Yahoo! Search Marketing Introduces Targeting Options

Yahoo! has announced on the launch of additional targeting across both its search and content network.  They are set to introduce demographic, geographic and adscheduling options to their search marketing portal which will bring them up to speed with the competition in PPC.

There is nothing too exciting about the functions they are introducing they are all available on either Google or MSN already, but they are the first to introduce them all in one place.  Google has geographic targeting and adscheduling, but no demographic.  MSN has the demographic targeting (for what it is worth).  But now Yahoo! will have them all in one place, and their additional volume over MSN should make their demographic targeting more useful than MSN’s has ever been.

Its nice to see Yahoo! pushing forward with releases like this to boost their search offering as towards the back end of 2009 it appeared they may have been giving up the battle in search engine marketing.  The functions arent yet available in Yahoo’s Search Marketing Center but it will be interesting to see how effective they are once they are launched.

yahoo ad scheduling

Yahoo! Wins Keyword Legal Case

Yahoo! has won a legal case in the US which puts a different slant on brand and trademark infringement in PPC, but also goes to show the search engines have covered themselves against such cases.

As reported in media post, Yahoo has come out on top in a case brought against them by Heartbrand Beef, of Yoakum Texas.  Heartbrand, who claim to be the only seller of Akaushi beef in the US, didn’t believe Yahoo! should allow their competitors to appear on the keyword “Akaushi” as it was misleading to their searchers and of the products their competitors provided.  This would have been an interesting judgment had it gone the other way.  It is different to other trademark disputes of past or present as it wasn’t actually a trademark or brand term owned by Heartbrand, just a product exclusive to them.  I can’t honestly see how Heartbrand thought they were going to win this case but the result does go to show that the search engines are covering themselves for any such cases through their practices and T&Cs.  Google, Yahoo and Microsoft aren’t stupid, they aren’t going to open themselves up for potential legal backlash through the changes they make to policies, they are going to be pretty sure they aren’t liable before making such as Google’s most recent changes to trademark bidding.

This is not the first time the search engines have come out in battles such as these, and it certainly isn’t the final say in the argument over brand and trademark infringement in paid search.  But the more cases like this which come out in the search engines favour, the less chance there is of one going the other way, which in turn means less companies will be tempted to try their luck in the courts.

I predict in 12 months trademark and brand bidding in PPC will just be a common practice, give it 2 years and search engine marketers will be reminiscing about the good old days when there was no competition on brand terms and you got all the clicks for next to nothing.

Search Engines Feeling the Pinch

Although much has been said about digital marketing and more so, search engine marketing, being recession proof and the one area of the marketing plan which is set to actually benefit from recession, recent news stories indicate that this may not be the case.  It appears that Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft, the three major players in the world of PPC, are battening down the hatches for a tough 2009 in search.

Yahoo!

Yahoo! announced this week that it is shutting down its content network, a move which was met with nothing more than a shrug by the search engine marketing community, but one which could signal that Yahoo! is looking to cut back on its less profitable areas.

Yahoo shuts down content match in the UK

Microsoft

Rumours are rife that Microsoft are set to announce job cuts in the next week, with some expected on the search side of the business.  This is unsurprising considering the disappointing growth of Live search and the perceived lack of focus in this area, perhaps they are set to rely on the Yahoo! workforce and are giving away something about the merger rumours!?!

Microsoft Job Cuts May Come Next Week

Google

Surprisingly it is Google that appear to be making the most cuts, with the announcement it is cutting 100 recruitment positions (1% of the company) and shutting down 3 engineering offices.  The staff on the engineering side will be given the option to relocate but you would think a large proportion of them will also end up redundant.

Google have also announced the removal of a number of their product offerings and the discontinuation of development of a number of others as they look to focus on the products that earn them direct revenues in these difficult times.  The affected Google products are:

•    Google Video
•    Google Catalogue Search
•    Google Notebook
•    Dodgeball
•    Jaiku
•    Google Mashup Editor

Google to lay off 100 recruitment staff

Google closes a number of products

So what does this say about the confidence of the three biggest suppliers of paid search advertising?  It could be seen as good business sense on their part, sorting the wheat from the chaff so to speak and focussing on profitability in tough economic times.  Moves like this however can only result in Google extending their lead in the race for search engine supremacy.  The optimist in me would like to see Yahoo! or Microsoft being aggressive in a  push steal market share in the downturn, but maybe they are both resigned to the fact the only way forward is to join forces.

2009 is set to be a tough year for us all; some will fall, while others will prosper at their expense.  At the moment it appears even the search engines are jockeying to be in the best position as it appears things are going to get worse before they get any better.

Click Arbitrage – a worrying sign of Yahoo! in decline

I thought click arbitrage had died a long time ago.  3 or 4 years ago it was reasonably common for affiliate sites to buy cheap clicks from one search engine, display search results from a more expensive keyword on another, and make a profit based on the partner revenues they received.  But then Espotting/Miva began to die out, a major source of both the cheap clicks and the partner programme used to make money, and the search engines began to apply quality score metrics which penalised this practice on the basis it didn’t produce a positive user experience.

An illustration of how click arbitrage works is below.  Basically the website owner buys low cots clicks from long tail search works such, for example uk secured loans company, then displays to the user a page of search results for a similar, bu more expensive keyword, e.g. secured loan, as the publisher they get a percentage of click cost from the search engine whose results they dispay, and so long as CTR is at the right level, they make a profit.

Clicks from uk secured loan company

CPC

Cost

CTR to new search results

Clicks on secured loan

CPC

Rev share

Money in

Profit

100

£0.15

£15.00

15%

15

£10.00

50%

£75

£60

Apparently though, it is still around, and some people are still able to make it work.  In a list of the December 2008 top advertisers by search engine, ranked by ad impressions, the number one Yahoo! Advertiser was business.com, the business directory site who’s direct source of income is the Adsense links it displays in each of its categories.

If business.com are making a profit on this activity, and you would assume they must be to appear in the list, they have got to be one of the last click arbitrage sites out there.  Many companies use PPC to drive page impressions and ad revenue but very few are still acting as middle man in this way and selling on the inbound traffic for a profit.

It also bring into question the solidarity of Yahoo!’s client base.  If their top advertiser, admittedly by impressions and not spend, is a business is built on this model what does it say about their future as a PPC provider.

The changes in Google’s gambling policy have already removed Yahoo!’s one advantage in the PPC stakes, and no doubt significantly hit its PPC revenues as gambling companies shift funds across to their Adwords accounts.  And now this announcement saying that one of their biggest advertisers is an affiliate!  It doesn’t fill me with confidence that they are going to be providing any sort of stiff competition to Google in the near future.

For me this is further evidence that a partnership/merger between Yahoo! And Microsoft is the only way true competition for Google is going to materialise.

Microsoft Yahoo Deal on the Cards in Q1?

Ever man and his digital dog has listed this in their search predictions for 2009 and now Microsoft CEO Steve Balmer has hinted that if a deal is to be done between themselves and Yahoo, now is the best time for it to happen. With Yahoo searching for a CEO to replace Jerry Yang and Microsoft themselves appointing an ex Yahoo face, Qi Lu, ad head of online operations, the newcomers could spearhead any potential deal.

It looks like the only way anyone is going to mount a serious challenge to Google and a combined effort, either through partnership or purchase would see the search experience of Yahoo combined with the technical know-how and product development and of Microsoft. It will be a big challenge to catch Google and it will take number of years to get there but if a deal goes through in Q1 it is set to be an interesting 2009!

NMA news story