I had lunch with Tim Mayer of Yahoo yesterday. I'd heard he was "looking for me," at PubCon one night in the hotel bar, and figured it was because we broke news on the SiteMatch product a little earlier than Yahoo would have liked. So I kind of avoided him after that :)
But he caught up with me in New York and we sat down for a "little chat."
Once we cleared the air we had an interesting half an hour of conversation ranging from blackhat seo techniques to the future of AltaVista and AllTheWeb.
In certain forums, he said, where veteran members discuss blackhat seo techniques freely, newer members use these techniques on their own sites and then get banned. I asked Tim about somehow warning webmasters that they're using blackhat techniques, thereby protecting those who inadvertently cross the line.
He said, "we do warn them. We ban them."
He pointed out first how difficult notifying offenders would be, given that webmasters often falsify their whois data. Secondly, he said that every blackhat technique has an arguably legitimate use, even cloaking. (Though 95% of the time he sees such techniques it's spam.)
Also, issuing warnings would notify optimizers where the "spam lines" are, meaning that if he told BobsTravelWorld.com that they have too many links on a page, Bob would be able to bring that link count to just under the maximum amount Yahoo allows. (Not that the number of links on the page is or isn't something Yahoo's bot uses to flag spam - just an example Tim used.)
Tim also mentioned that alltheweb and AltaVista could soon have their own distinct algorithms and indices. The results will still be relevant, he said, but different.
This reminded me of Greg Jarboe's "search as media" concept that rocked my world last December. The concept was obviously not new to Tim - he said Fast, one of the many search engines he's worked on, originally started as a search engine for women.
Though he didn't touch on timeline or any other specifics, he did make it clear that alltheweb and AltaVista will eventually have different results.
I think that's smart, especially in light of Bob Davis's remarks (Bob Davis sold Lycos for 12.5 billion in '99 and now funds companies through Highland Capital) in an earlier session that the future of search is in verticals. I'm excited to see how Yahoo positions their less prominent engines, and what search products they develop around them.
To show my appreciation to Tim for chatting with me (without pr around even), today is officially my all Yahoo search day. I'll let you know if I decide to change my homepage.