Yahoo Displaying SERP Title Based On Anchor Text

The dichotomy of having a Yahoo directory listing has been known for years. You want a directory listing for the authority link and the improved Yahoo ranking, but your home page link will then show in search results with your directory listing title and not the page title you spent so much time crafting. Your site gets more visibility, but potentially suffers from lower click through. Even if you don’t have a listing in their directory Yahoo may now be grabbing page titles from another source that could potentially be damaging to your brand.

John Kline of SearchBliss called my attention to this through a thread he started at the Webmaster-Talk forums. John noticed an odd result with Yahoo’s SERPs when he searched for his site by name. If you search Yahoo for searchbliss you’ll notice the link shows ‘powered by SearchBliss’ instead of his page title.

SearchBliss doesn’t have a Yahoo directory listing so the title result isn’t coming from there. The site’s DMOZ listing is simply the site name so that’s not it either.

The culprit seems to be the free tools SearchBliss uses as linkbait. John lets other sites grab the form code to allow you to make use of his tools on your site. Each of these tools comes with an image link back to the SearchBliss site with ‘powered by SearchBliss’ as the alt attribute text. Search engines will generally fall back on alt text as anchor text for an image link. Yahoo seems to be using this anchor text as the link title because it’s the most common anchor text pointing back to the home page of the site.

I checked a few other sites at Yahoo with searches for the company name and all are showing something other than the actual page title. The sites I looked at were my own, some client sites, and a handful of other sites I know not to be in the Yahoo directory. In all cases something other than the page title is showing in the Yahoo results.

The Danger Of Using Anchor Text For Link Text In Search Results

For most sites this is not a big deal, no more so than the situation of being included in the directory. The majority saw their company name as the link in the results, but the SearchBliss case shows how this might not always be the case and it also shows how using anchor text as SERP titles can be dangerous for a site.

You’re probably familiar with the keyword phrase ‘miserable failure.’ A lot of bloggers not liking George W. Bush used that phrase as anchor text to point to his bio at the WhiteHouse.gov site. Consequently it if you search ‘miserable failure’ at major search engines guess what page shows up #1. The search is an example of the power of anchor text in rank, but let’s take it a step further.

Imagine that the term ‘miserable failure’ was the most used anchor text pointing to the page. If Yahoo is basing SERP titles on the most common anchor text, not only would the George W. Bush page rank #1 in Yahoo, but the link would be Miserable Failure.

So you’ve recently entered a new market that’s not overly competitive. Most of your competition has only a few links back to their domain. You decide to send links their way with the anchor text ‘domain sucks’ or ‘domain ripped me off’ or something else that sheds a negative light on their brand. I can think of a lot worse things to say, but hey it’s a family blog.

Admittedly most of the extreme anchor text would be quickly spotted. How about simply rewriting their page title in a more subtle way to reduce click throughs on their link? Many site owners would never notice. You would conceivably be giving your competition some links and perhaps improving their search results for certain keywords, but if you link to them from some bad neighborhood sites you probably won’t be improving their TrustRank scores with the links.

It’s possible Yahoo has some guards against this happening, but a hunch tells me they don’t. Yahoo using the information from their own directory in SERPs is something webmasters have been complaining about for years, but giving the control over the text displayed in search results to the competition is unacceptable.

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9 comments

  1. That’s true Deb. This isn’t affecting most of the time a site will show up in the results. The majority of the time it will show with the page title you created. The anchor text is being used only when someone searches for you by your brand. And even then it will depend on how other sites link back to your home page.

    Most sites will indeed show up fine. For most sites the worst case is they will show for their company name instead of their full page title. But some sites will be affected by this and may be affected in a way they would rather not.

  2. The negative effect was caused by Yahoo excluding our page title when someone searched for that exact term. We are in the number one position and we are close friends with the company in the number 2 position and we can say they get almost 40% higher CTR than we do!

    Yahoo are rumored to be bring out a meta tag similar to a noodp tag that can help.
    Heres hoping.

  3. Thanks Dave. It’ easy to understand why you aren’t so happy with the Yahoo listing. I think Yahoo should honor a tag similar to noodp, but even then what happened the the SearchBliss site could still happen.

    Here Yahoo seems to be using the predominant anchor text back to your home page as the text to display for the link in the results. Most of the time it will end up being your company name or domain name.

    I think for most sites this may be something of a non issue, but it can have some negative effects of it’s own. Not quite as damaging as what you’re seeing with your directory listing though.

    It looks like you’ve managed to sort out your issue. I just did a search for ‘web design Ireland’ and I see your site #1 along with some better text in the title. How did you fix things?

  4. Thanks Steven.
    Just saw the article on WebProNews.

    The issue has not been resolved. I am still seeing the company name.

    I read a thread on webmasterworld.com that suggested that a noyahoo tag or similar was in the works for the first quarter of 2007. I am thinking of removing our listing from Yahoo but from the looks of things, that may be an issue also.

    I’ll keep you informed.

  5. My bad Dave. I did the search in Google. d’oh. Force of habit I guess. I see Yahoo still just shows the company name. By the way I like your site. It’s a nice design.

    I think I saw that same webmasterworld thread or at least one similar. I do think Yahoo should honor a noyahoo tag too. I would think if your site has built up enough authority in general then the Yahoo link isn’t doing so much anymore. If you have enough links from other generally trusted sites you possibly have enough trust in the eyes of the other engines not to need the Yahoo link.

    Of course if you remove the listing you may not rank as well in Yahoo itself so it’s a tough call.

    It might be best for now to see if that noyahoo tag does find it’s way into this quarter. The noodp one was so popular I’m actually surprised Yahoo didn’t come out with something sooner.

  6. Nice Article. I mostly prefer Google.Yahoo seems to be using the predominant anchor text back to home page as the text to display for the link in the results which have really some negative impacts of its own. I agree with steven that for most sites the worst case is they will show for their company name instead of their full page title.

  7. This is great stuff. Obviously a little dated now, but well worth the read. I’m still learning in 2012. Keep it coming, looking forward to the next installment :)

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