A Search Marketer’s Review of Yahoo Axis

A Search Marketer's Review of Yahoo AxisIt’s been exactly two months (+1 day) since Yahoo launched their innovative take on search browsing, Yahoo Axis. This web browser extension and IOS mobile browsing app purports to “redefine what it means to search and browse the web”. If you’ve been using it, you likely have your own opinions on it. If you haven’t had the chance to check it out, allow me to provide a search marketer’s perspective, on and, review of Yahoo Axis.

The Yahoo Axis Trial

Before I get to the review itself, allow me to provide some background so that you can understand where my praise or criticism is coming from later on. As an SEO and search marketer at SwellPath, I feel I have a duty to know about everything that happens in the world of search. The feasibility of actually doing that is another story, but Yahoo Axis got on my radar and I felt I couldn’t ignore it. If I was going to be able to advise clients on what Yahoo Axis was, how to optimize for it, or if they should even bother with it, I needed to have a more-than-high-level understanding of it.

So, I started the Yahoo Axis Trial (#AxisTrial): a one-week test where I used the Yahoo Axis IOS app exclusively on my iPhone. I also dabbled in using the app for iPad and the extension for desktop Firefox, but my primary focus was on the iPhone version of Yahoo Axis. I search from my phone a lot and I wanted to see what it would be like to use this new app exclusively.

Usage Details for iPhone Yahoo Axis App Trial

yahoo axis search typesDuration

  • 7 Days

Number of Searches

  • 190 searches

Types of Searches

  • 67% Standard Usage: everyday searches for information I needed or was curious about. Same thing everyone uses search engines for.
  • 22% Comparative Queries: Testing to see how Yahoo Axis ranked webpages that have had consistent and predictable ranking in Google.
  • 11% Predicted #1: Long-tail searches using the exact page title of what I was looking for (mostly blog posts I’d written).

What’s Great About Yahoo Axis

After immersing myself in the world of Yahoo Axis for seven days, here’s what I found that was great about it.

Neat Visuals

The visual experience of Yahoo Axis has a dark tone to it, with heavy black and shinny silver/white gradient buttons. For a while, it’s pretty neat. Also, the results (unlike any other engine I’ve ever seen) scroll horizontally making it pretty fun to swipe through.

User Agent Selector

Why any user would be itching to change the user agent for Yahoo Axis is beyond me, but nonetheless, the settings allow you to view pages as iPad, Desktop, or iPhone. Site’s that redirect to mobile or desktop versions based off of user agent pick up on this setting and take you to the corresponding site. As a web dev geek, I thought this was pretty cool even though I can’t imagine many people using it.

Yes. This list is short. I feel bad that I couldn’t make it longer, but I was digging pretty deep to get two items for the “good” list.

What’s Wrong with Yahoo Axis

A full week was more than enough time to find a laundry list of things I didn’t like about Yahoo Axis. By day two, I was accepting that there were certain aspects that I couldn’t just “get used to” and were actual flaws. By day four, I was dying to go back to mobile Safari. Here’s why.

Cluttered UX and Difficulty of Usage

Yahoo Axis UXWhat first felt fresh and interesting about Yahoo Axis, quickly became one of its greatest downfalls.

  • Search results scroll horizontally which makes it literally impossible to visually scan for a good result. Each result is a large image that needs to be manually swiped out of the way so you can see the next one. You don’t get to navigate with your eyes to make a choice; you have to physically navigate through the search results.
  • Chosen search results slide pages up from the bottom instead of loading it in the current page. This gets annoying, especially when you just want to get back to the search engine results page.
  • Search options slide out from the left, so if you want to narrow to image search or switch back to web search, you have another direction of interaction to worry about.
  • Tapping the iphone menu bar doesn’t return you to the top of the page unlike in mobile Safari. To get back to the top, you have to accurately hit a narrow bar within Yahoo Axis.
  • Hiding an opened result requires two swipes. Yahoo Axis is touted as awesome because you never have to leave the search results. Well, getting back to them is a struggle. Basically, once your clicked search result slides up from the bottom, you have to swipe downward once to get it to disappear halfway and again to finish it off. Sometimes, though it doesn’t stick halfway through and “minizes” properly in one swipe. Even then, about 10% of it just hangs out at the bottom of your screen.

All of the above made Yahoo Axis notably difficult to use for the duration of the AxisTrial. By the end, it was not any easier to navigate but was actually more frustrating than at the beginning.

No Mobile Reading Option

One of the most critical aspects of mobile browsing (for me at least) is having an option to make a non-responsive website more readable on a small screen.

Apps like Instapaper and Pocket were awesome because you could use a bookmarklet to save something from mobile Safari and then pull it up in their app. Within that app, you got the text of the page in a highly-readable format. Now, Safari has a “Reader” option that takes care of that all within the app; you can convert a busy non-mobile optimized page to well-formatted text and imagery. Yahoo Axis has no equivalent option and it nearly made me insane (I have a two-hour commute on the TriMet Max each day and I read a lot of blog posts on my iPhone).

Color Scheme

The black color scheme with silver/grey gradient buttons that I thought was cool initially quickly became an annoyance. This one is highly personal, so I won’t dwell on it here.

No News, Local, or Video Search

Yahoo Axis has search options for “web search” and “images”. However, there’s no local search, new search, or video search. It’s a huge shortcoming compared to using Google through Safari.

