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What's Next for Yahoo!?

Kevin M. Ryan
What's Next for Yahoo!? Kevin M. Ryan

The practice of search engine marketing gets more complicated as each day passes. The unique demands of each advertiser in the space -- along with third-party agencies -- have to be met as the business of search evolves.

Yahoo is about to take another leap forward with a new release of its ad platform. While the interface hasn't seen a major overhaul in about two years, other providers like MSN have made great steps forward in how we think about and manage our search engine advertising initiatives.

The Yahoo methodology focuses on helping advertisers spend money more effectively, meet business goals, and provide insights that will allow meaningful action while providing a higher level of flexibility.

That's big talk for a big search site, so I asked Yahoo to allow me a sneak peak at its next evolution of online advertising.

Bold, flexible and targeted
The granddaddy of auction-based search engine advertising, Yahoo recognizes that search will continue to evolve beyond simply matching keywords to content. Any new ad platform will require a crystal ball component that allows for future scalability.

The new platform will be released in three levels. The first evolution is centered around new serving and data platforms and is nearing completion. The second, scheduled for release in the third quarter of 2006, focuses on making it easier to use and optimize campaigns while creating new advertiser experience.

Once the first two areas have shaken themselves out in terms of bugs, quirks and other unforeseen issues, the last stage of development will be the introduction of a new ranking model designed to encourage relevance.

Yahoo isn't saying much about the new ranking model but given the natural evolution of other types of search engine advertising platforms, we can expect a design that is earnings' report friendly while rewarding advertisers with a richer targeting experience.

Stop saying title and description!
The more immediate release is a new account management interface allowing for greater flexibility. Advertisers can "peel the onion" at various levels, i.e., managing at the keyword, brand, grouping or campaign level will become easier with a more intuitive graphic interface.

A new ad quality view will enable advertisers to make creative and keyword level decisions by rating each creative (formerly known as title and description) according to its relative performance in a handy visual reference representation.

There are two improvements to geographic targeting as well. On the front end, Yahoo offers a graphical representation in the ability to select geographically relevant areas for search listings. Yahoo's WhereonEarth acquisition provides power on the back end. That is to say, a plumber in Miami, Ohio can restrict unwanted clicks from Florida.

Fly on autopilot… or not
A new option allows an advertiser to auto optimize or manually optimize campaigns. Optimization can also be accomplished at the level of granularity you wish. This next generation tool allows for optimization using data from across the Yahoo network.

Another exciting feature is the "assist" category. Essentially, "assist" keywords will enable advertisers to assign a value to funnel keywords. For example, in order to achieve a purchase with the "iPod Nano" keyword, you need to be buying the keyword "MP3 player."

Using this knowledge base, advertisers can set weights for keywords and future tools will enable advertisers to assign value to funnel keywords.

Additional new features support multiple testing variations with automatic rotations and an alerts window that suggests solutions for potential problem areas. An advertiser can click into specific campaign management problem areas right from the alert.

Forecasting cool additions
Probably the most exciting area of improvement lies in the highly competitive arena of budgeting and forecasting tools. Several graphic tools allow for various aspects of budgeting and forecasting. For instance, advertisers can schedule the launch of seasonal campaigns like for Mother's Day and set budgets and timelines.

Advertisers will also be able to determine -- based on a Yahoo internal calculation -- what share of voice they can expect to achieve at each level of spending. There are also tools to help calculate click volume at various spending levels along with a means to view possible performance at each potential budget tier.

Since any publisher-provided share-of-voice calculation is highly controversial (think taking the car salesman at his word on mileage), the real challenge for advertisers will be accumulating data across an entire search initiative.

Speaking of thinking beyond the single provider mentality, it is worth mentioning that Yahoo set itself apart from other search providers by embracing developers in advance of the changes. Many advertisers rely upon third-party applications -- i.e., bid management tools -- to manage search engine advertising and Yahoo offered new specifications in advance to help them along.

Future developments
Yahoo plans further integration of rich media and other ad vehicles in future releases. Mobile phone platforms are being tested in Japan. Television applications along with mobile audio devices are also in the works. 

