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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Account Optimizations: YSM Blog Bites Back

In a post called "The Truth About Account Optimization," the Yahoo Search Marketing team have responded to what they see as distortions in the "blogosphere."

Ahh, the good old blogosphere, eh? It's great if they give you the thumbs-up, but when they call you on something, they really suck. They must misunderstand. And the Truth must be told.

All I did in my previous post on this one (other than joking around a bit) was ask for someone at Yahoo to stand up and be counted regarding the decision-making process that allows Yahoo staff to "help" advertisers with their accounts willy-nilly.

The response: a post by "Administrator", formally signed by "The Team." Is that any way to treat an old "blogger friend"?

The commenters on there, like Mel66, Jonathan Hochman, Ian McAnerin, and others, sure don't seem like cranks to me. And they seem none too reluctant to hop on to reiterate their disappointment with the way Yahoo has handled this particular issue. Forgive us, again, for not bleeding purple. We're just advertisers looking for real (not fake) transparency.

To quote one of the commenters, Al Scillitani: "Yahoo does not know my business, my products, my goals, nor what is converting and generating NET revenue me." That sums it up well. It is condescending to assume that SMB's are in particular need of "assistance" to the point where they need (opt-out) "help" with account management. That's implying that they're making mistakes with their accounts or are too stupid to run them. (Remember your churn-happy stockbroker friend? The one you broke up with in 1994?)

My money's not quite under the mattress yet, but...

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Publisher Ethics: Yahoo, Welcome to the Blagosphere

You can take the Yahoo out of the country...but you can't take the GoTo out of Yahoo?

Our industry seems rather talked out these days, but if you look hard enough, there is actually some discussion of Yahoo's recent terms-and-conditions update for the search marketing program, the crazy one that gives Yahoo the right to go in and "optimize" your search marketing account unilaterally. As benign as it may appear internally, and as infrequently as "bad" incursions may take place, a line has been crossed. Why is the line so obvious to the rest of us, and so invisible to Yahoo? Where does the buck stop, there? What spokesperson is willing to stand up and explain or defend this policy?

As difficult as the Google AdWords environment has proven to be for many advertisers, and as revenue-focused and self-serving as some AdWords features may be, I've always defended Google against unfair criticism by comparing their approach to that of their competitors. When it comes to hard-to-follow features, matching options, traffic segments seen as undesirable by many, and so forth, Google has usually gotten around to adding the crucial element to the advertiser-publisher relationship: the opt-out. Know which boxes to check or uncheck? Understand how to get reporting breakdowns by segment? Then you can protect yourself from getting hosed by Google and their partners. A high percentage of advertisers don't know how to protect themselves against things like Automatic Matching (or even what that means), but at least the opt-outs are available.

Although pretty heavy-handed in some cases, this also goes for Google's "optimization suggestions." While Google is pushing the "room for improvement" notifications a little too hard, in my opinion, at least they don't reserve the right to jump into your account and make the changes arbitrarily.

Yahoo has a long history of making it harder to opt out of various traffic segments. Always behind, bringing up the rear, being dragged kicking and screaming into offering superior targeting options to advertisers by the progressive force in the space (Google). Panama was a fine platform aimed at playing catchup, but came very late to the scene. Geotargeting is just one element that Yahoo brought late to the party, and even then, it wasn't ready for prime time.

Why does all this matter?

The search marketing and digital marketing industries have very little going for them if not for credibility and accountability. Today we have a golden opportunity to stand out and contrast with traditional marketing during the present weak-economy-driven "flight to accountability." A shame, then, wherever the story we have to tell has to be tempered with red-faced shuffling of feet: "oh, well, that part's still kind of shady... sorry."

And just look around at the negative examples in other walks of life: folks who clearly didn't get the concept of an opt-out check-box:


Bernie Madoff to investors:

Do you want your life savings to be placed into a Ponzi scheme and stolen by myself?

YES ___ YES ___

Rod Blagojevich to Illinois voters:

Would you like me to make Illinois a laughingstock by transforming this high office into the "eBay of government corruption"?

YES ___ YES ___


It would be a shame to conclude that waning levels of discussion and debate (and outrage) in our industry mean we've become immune to hypocrisies and arbitrary measures, based on a steady stream of "corruption news" in industry and government. Saying nothing is easier. But it guarantees that the imaginary "line" gets blurrier and blurrier, in all of our dealings. At a certain point that makes it difficult to function at all. (Book recommendation on this subject: Stephen M.R. Covey, The Speed of Trust.)

