UPDATE 6/16/10: OK, maybe I was a bit off on this one 😛 see http://techcrunch.com/2010/06/16/aol-to-sell-bebo-for-around-10-million/

Yahoo finally closed Geocities.com in a way that proves Carol Bartz & co. really shouldn’t be focused on search – they just destroyed millions of dollars worth of PageRank in one fell swoop.

As of this writing Google is reporting there are 7.45MM Geocities URLs in its index.  Click on any of those links like this one for Medical Online Glossary & Resources:


and you’ll see that the URL produces a 404 error on the search.yahoo.com domain.

According to Compete, Geocities had 10MM visits last month – a fair amount of which I am sure came from organic search.  I have no idea what those visits were worth but I would bet that it’s a lot more than $0 which is what the value of those URLs is now.

This is a classic case of an organization either not understanding or ignoring the value of SEO and if I were a shareholder I would be asking what would have been so hard about at least doing a global 301 redirect of the entire domain.

If you are thinking about turning off a website, before you do it might be well worth your time to call someone who knows something about SEO to understand how to extract the maximum amount of value when you do it.

When you shut down a company, you usually try to sell off the old office furniture instead of throwing gasoline on it and lighting a match right?

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54 Response Comments

  • Shimon  October 27, 2009 at 3:10 pm

    I disagree – each page’s PR didn’t have to do with Yahoo itself anything. It was personal to site owner. And them 301-ing everything into one place would be somewhat of stealing or at least not fare move IMHO.

  • Andrew Shotland  October 27, 2009 at 3:41 pm

    So you’re saying Yahoo had no right to do anything with those URLs except destroy them?

    If GeoCities’ terms of service page didn’t produce a 404 I could probably show you where Yahoo says they can do whatever they want with those URLs.

  • Richard  October 27, 2009 at 3:53 pm

    Love the picture, ties in nicely to what they have effectively done.

    Given the chance i’m sure you, me or anyone with half a brain would have done something a little more strategical rather than dropping a big A-BOMB on it and kissing it goodbye.

  • Andrew Shotland  October 27, 2009 at 3:58 pm

    Richard you know no self-respecting Kiwi would have pulled such a move 🙂

  • Keith Chapman  October 27, 2009 at 8:31 pm

    I had a GeoCities site I used for free excerpts from my books, usually the first chapters.

    I migrated the whole lot last week to http://chapokeefe.webs.com

    I’m now trying to figure how to change Google search findings for those pages from geocities.com/chapkeith to the new URL.

    If you google “Black Horse Extra” the second entry directs you to Yahoo’s “Sorry” page. And yes, they should be sorry and are a sorry bunch in another way!

  • Andrew Shotland  October 27, 2009 at 9:08 pm

    Those pages should be gone Keith as soon as they are crawled a few times. The bigger question is when is “Black Horse Extra II” coming out?!!

  • Shimon  October 27, 2009 at 9:32 pm

    Andrew, I am not trying to say that they couldn’t do that from policy standpoint. It would be just not nice. Also it would be confusing for a user to click on geocities link and get to yahoo.com

  • Andrew Shotland  October 27, 2009 at 9:44 pm

    It would be relatively easy to 301 these URLs to Yahoo search result pages with results that match the old GeoCities page. Not sure why that is not nicer then sending someone to a 404 page.

  • Shimon  October 27, 2009 at 9:47 pm

    Because that’s what the purpose of 404 page is – to tell that this location doesn’t exist anymore

  • Andrew Shotland  October 27, 2009 at 10:26 pm

    Right so you can do the “nice” thing & choose to 404 the whole domain, send the user to a brick wall & lose all of the SEO value or you can 301 it, maybe help the user slightly and retain some of the SEO value.

    If you go the 404 route you’ll probably want to use the 410 status code meaning the page is gone and no forwarding address is known.

  • George Revutsky  October 28, 2009 at 3:08 am

    Wow. Almost at a loss for words.

    Here’s another one.

    Yahoo has decided to pull social data NOT from Twitter or Facebook, but from a social search engine startup which pulls it from……. (drumroll) Twitter and Facebook.


    Maybe we need to drive over there and offer them a hoary (and whory) team of SEOs and Social Media consultants to handle these kinds of imponderable dilemmas?

