According to a thread in our SEO Forum and a post at SEO-Scoop, Yahoo is including pay-per click ads in its organic listings. To the casual observer, the ads are indistinguishable from regular listings leading some to question whether Yahoo! is selling rankings in their search engine result pages (SERPs) as well.

As mentioned above, the paid ads appear to be no different than Yahoo’s regular (organic) listings, however a little sleuthing will quickly reveal which is which. The ads er, search results in question redirect through ads.trafficleader.com. Here’s what TrafficLeader’s website has to say:

TrafficLeader’s partnership with Yahoo! Search Marketing provides advertisers with access to Yahoo! Search Marketing’s extensive PPC network. TrafficLeader is also a Yahoo! Search Marketing Platinum Preferred Search Submit Pro Partner, providing advertisers with direct feeds into Yahoo!, AltaVista, and AlltheWeb indices.

Some other tell-tale signs:

  • The title on Yahoo! differs from the actual title of the page linked to.
  • Yahoo! offers no cached page for the questionable links.

Need an example? Look at the number one result for the search “Missouri traffic tickets.”

The Yahoo! title is “Missouri Traffic Tickets” but it links to a page titled “USTrafficTickets.com - Submit a Traffic Ticket online!.” The link itself begins with:

http://www.ustraffictickets.com/default.htm

The actual link is to:

http://rds.yahoo.com/ (deleted for clarity)
http://ads.trafficleader.com/track.htm (more deleted for clarity)

Edit: FYI, the information above refers to a single link. Yes all Yahoo links redirect for tracking, but this one also redirects to trafficleader.com and then to the site.

Which leads to the big question: If Yahoo! is including paid ads in their search results, are they selling results rankings as well? You tell us… Do YOU think the example above got to be #1 on its own merits?

EDIT: It’s been pointed out to me that ustraffictickets.com does quite well in Google too. So they may indeed have earned their ranking. So I suggest you search for [Star Wars Birthday Party]. I’ve seen the birthdayexpress.com paid inclusion as high as #1 and as low as #3. Their “organic” listing has floated between #2 and #7, always a bit below the paid inclusion. They have a paid ad on Google for the same search phrase but are #24 in the results listings.