is rather an advantage, while then – at yahoo, I simply click on “in UK” and it immediately shows me the UK-relevant results – without having to hit again the search button, while with Google, I explicitly have to click on the radio button AND the search-button to re-execute the search. So this saves you one click in Yahoo.

    To point 10. Where? :

    You write: …” Okay, now that we’re at the end of this list, I’d like you to try – without looking – to find Yahoo search for the UK….”

    In my view, you don’t make it easier for me in providing me a multiple choice ;-))

    Actually, If I would want to find Yahoo search for the UK, I would use a keyword search – either in Google or Yahoo: entering the keywords: “yahoo search uk”

    Yahoo: 1st hit: http://uk.yahoo.com – 2nd hit: http://uk.search.yahoo.com/
    Google: 1st hit: http://uk.search.yahoo.com/ – 2nd hit: http://uk.yahoo.com/

    And if instead you vary the order of your keywords: “search yahoo uk”

    Yahoo: 1st hit: http://uk.yahoo.com – 2nd hit: http://uk.search.yahoo.com/
    Google: 1st hit: http://uk.yahoo.com – 2nd hit: http://uk.search.yahoo.com/

    I don’t want to go into the discussion on search-results and their order, because this is another endless topic on ranking, keyword order, etc. I just want to put a little bit of doubt on your scenario, simply because of the different philosophy behind Yahoo and Google and the fact that Yahoo has the portal entry “yahoo…” and the search entry “search.yahoo….”

    But to come back to your multiple choice:

    Well, you might know that “www.google.ch” brings you to Google China, “www.google.nl” brings you to

    Google Netherlands, “www.google.de” brings you to Google Germany.

    Knowing this, I’d like you to try – without looking – to find Google search for the UK ?!

    I’ll make it easy for you – I’ll provide a multiple choice:

    1. http://uk.google.com
    2. http://www.google.uk
    3. http://www.google.co.uk

    Without checking, would you know which one to use? – Two of the above will give you and error.

    And if you did find the right one, how do you communicate the URL in a conversation and explain the difference in domain-naming ?! For me it is not really obvious to use google.co.uk instead of google.uk.

    This is no offence towards you or anyone else whether from the UK, China or anywhere else from the world. I just wanted to show you that you can easily turn this example also to the disadvantage of Google.
    So whether you write:

    http://www.google.nl
    http://www.google.de
    http://www.google.co.uk
    or
    nl.search.yahoo.com
    de.search.yahoo.com
    uk.search.yahoo.com
    or
    http://www.yahoo.nl –> turned automatically to nl.yahoo.com
    http://www.yahoo.de –> turned automatically to de.yahoo.com
    http://www.yahoo.co.uk –> turned automatically to uk.yahoo.com

    doesn’t make a big difference for me.

  3. Brian Turner on May 1st, 2008 6:42 pm

    It’s okay George, those are good and interesting points and I’ll try to address them as part of friendly discussion. :)

    Firstly, I’m coming at this from a UK perspective, so there’s an immediate bias in that.

    Secondly, I’m just looking at search services – obviously, Yahoo offers more than just search as a service, but in terms of a dedicated Google search user trying to become a dedicated Yahoo search user, I find various obstacles, as described above.

    Onto your points, though:

    1. Word vs Sentence

    To go straight to Google search, I just type Google.co.uk. To go straight to Yahoo search from the address bar, I need to type in a string – involving search, yahoo, and .co.uk. [EDIT: whoops, it's actually UK, search, yahoo, .com - see how hard it is to communicate?!] It’s less user friendly to force users to do this.

    2. Region specific

    When I go to Google UK, it immediately asks whether I want to search the web, or pages from the UK. Sure, it defaults to web first, but it gives me the option to change that simply and easily from the start.

    However, on the uk.search.yahoo.com, I have to run a search before Yahoo even considers asking if I actually just wanted to search the UK. The option shold be provided at the start.

    3. Where

    There’s a strange application of national domain names, that means while some countries simply have a country abbreviation, others have a .co. before it. So you have UK domains as .co.uk (and Japanese domains as .co.jp).

    I think most country users are used to the convention, so a UK user would naturally look for .co.uk, not simply a .uk.

    This is where looking for Yahoo’s UK search fails – search.yahoo.co.uk results in a 404.

    Hope that helps. :)

  4. George on May 1st, 2008 9:41 pm

    Hello Brian,

    thanks for your comments. First of all I need to correct a little typo in http://www.google.cn (instead of ch) when referring to China – sorry folks in Switzerland and China to mix this up… I was thinking CN but was writing CH…

    I see now that – seeing it from your UK-perspective – the domain issues make a difference. Maybe indeed Yahoo could do a little bit better there, because they probably could re-direct.

    Actually I just realize that search.yahoo.co.uk works in my case and it brings me to http://uk.search.yahoo.com/ . So maybe this is no problem.

    I understand also that you _explicitely_ want to have the yahoo search page and not the portal http://www.yahoo.co.uk. But if you would accept the little extras, flickering images etc ;-) those points would give a different perspective – as e.g. on http://www.yahoo.co.uk you immediately get on the search-box the option to search only UK (like in Google). And you would not have to think about “search.yahoo” but rather stick to “yahoo”.

    But I understand you don’t want to do this – in which case you run in some of the above mentioned trouble.

    Well, for me it was interesting to see the argumentation from your side, while for me (in .nl) some of the mentioned problems are less valid.
    Thanks again for clarifying your points.

  5. jim on August 16th, 2008 7:00 pm

    i can not believe that yahoo is the most visited (besides google i believe) website
    i find no reason to even go to it, the only thing it has worth a crap is yahoo answers, and that even is flawed, limited, and you’re forced to check up on your questions every 2 days (around) or your question will be deleted… ALSO it deletes questions seemingly randomly, especially particularly important and/or informing questions

    i guess we have LOTS of ldiots who use the internet? (like mac users)

  6. Brian Turner on August 18th, 2008 9:05 pm

    I think it’s the free email that does it. :)

  7. Abbas Gadhia on September 6th, 2008 6:33 am

    Only reason why yahoo sucks

    With google
    1) type “google”
    2) Hit “Ctrl + Enter”

    With yahoo
    type
    1) search
    2) DOT
    3) yahoo
    4) DOT
    5) com

    its so irratating esp because of the DOT that is not in the most accessible locations of the keyboard( atleast according to me). Thats why I land up going to google most of the times even though I would have liked searching on yahoo

  8. Samwell Thiedelbum Crazengrossly Esquire on October 30th, 2008 2:18 am

    I agree with George; however, concerning keystrokes and length of web addresses we’re talking about microseconds here. Microseconds. Is it really such an ardous task to type the address in?
    Shouldn’t the main focus be on returned content? If you’re not going to focus on search results (which I believe to be a push) then yahoo dominates google. This is a business site, try comparing finance.yahoo.com and finance.google.com. Yahoo provides a more tailored, rich expierence. As far as being in the U.K. is concerned why not try local.yahoo.com?

    and finally,

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