  • Rk  October 28, 2009 at 5:49 am

    i am sure this is the start of the downfall of yahoo …

  • Andrew Shotland  October 28, 2009 at 10:04 am

    George anything to do with driving, whory and SEOs – I am there.

    Rk, Nostradamus couldn’t have put it any better.

  • Andrew Shotland  October 28, 2009 at 10:26 am

    Joe, ReoCities is pure genius. Thanks for sharing.

  • Stever  October 28, 2009 at 10:28 am

    This is not the start of the downfall of Yahoo. We’re already partway in.

  • seobro  October 28, 2009 at 1:17 pm

    In the future when yahoo (appropriate name) is no more, you can point to this as one reason. Content is king, so yahoo dumps most of their content and gets paid zero.

    OK some say it was costing a lot to host these zero pages. Please, bandwidth costs are dropping like a rock and hard drives are dirt cheap. I could monetize the content and get big bucks.

    What can we say…

  • Andrew Shotland  October 28, 2009 at 1:21 pm

    I am guessing the eCPM on these pages was close to $0. But to destroy it the way that they did is just boneheaded. I certainly would have paid them a lot for the domain, kept it alive and figured out how to increase the eCPM while bringing costs way down.


  • John  October 28, 2009 at 7:52 pm

    Well, the thing to keep an eye on now is whether or not Yahoo’s paid hosting service picks up business. While they don’t seem too interested in preserving the content or pagerank of their domain, they are definitely trying to push people in to the ‘premium’ hosting package. Now, I’m not sure if they’ve marketed this right, because they don’t seem to be doing much in the way of contacting Geocities site owners (then again, maybe my Geo account was under an ancient email address I’ll never see again).

    If they can convert 0.1% of their Geocities users into paying hosting customers, they’ll probably turn a profit on the switch. Even 1 out of 1000 is a big if, though.

  • Keith Chapman  October 29, 2009 at 1:29 am

    Far too late for that surely, John. All they did was make an announcement some time back on people’s GeoCities GCPs. The site owners have had plenty of time to go away and explore other free hosting options. And “free” was why most of them were there in the first place. I’d found GeoCities unreliable for hosting a regular quarterly ezine more than a year ago. I’d already switched that to another hosting service which is cheaper than the Yahoo option. The stuff I don’t want to pay for — free sample chapters from books — is now at Webs.com. Since I don’t use templates but go the HTML route, there’s no difference in how the pages look. What I won’t be getting, apparently, is free stats on visitor numbers etc. But at the end of the day, the only stats I’m really interested in are book sales!

  • John  October 29, 2009 at 1:47 am

    Yeah, I guess even if they do make a few bucks on the way out, they could have done much more in terms of optimizing the link flow and in marketing the option of switching to a paid hosting service. There’s no excuse for maximizing every available opportunity, especially in a company that needs some income and momentum. Since everyone came to Geocities for the free aspect, they should have at least been pushing some free trial to get more people to give the upgrade a shot. Now Yahoo just seems like they’re in a rush to find the exit, everything is shutting down and nothing new is replacing it.

    What is their business model without Geocities or search? Just a homepage/portal and an overpriced hosting service? I feel a little bad, like anytime a historic part of the web starts becoming irrelevant. Then again, I guess its been almost ten years since I built a page on Geocities and a year or two since I regularly used a Yahoo service of *any* kind, so I’m not sure what I’d really be missing other than a tradition and the illusion of competition in the search market.

  • Nick Stamoulis  October 29, 2009 at 7:10 am

    I think it is a good step for them. Yahoo needed to really trim the fat from their business model for quite some time now. It will be a good step for them in the long run.

  • simon  October 29, 2009 at 8:03 am

    Simple SEO like this is often times easier said than done with Mega-large brands/sites/networks.

    Oftentimes, there is legal red tape, financial red tape, or resources red tape that prevents what seems like such a simple fix from happening. I’m sure that’s probably what has happened here.

  • Andrew Shotland  October 29, 2009 at 9:55 am

    I don’t know Nick. It’s one thing to trim the fat, it’s another to throw out the bone that I could have used to make a great stew. Feel free to respond with your own tortured analogy.

