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Yahoo’s Secret Search Engine

Is Yahoo working in a secret search engine to replace Bing? According to a recent leak, the answer might be yes—and it may already be offering results to a small percentage of users.

Bing and Yahoo

A little background is in order. Most people think of Yahoo and Bing as separate search engines, which is true to an extent. Yahoo is its own company, has a search service and at one time was among the leading innovators in search technology. However, since 2009 Yahoo search results are actually delivered by Bing.

The truce is an uneasy one. Bing’s search engine does the work, but Yahoo’s logo is slapped on the results, and the two companies share the ad revenue. This is akin to both parties admitting impotence: Bing apparently didn’t think it could steal away Yahoo’s users and run the older site out of business, and Yahoo obviously didn’t find it cost effective to try to out-search-engine Microsoft. No one has expected the partnership to live forever: Yahoo will eventually double down on a comeback and either go independent or fade into obscurity.

But Yahoo hasn’t given any signs it’s ready for that move yet, and few in the tech community would say it’s ready to go solo.

Surprise Search Results

You can imagine some surprise and consternation when, in early April, a few users noticed Yahoo search results without the “Powered by Bing” logo that normally appears in the bottom. This raised the question of whether Yahoo is developing its own search engine and testing it on live searches.

Normally that’s a claim I’d be skeptical of, especially since the logo-free results were the same as the Bing powered results for the same search. However, a few things came to light that suggest Yahoo really does have something under development:

  • A leak talked to Business Insider and claimed that yes, Yahoo has built its own mobile search engine and is testing it on 15 percent of mobile users.
  • Following the leak’s directions, Business Insider was able to get mobile Yahoo results that differed from the normal Bing powered results.
  • Yahoo was vague in commenting on the story and did not deny (or confirm) that a search engine is in the works.

What It Means

I personally would be stunned if Yahoo made its break from Bing so soon—although starting with mobile results is a good way to test the waters.

In terms of SEO, however, this will not make a big difference. True, Yahoo will certainly try to make their results “better” than Bing’s (or Google’s), so they’ll treat a few ranking factors differently. But by and large, Yahoo is going to rank for the same things: valuable content, strong links, social signals, and mobile friendly design. If you have good SEO today, you’ll still have good SEO in world where Yahoo and Bing break up.

Which means we can all kick back and enjoy the show. Any bets on whether Yahoo can make it alone?