Bogged Down Performance

One of the aspects of Yahoo Axis that made it the most difficult to use exclusively was how slow it was. While I have some web dev chops, I won’t pretend to understand the ins and outs of iPhone app performance. However, I can say that the performance while running a basic search in Yahoo Axis compared to mobile Safari is absolutely abysmal. In a highly scientific test (I counted seconds in my head), Yahoo Axis took between 7-8 seconds to return results for a search while mobile Safari returned results in 2-3 seconds.

No Page Loading Icon

One thing I’d never expect to miss is that little swirling page loading icon. Since Yahoo Axis is so painfully slow, you really don’t know if a page is just taking the standard amount of time to load (read: forever) or if your finger somehow missed the link. This honestly happened to me multiple times per day while using Yahoo Axis; it took so long to load SERPs or a page that I thought I must not have tapped correctly.

Yahoo’s Search Results

The worst part of Yahoo Axis by far, that puts the nail in its coffin, is Yahoo’s search results themselves. I’ll admit that I’ve trashed talked on Yahoo’s results before, but not until I forced myself to rely on them for all my search needs did I really understand how lacking they were.

Looking at my usage stats from above, I’m only talking about the 67% Standard Usage Queries I ran over the week. Again, these are searches I ran as a regular user and not as an SEO; I was out on the go and I just needed to look something up online. What I found while using Yahoo Axis is that Yahoo’s results were in the majority of cases completely unable to provide quality results that answered my questions. Looking for a restaurant using {name} + {location}? Of course, that should be first. Turns out, I have to swipe eight times to get to it. Trying to find that SEOMoz post about guest speakers at #Mozcon? Nope. Just results from last MozCon 2011.

Review Summary

I’d say I gave Yahoo Axis a more-than-fair chance. There were some neat things about it and I really applaud Yahoo for being ambitious and trying to re-imagine the search experience, but overall, it just didn’t work out. The re-imagining really just bit off more than it could chew in terms of screen real estate; the horizontal scrolling, pop up for pages on click through, extra navigation bars, and slide out search options are way too much for a mobile screen. On top of that, add severe performance issues and the fact that (IMO) Yahoo still has some serious work to do in improving the quality of their search results. Without question, I would not use Yahoo Axis again and couldn’t recommend anyone use it or even try it. I’m sorry Yahoo, I worked hard to give Axis a chance to win me over and there was a not-too-small part of me that really wanted to like the experience. It just couldn’t work.

For businesses, I feel like traffic from Yahoo Axis is going to be minimal. While people are definitely going to continue trying it out, unless Yahoo drastically improves its performance, I can’t imagine it’ll survive long-term as a significant tool. In terms of SEO, I was thinking to provide some tips to optimize for Yahoo Axis, but I’d say time would be better spent on any of the myriad of other things that could help improve your site’s SEO. However, if I’m wrong and you’re dying to optimize your site for Yahoo Axis, let me know in the comments and I can get started on a guide.

Bonus time!

Tracking Yahoo Axis Visitors in Google Analytics

Everyone here at SwellPath is pretty obsessed with data, so of course I wanted to see what traffic from Yahoo Axis looked like in GA. In addition to seeing what my own visits looked like, I wanted to see if anyone else was visiting sites with the new app. I’d made multiple visits to both and while comparing results sets so I hopped in to GA and immediately noticed an issue. No visits from Yahoo to the landing pages I’d been to on that specific day and no referrals from anything that looked like it could be Yahoo Axis. I immediately suspected that (gasp), Yahoo Axis visits were coming through as direct visits. I asked around for answers on Twitter for a while before I pulled over our senior GA specialist, Greg, so we could mind meld and figure out a definitive answer. What we eventually ended up doing was this; we opened real time GA, searched on my mobile through Yahoo Axis for the exact page title of a really obscure blog post that hardly received any traffic, and saw what came through for that landing page. A direct visit to that landing page (it was actually the only real time visit at that moment).

Yahoo Axis Traffic in GA

So, um, wow. Thanks, Yahoo. That means any search traffic that any website receives from Yahoo Axis doesn’t come with keyword referral data or even the referral source. As online marketers, we thrive on this data. In fact, we make huge recommendations to our clients based off of this data. Anyone with an interest in inbound marketing still hears the echos of when Google announced they were witholding our referring keywords from logged in Google users (damn you, (not provided)), but Yahoo is essentially witholding referring keywords and the referral source from 100% of their users. Bear in mind that the browser extension versions of Yahoo Axis do show up as a referral from (I feel like I’ve seen it come from as well).

So, unfortunately, if you’re hoping to see what kind of traffic you’ve been getting from Yahoo Axis. I think you’re out of luck.

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Mike Arnesen

Mike Arnesen - Director of Analytics & Optimization

A diehard SEO and web analytics geek, Mike is the Director of Analytics & Optimization at SwellPath. He is also a board member at SEMpdx. Mike's fascination for search experience optimization, structured data and semantic markup, and web technology knows no bounds. Beyond geeking out with SEO and analytics, Mike is also a prolific blogger, speaker (MozCon, SemTechBiz, SEMpdx, SMX, State of Search Conference, etc.), and company culture advocate. When not in the office, Mike is spending time with his wife, enjoying the outdoors, or keeping up with inbound marketing news via mobile; most of the time, it's all three simultaneously.

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8 Responses to “A Search Marketer’s Review of Yahoo Axis”

  1. Monthly Digest: Geeked for MozCon & New Blog Posts | Mike Arnesen

    […] for all my mobile searches for one week. Well, I finally got around to putting up a formal review of Yahoo Axis, complete with screenshots and pie charts! There’s also a great part in there that reveals […]


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