    Simon, while I can’t rule out legal red tape 100%, they did own Geocities completely so I am not sure how 404ing a page is any different legally than 301ing it for them. Re resources it’s true that it might have taken someone a few minutes to put a 301 redirect and there probably would have been some ongoing server costs but seems like pennies compared to the lost value.

    I still don’t get why they didn’t just sell the thing. Demand Media or someone like them would have paid a lot for it.

  • Chris Eaves  October 29, 2009 at 11:31 am

    A 301 redirect would actually be an inappropriate thing for a Search Engine (they still have one right?) to do since it would violate HTTP protocol.

    301 means the location of the content has changed. In this case (however bad the decision) the content is gone. The most appropriate response would actually be 410 – gone and not coming back.

    It’s a little hard for me to believe that they couldn’t have turned 10MM page views/month into something profitable. Content Match ads? Something!

    But, this is just one of a long line of mis-steps Yahoo has pursued. I was an early customer and shareholder in GoTo.com, later Overture. Yahoo took that search business, destroyed it through neglect for 5 years, then tried to resurrect it with a half-hearted “Panama” update. It is still the worst PPC of YHOO/MSFT/GOOG. With all the crazy ideas they’ve followed, why they couldn’t devote development resources to such a clear opportunity like that — I don’t understand it.

    Also, when I first read the headline I thought it was referring to their new $100 Million ad campaign. It’s about You!

  • Andrew Shotland  October 29, 2009 at 11:52 am

    Chris, this is one of those philosophical things – certainly a 410 is the by-the-book approach – but if you want to try to retain any value SEO-wise the 301 is the way to go. And if you wanted to you could make a case that GeoCities is being rebranded Yahoo and all of the content is being “rebranded” as Yahoo search pages or something like that. It may not be the purest approach from a W3C pov, but that’s why churches do good business on Sundays.

    Total agreement about the It’s About You! campaign. I just don’t get how someone could have approved that budget. They would have been better off sending a check for $1 to every U.S. household and calling it the Yahoo Stimulus!

    Then again it looks like they got a bit of a traffic bump over the summer: http://siteanalytics.compete.com/yahoo.com/

  • Alex R.  October 29, 2009 at 11:56 am

    You are out of your mind if you think that Yahoo isn’t aware of how 301 redirects and pagerank work.

    I don’t suppose it had occurred to you that the google algorithm is changing in a way that negatively impacts how pagerank flows to and from framed pages? Or how framed pages are faring more poorly in search engine rankings? I would have guessed that an SEO professional would be on top of this sort of information.

    Perhaps you hadn’t noticed that geocities alexa rank has been falling steadily – from about 50 2 years ago to around 200 today.

    Perhaps you hadn’t considered how much it was costing yahoo to operate geocities?

    Isn’t it amazing that yahoo management, with all sorts of information about yahoos plans for the domain, weren’t smart enough to understand what is so obvious to you? Maybe you should send them a resume.

  • Andrew Shotland  October 29, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    Alex I am definitely out of mind for sure but I still think they botched this one up.

    Re the obvious thing, I can’t tell you how much business I and almost every SEO consultant I know get from companies big and small that for whatever reason overlook the obvious.

  • Alex R.  October 29, 2009 at 12:11 pm

    How many SEO “clients” of yours are search engine companies? I expect your get-rich-quick-scheme “clients” to be ignorant of many things. Even the “big” ones. But you probably shouldn’t impute the same ignorance on multibillion dollar international search engine companies.

    I have a hunch that in this case Yahoo could teach YOU a thing or two about pagerank and SEO – your own mighty PR5 notwithstanding.

  • Andrew Shotland  October 29, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    Hey Alex, not sure what’s got you in a tizzy today but I don’t think I’ve ever had a get rich quick scheme client – although I wouldn’t mind one because I imagine that would be a fun SEO project. If you must know several of my clients are top 200 Alexa/Compete/Quantcast whatever sites, get a ton of traffic making good user experiences, adding value to our fabulous digital community and all that.

    I am sure Yahoo could teach me a lot about PageRank and SEO as could you. We all have our different experiences with what works and what doesn’t. And in my experience Yahoo just flushed millions of dollars of value down the drain.

  • Chris Eaves  October 29, 2009 at 12:27 pm

    Not sure why you’re taking the article so personally Alex R?

