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Tim Mayer, Who Worked For Practically Every Search Engine, Leaves Yahoo

Earlier I wrote about the depature of Yahoo’s Srinija Srinivasan. Yahoo’s lost another person, and another big figure in search, that of Tim Mayer.

Tim just tweeted, as shown above, that he’s enjoying his first “post-Yahoo” day. Tweeted using the Twitter account I personally set up for him ages ago, I might add!

Who Didn’t He Work For?

Where to begin with Tim? How about his LinkedIn profile, which recounts his storied past moving from search engine to search engine:

  • RealNames, in the summer of 1999
  • Inktomi, as director of product management, from 2000 to 2002
  • FAST Search, as VP & GM of web search, from 2002 to 2003
  • Overture, as VP of web search products, in 2003
  • Yahoo, as VP of search products initially in 2003 through his last job as VP for search market share, until now

To really appreciate the irony of search life that Tim’s experienced, he left Inktomi (and moved from California) to resettle in his new job with rival FAST in Massachusetts.  But a year later, in 2003, Overture bought FAST. And later that year, Yahoo bought Overture. That brought Tim back to California. It also brought him back to Inktomi, in a way, since Yahoo had bought that company in 2003 as well.

Remember also that Inktomi “powered” results for Microsoft for some years, as well as for AOL. Yahoo also later powered results for a variety of search engines. As a result, Tim has had searchual relations with practically every major search player out there, for over a decade, other than Google.

The Conference Scene

Tim was extremely well known to those on the search marketing conference circuit, a vet who could handle almost any question. He was to Yahoo for some years the way Matt Cutts is to Google, someone who knew the inner workings of the search engine and was often seen as a helpful resource.

Tim’s also known for one of the most famous quotes a search rep ever uttered at a conference, saying at a session on white hat versus black hat tactics in SEO:

If you’re being entirely organic and going after ‘Viagra,’ it’s like taking a sword to a gunfight. You just aren’t going to rank.

I think Tim regretted that honesty a bit, even though there were plenty in the SEO space that appreciated it. He later qualified it to say he wasn’t endorsing spamming, emailing me:

Yahoo does not think that spamming is OK. We are aware that spam (or over optimization) is prevalent in highly competitive categories and realize that many webmasters in these high reward categories are willing to take more risks and use spamming techniques even though they know the search engines may label their sites as spam.

I think one of the key things I brought up in the session was when I talked about where the line was between optimization and over optimization (spam). I said this may vary by industry as in very non-competitive industries, where very little optimization takes place, the line will be very conservative and there will be little room for aggressive optimization techniques. In a very competitive industry like ‘texas holdem poker’ where optimization is the norm, heavier optimization may be tolerated.

I would also like your readers to know we are focused on providing great results to our users and we spend a lot of time and effort neutralizing spam techniques.

Beating Google

Perhaps Tim’s greatest claim to fame was causing major panic and disruption at Google, when he stealthily maneuvered Yahoo into having an index larger than Google’s, for a short period.

In August 2005, Yahoo claimed to have indexed 19 billion documents, almost twice what Google was claiming on the figure it then posted on its home page. The jump surprised Google, something that Tim had carefully helped plan.

Google immediately reacted to try and debunk the claim, not wanting to seem inferior to another search engine in any way. Yahoo’s reaction was to largely chuckle.

By September, Google announced that it was again the most comprehensive search engine but that it also was dropping its home page count. And since that time, Google hasn’t publicly reported a size figure, though from time-to-time, it will reassert that it is more comprehensive than any other search engine out there.

My past posts have more background on the size wars and how little they’ve really mattered:

Still, there’s no doubt that Tim was instrumental in one of the few times that a competitor has really put Google on the defensive.

Not Married To That Other Mayer…

Speaking of Google, Tim shared a last name with Google’s well-known vice president of search product and user experience Marissa Mayer, but they weren’t related. Still, that led to one of the funniest things I’ve read in the search space, when the humor site Gray Hat News (now defunct), conducted a fake interview with Tim. In part:

Mayer: Well, don’t you want to discuss about Yahoo saying they don’t want to be number one in search?

GHN: Not yet. So what was your surname before you married Marissa?

Mayer: My wife’s called Christa. We could talk about the latest Yahoo weather update?

GHN: Yeah in a bit. What’s it like being married to Larry’s ex?

You can still find the whole thing on the Internet Archive, here.

What’s next for Tim? Don’t know yet other than he said he’s exploring new opportunities. I’ll post a more specific update, if I get one.

All the best, Tim. Drop us all an email from Google 🙂

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