Yahoo Media Group looking for a new ‘head of seo’….some thoughts

yahoo movies vs imdb

There was a fantastic guy (among hundreds, really) at Yahoo before I helped them hire their previous SEO manager, named Doug Hirsch. He went on to do an amazing startup, exit and is now doing something very cool, I’m sure. For almost a year long run up, before the hiring of the SEO expert for their team, I had a Friday call to coordinate some of the SEO strategies that the Movies team should implement. A lack of engineering resources, however, prevented a lot of the amazing stuff from moving forward.

Then later on, Doug got up in front of Lloyd Braun (yes, of Desperate Housewives fame – he seemed like a great guy but a bit out of his depth at Yahoo, since the Hollywood / Valley culture is so different). At their staff meeting, Doug highlighted what anybody with comScore access could prove:

If you changed the SEO numbers for Yahoo Movies and IMDB, Yahoo Movies would, again, be the number one Movies property online. Period.

Such a stunning announcement (with the metrics to back it up) should have moved Heaven and Earth on the priority scale. Unfortunately, you can’t do SEO right unless you resource it right. Ultimately, product and search engine optimization in a larger firm have to move in lockstep, with marketing also having a strong voice, as well as user experience.

The juxtaposition of cross functional specialization that needs to understand, embrace and evangelize SEO within a larger company is where Yahoo fell down, unfortunately. They have a global platform now (I’ve read it in the news, somewhere) since I left. As a result, that global platform needs to have SEO baked in…you can’t “bubble up” an SEO strategy and compliance from within a single business unit. As a result, this new hire position confuses me more than a little. Considering the incredible bench strength still at Yahoo in terms of SEO, search and related issues….they really should have a central product organization that combines SEO, Marketing, and UED. This way, they can build this in, evangelize at the top and really make strides towards the goals I helped define nearly five years ago.

In a recent earnings call, CEO Carol Bartz said, “We still don’t have SEO…”….odd, since they have so much going on already. Yahoo Answers is the #1 Q&A site because of SEO. Unfortunately, it’s also cannibalizing traffic that could go to various other parts of the business at a much higher CPM.

Please don’t go flaming me for this one guys – you know I’m speaking the truth. Just look at IMDB’s home page. Compare that, the structured archives, etc to Yahoo Movies – you can see I’m right. That “plan” to improve things was first laid down more than five years ago, I’m not sure what happened in the interim, but, there has to be a mandate from the top about SEO.

One final thought: tripadvisor was a potential acquisition target for Yahoo, to bolster their online travel efforts. They passed, as it was mostly an SEO play, however, it sparked the “revolution” that resulted in my hiring by the Search & Marketplace business unit. Years after Yahoo passed on them as an acquisition, tripadvisor is still the #1 travel site online, thanks largely to their SEO efforts. It’s next to impossible to find a category leader who isn’t also the SEO leader in the same set of keywords.

If something drives more than 25% of every healthy internet business, would you delegate that to powerless enforcers, or give that process a seat at the table where the real strategic decisions are made to ensure that for one of the media channels that has little direct cost, you’re the clear winner? I think the choice is obvious.