    The main point is that it is a shame Yahoo couldn’t find a way to make a profit on 10MM visits/month.

    And, given that Yahoo management has a history of making poor decisions related to the search side of their business it is not a big stretch to second guess this one.

  • Alex R.  October 29, 2009 at 12:28 pm

    I don’t mean to chain post but I think a little elaboration is in order.

    1) If you redirect a page to another page that has nothing to do with the linking page or the anchor text, NO pagerank will flow anyway.

    2) If you redirect an entire site to one URL, a very small percentage of the pagerank flows to that page. And if that URL has content that isn’t relevant to the linking page, zero PR will pass.

    3) Google, yahoo, msn, and tons of other companies do not put ads on 404 pages. Most advertisers loathe having their ads served on pages that the visitor doesn’t want to see. Google has been sued over this, remember?

    So what do we have? Very little pagerank flowing, and you can’t serve any ads.

    Time to reassess.

  • Andrew Shotland  October 29, 2009 at 12:44 pm

    Isn’t chain posting what blog comments are all about Alex? 🙂

    Not so sure I agree with you about redirecting to a page that has nothing to do with the old page. I have seen plenty of examples where we have 301’d an unrelated domain, an unrelated page, etc to another URL and increased the rankings of that URL/Domain. I just don’t think the search engines are as smart as we want them to be. I do believe that it is much stronger to 301 to a relevant page because chances are the inbound anchor text to the old page contains some relevant keywords and the domains linking to the page probably have some contextual relevance.

    Re the putting ads on 404 pages thing, the 404 pages on search.yahoo.com had search ads on them however, in testament to the fact that search engine companies don’t always get it right the first time, they have now changed the 404s to 410s. These pages were producing 404s all day yesterday

    BTW geocities.com is officially gone from Google:

  • geobak  October 29, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    Closing down a piece of internet hostory is an idiotic move for my standards

    After all they could just keep them running and put some ads on these pages to get back enough money to support it

  • simon  October 29, 2009 at 2:14 pm

    site:geocities.com is showing “did not match any documents” for me.

    additionally, you guys keep rambling on and on and on about how Yahoo is losing out on the PR and SEO value like they need it. That’s like saying Bill Gates needs a $20 bill.

    Have you guys forgot about all the high PR sites that Yahoo already owns? Their homepage is a PR9. Flickr PR9. delic.io.us, zimbra.com, and the hundreds of subdomains all probably similarily high. I doubt the redirected PR value would help them very much to rank any better than they already are.

    i’m still gonna stick with my original claim that there’s probably some legal, financial, and/or resource red tape that we’re not privy to which has caused Yahoo to completely shut down Geocities instead of doing something else.

  • Andrew Shotland  October 29, 2009 at 2:25 pm

    Simon, first rule of capitalism = no matter how much you have you never have enough.

    I just searched “travel” in Google and Yahoo Travel is ranked #7. You think the GM of Yahoo Travel would say “no thanks” to anything that might help him/her rank above Expedia. Orbitz and the rest?

    I have no doubt there was some internal debate at Yahoo about what to do with the GeoCities domain but having been around enough big companies to see how they usually work, I am putting my money on someone at the top said “end of discussion – turn the thing off” without really understanding the consequences.

  • Marios Alexandrou  October 29, 2009 at 6:55 pm

    I can imagine Google (and Bing) doing something special (manual) in such circumstances so that the end result is one of their choosing i.e. redirecting the entire geocities.com could have just been a waste of time. Just saying…

  • Andrew Shotland  October 29, 2009 at 8:13 pm

    Totally possible Marios but you can’t win it if you ain’t in it.

  • Andrew Shotland  October 29, 2009 at 8:14 pm

    Of course if they were doing that why would Yahoo rank for anything in Google?

  • Charlotte  October 30, 2009 at 10:02 am

    This shouldn’t be a huge surprise. It wouldn’t be the first time Yahoo has done something incredibly stupid and flushed money down the toilet.

  • Chairman and SEO  October 30, 2009 at 10:28 am

    What are you talking about? The geocities pages have all been replaced with pages featuring several links to various areas of yahoo. Doesn’t look like they’re wasting any pagerank to me.