There is some hope. Andy Beal's post about Yahoo garnered the highest number of comments in the blago... sorry, blogosphere. Now if we can call on Danny for a well-placed f-bomb or two, well, all four of us remaining protesters will focus on looking good for the videocams as the digital powers that be bulldoze us six feet under and subsequently remove the evidence from YouTube (for a TOS violation).

Still not convinced this is important?

Let's look at some other billing relationships and how the provider might just "give you a helping hand":

  • Your cellphone provider: "We reserve the right to phone your ex, tell them you're miserable, and to transfer those stored photos of you sobbing, to their phone."
  • Your "Healthy Optimized Meal Plan" delivery service: "In place of your gourmet meal, we reserve the right to send you apple pies and/or bales of hay."
  • Your dentist: "If we think it'll make you look better, we reserve the right to replace real teeth with gold ones. Matching gold-look chains: complimentary! (Platinum: extra charge.)"
  • Your cable company: Hmm, forget this one. I'm pretty sure whatever it is, they're already doing it to you.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, June 04, 2007

Yahoo to Release Quality-Based Content Click Pricing

Today Yahoo! announced quality-based pricing for clicks coming from distribution partners in the sponsored search and content match programs. Similar in intent and implementation to Google's "Smart Pricing," it will automatically discount a publisher's click revenue (and the amount the advertiser pays for that click) by "a certain percentage" based on traffic quality as measured by conversion rates and other factors.

This systematizes the same process that has taken place with interactive ads for years: advertisers run tests, find out which sites convert well, and reprice their offers when they re-order, lowballing the low quality publishers.

My take:

This is a much-needed initiative for Yahoo!. Although it will initially dampen revenue, it will put Yahoo's relationship with advertisers on a solid foundation, allowing for future growth. I've witnessed first hand the slow increase in the ROI graph on Google's content network, to the point where we now feel confident bidding on this inventory in almost every advertiser account (although still lower than we bid for search inventory, usually). Smart Pricing has been an important part of this picture, as blunt an instrument as it may seem to some publishers. It's worth noting that by taking away ill-gotten revenue from bad publishers, these networks can afford to pay out better to quality publishers.

This initiative will further cramp click arbitrageurs' style, though not all forms of arbitrage will be negatively impacted, because not all publishers are part of the same content network (did you know that?) so different rules might apply. That being said, these distribution partners that are classified as falling under "sponsored search" appear to be subject to the new quality-based pricing; however, nothing some select partners won't be whitelisted or made exempt from the policy.

One possible criticism of such policies (I called this an "actuarial" approach to content pricing when Google rolled it out 38 months ago) is that it's a way of blunting criticisms of fraud-prone distribution partners without actually offending the partner network by taking direct action. In other words, it's an abdication of past responsibility for click fraud in the network, while trying to quietly rectify the problem. A further indication of a gradual acceptance of responsibility for the quality of the partner network is in point 17 of the FAQ's: "Although we do not currently offer the ability for advertisers to opt-out of particular sources of traffic, this is a feature that we plan to begin offering later in 2007." Good thing, because for some partner traffic, as far as many advertisers are concerned, the only smart price is zero.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, March 02, 2007

Yahoo Search Marketing Minimum Bids - UK vs. US

Yahoo has recently clarified that they'll be sticking with the $0.10 min bid in the U.S. and discontinuing grandfathered bids.

Which should make it surprising that they're dropping the minimum in the UK to 5p - except that 5p works out to roughly 10c. So it's about the same in both places.

Either way, most of the time these minimums don't matter. If your market is in any way competitive you'll soon be paying significantly more than this to stay visible, even if you're "lowballing."

It's interesting to notice that Peter Hershberg doesn't feel the need to couch this story as "under Panama". Peter's company does a lot of paid search. He understands that whether you call the platform Panama, Kumquat, Sasquatch, or Guantanamo, a minimum bid is a policy having nothing to do with the interface per se.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, February 05, 2007

YSM Confident in Canadian Rollout

Last week I attended the Yahoo Search Marketing launch event in downtown Toronto (held at Kai Lounge). It's intended to confirm to Canadian advertisers that yes, now you can use the full suite of search marketing tools to target just Canadian searchers; you can geotarget; and you can do all of this using the new Panama platform. This is now live with a full complement of support reps available to provide support and assistance. My company hasn't worked with a huge number of Canada-only campaigns in the past, but coincidentally demand for it is now picking up and questions about Yahoo are increasingly common now that companies are aware of it as a second option after AdWords. An example of a field where you pretty much won't be marketing "across the board" to the U.S. and Canada would be a highly regulated area like drug trials or pharmaceuticals. As another example, a major Canada-only ecommerce site I'm pitching right now will benefit immediately from the Yahoo rollout. Money will no longer be left on the table due to platform limitations. What were companies doing in the past? Well, nothing. You couldn't buy PPC just for Canada through Yahoo.