    I think you are grossly overestimating their revenue from geocities. How much revenue do you they get from 10 million visits a month? The ads were tucked in the corner and didn’t exactly stand out.

    Even assuming $10 per 1000 impressions (and that is definitely an overestimate) that’s one penny per visit.

    That’s 100K GROSS revenue per month or 1.2 million per year. Peanuts. Now think of all the costs involved. Now pay all the salaries and benefits. The cost of the servers and office space. They probably spent more than this on security issues alone.

    Geocities was a huge money pit and the model is sorely outdated.

  • Andrew Shotland  October 30, 2009 at 10:53 am

    Mr. Chairman, I totally agree that the Geocities model was broken, costly and something needed to be done about it. Just because Yahoo didn’t have a strategy for low cost/high eCPMs doesn’t mean it couldn’t be done. I am guessing that if I gave you control of that domain (a top 200 in the world domain btw) you could have extracted a lot more value out of it v. 404ing, then 410ing millions of valuable URLs.

    You are the Chairman and SEO after all.

    BTW here’s a great back of the envelope on the whole thing

  • Chris Eaves  October 30, 2009 at 11:03 am

    I was just thinking about how much the hosting of all those GeoCities sites might have cost, and it just doesn’t *seem* like it was all that much.

    I made some (very) general order-of-magnitude estimates this morning here:

    But, for a company that is actually in the business of making money on traffic it is odd that they couldn’t make the GeoCities thing work.

    Chairman is probably right, the upside was just not worth it in the scheme of things. But, that doesn’t mean that the potential was never there.

    This is similar to their PPC system. After years of neglect, it now seems like the best option is outsourcing the whole thing to Microsoft. But, during that same period of neglect Google created one of the most profitable business models on the planet out of the exact same business.

  • Craig Mullins  October 30, 2009 at 3:19 pm

    Currently in negotiations to buy geocities for $27.99 from Yahoo and get it running again!

    ok, maybe that’s true…

    WTF were they thinking? I’m with you!

  • Craig Mullins  October 30, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    Typo, for any of the Yahoo attorneys reading this. 🙂

    I am not buying Geocities.

  • Chris Eaves  October 30, 2009 at 3:59 pm

    Thanks a lot Craig, I almost had the deal closed where they would pay ME to take Geocities. Then, they heard of your sweetheart $28 deal and killed it!

    Well, I’ll just continue with my negotiations for Broadcast.com I guess.

  • Tim Conley  October 30, 2009 at 5:24 pm


    I think it was a bonehead move in that Yahoo! didn’t even put it up for sale. Geocities would have been a valuable business to the right buyer. I would guess it would have been worth at least $10mil.

    I’m sure 5% of the site users would have paid some money each year especially if they got some extra service above their free site. Say $10 per year.

    Great post to bring up the hidden value we all have in our businesses.

    I’m the guy who is @TimConley on Twitter.

  • greg cryns  November 2, 2009 at 7:12 pm


    I’m happy I found you and your blog. Very impressed with your social local article so I tweeted it. Does that sound funny to you too?

    I’ll be back.

  • Darby Sieben  November 2, 2009 at 10:00 pm

    It is a little surprising that Yahoo did not leverage the SEO indexation of geo-cities better. Yahoo does a pretty good job on SEO, I think there were so focused on eliminating this business unit that it become a rush to shut-down as opposed to a proper exit strategy. Perhaps one day this will make a good subject for a thesis on marketing.

  • Saima Farooque  November 4, 2009 at 1:58 am

    I love the picture..suits best for the topic !!

  • Benard  November 17, 2009 at 8:52 pm

    Yahoo should have tried to find a potential buyer

  • Robert  August 7, 2010 at 9:26 am

    Andrew – you should really save yourself some time and quit responding to ignorant wannabes like “Alex R” that don’t have a clue.

    I only had to read this far in his post in order to realize my assessment is correct:

    Alex R

    “1) If you redirect a page to another page that has nothing to do with the linking page or the anchor text, NO pagerank will flow anyway.”

    WTF are you talking about?!!

    Statements like that make me wish they never came out with those “For Dummies” books!!!


  • Andrew Shotland  August 7, 2010 at 10:15 am

    Now now Robert, my business model is to cater to ignorant wannabes. It’s an under-served huge growing market.