For those who are confused by this latest launch event - because it's the second time Yahoo has held a launch event for YSM in Toronto in the past few months - I think this latest was more of a "we're flipping the switch" reminder to a selection of businesses who are particularly plugged into the scene. The previous event was broader-based and intended to gain media attention and to introduce the local advertising community to a range of Yahoo execs.

Of course for oldtimers in the industry there was little new here, but the agency community and larger advertisers should take note that Yahoo consistently refers to the extensible nature of the Panama platform. Eventually (similar to Google's trajectory), you'll be able to bid on a range of media through the auction. That consolidation is healthy but it's going to be awhile before it reaches critical mass.

I'm not sure how accurate this is, but at a dinner following the event I was told that the Yahoo Canada team has grown to well over 100, currently all crammed into the Front Street office (though they're still on track to move to a more spacious location sometime this year). The team specifically devoted to search marketing is smaller, of course - Yahoo's a diversified company so that explains the "well over 100" number.

I haven't seen much coverage of this event, other than Sulemann Ahmed's brief overview. What Sulemann didn't cover was the door prizes. In keeping with the company's fun image they had a few giveaways for those who handed in business cards. After the first ho-hum drawing, all eyes were on the next prize: the video iPod. I apologized to the friend standing next to me, warning her that "I always win the door prizes at these things." The next thing you know, her name was being called as the owner of a new iPod! So much for me being evil. :)

The final door prize, dinner and Raptors tickets, was going to be a great way for me to treat some of my buddies, so I was really looking forward to winning that one. Unfortunately, Martin Byrne (Director of YSM Canada), the MC, called me over to do the drawing, so I was ruled out! A guy from Lavalife won it. I apologize for having trouble reading his name (small white print on a bright red business card). Or maybe this was because I still had my eyes shut from the random drawing process.

It is just good to see that due to an influx of full time Yahoo people in Toronto, there are more search-savvy people to discuss customer targeting with and to generally advance the cause. Some staff have been lured back from sojourns in the UK and continental Europe - call it Canada's brain gain. Yahoo plans a full slate of events to evangelize search to marketers in Canada, beginning with some introductory level academy type courses (by a third party company) at a very reasonable cost.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Saturday, February 25, 2006

Fixing a Broken Yahoo! Campaign? And They Said It Couldn't Be Done!

It's now available! Page Zero has just released the world's first Yahoo! Search Marketing Handbook, meticulously researched and written by my colleague Mona Elesseily. We appreciate all the input from the SEM community that helped in fact-checking and understanding advertisers' particular frustrations with Y!SM.

As you'll see, Mona doesn't pull any punches. And the 102-page illustrated guide to improved Yahoo! Search Marketing campaigns (formerly Overture) is practically formatted with action items that correspond to the analysis.

From readers, I've heard time and again that Yahoo! is just frustrating to work with. In fact this week, I heard that exact story in sales calls with prospective clients, both Canadian. One e-commerce project manager, from the government, had actually budgeted more for Yahoo in 2004, but found nearly all the legit traffic and customer support came from Google, so the budget for 2006 is being radically reshuffled. That's fair enough, though it's a shame, and she did take the trouble to point out that "Yahoo! are just hopeless! They just don't help!" Hey, don't shoot the messenger.

Another, a North American telecommunications firm, sang a familiar tune: "our Yahoo performance has just continued to drop as our business has grown -- mostly with the help of organic referrals and Google AdWords -- over the past three years. We call Yahoo up begging them, telling them we *want* to spend money with them, but we seem to get different answers all the time from uninformed reps."

But just saying that kind of stuff doesn't help you if you actually want to make money in this channel.

I've noticed people are now talking more about the details of how these online ad platforms work, especially now that MSN AdCenter and some other competitors are rolling out robust new services. And it's the details you need to master if you want to consider yourself an ROI marketer instead of one of those blase people who just "buy media." With Yahoo!, there are a *lot* of details. Not all of them pleasant. But if it's your full time job (as it is for Mona), isn't it time you confronted your demons and slayed that Y!SM dragon once and for all?

The regular retail price of the Yahoo! Search Marketing Handbook will be $64, but for the next couple of weeks -- call it March Madness -- it's 40% off, so take advantage now.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




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