"One cannot survive with one pricing model," says John Kim, Yahoo's senior director, global product marketing. "The way advertisers think of the search model often lies in managing effective cost per acquisition but they also want to buy fixed and guaranteed inventory. We don't want the platform to be a container; we want it to match up business objectives with buying."

Overall, what impressed me most about the release of the new ad platform and planned future products was the strategic plan behind each roll-out. It appears methodical and relies heavily upon performance and advertiser feedback.

Of course, the mere existence of a plan is light years ahead of many other publishers in the space and those who would seek to advance the evolution of search and the online experience could take a page from Yahoo.

Tuesday, 2:30 p.m.
No communication from client. I don't even know what the presentation is about other than social media. I told her I would help with presentation preparation but have not heard anything.

Tuesday, 11:27 p.m.
The plane flight sucked. It was delayed two hours sitting on the tarmac, with one of those creeping "10 minute delays" that just get longer and longer. The client booked me on an airline with which I have no status, so I spent the entire time sandwiched in a middle seat in coach next to a mastodon and a rhino oozing into my seat. Well, at least there wasn't a screaming baby. That would have been too cliché. What it did mean, however, is that I really had no ability to work on the flight, and that was five hours of possible work-time essentially wasted because my client was cheap. Aren't I dragging my ass cross-country to do them a favor? So I end up getting wiped out while travelling with much less time to prepare.

It didn't really matter anyway. They did not send me their presentation until 10 p.m. for a noon meeting tomorrow. Time to take a look at the presentation. Well, at least the social life at the bar was OK, at least not 60-year-old insurance salesmen types. You have to love New Jersey. Why am I staying in New Jersey for a meeting in Manhattan?

Wednesday, 9:15 a.m.
OK, the hotel also sucked, and I am working on a three-hour time difference. A lot of suckage so far on this trip. I know NYC is expensive, but setting me up at a hotel that takes more than an hour to reach the client's office in Manhattan is ludicrous. There are a bevy of hotels within blocks of their office -- and they have vacancy, I checked. I would say I'm beginning to hate this. Then again, I didn't get much sleep. I was up till 3:30 a.m. editing their presentation, which was a disaster. Why do people do presentations in which it's obvious that they're just going to read from the slides? Does anyone teach anyone else how to present anymore? Does anyone know how to use the "Notes" section in PowerPoint? Arghhh! Well, at least I had a decent breakfast once I got into the city. Gotta love NYC for that.

Going into the client building now.

Wednesday, 11:16 a.m.
Needed to get out to take a break. She had not even read my presentation edits by 11 a.m. after I stayed up until 3:30! And the meeting is in less than an hour.

Wednesday, 4:07 p.m.
The one-hour presentation went almost three hours. It was obvious to everyone that she didn't understand social media. Worse, she made it appear as if the agency had been helping her on this. (Me!) The potential disaster has now progressed to a real disaster. Does she really think that using the agency as a scapegoat is going to endear her to us? I just looked like a total idiot in front of their senior management, and worse, she made our agency seem like we are clueless.

I have to go to dinner with her tonight and the rest of the PR team. I need a drink!

Thursday : 9:00 a.m.
First of all, I'm hungover and getting on a plane in a couple hours to go back to the West Coast. Last night's dinner was surreal. The feedback from her was that the meeting went very well and that her senior leadership was very pleased. Huh? It seems that they are even more clueless than her, so I guess any talk of Twitter or social media sites just went completely over their heads. I can't understand how they cannot have a single person on the client side in the entire company who actually understands the basics of this. They are a multimillion-dollar company! At least I got to talk to the agency who officially handles social media for their internal corporate communication group. They also understand how clueless the client is. It feels a little better to know that it's not just me.

Should our agency even be working with a group that is so clueless that they'll never understand the value we bring? I can't determine whether going to NYC was useful or not. I guess it was, but it was a colossal waste of time on politics. If the client was really competent, it would not have been remotely necessary. But then again, if they really knew what they were doing then why did they need me? Incompetence breeds need, I think.

OK, going to board the flight and go back home to handle my other two clients. Oh yeah, that's all on top of this. I didn't even want to write about all the work I have been doing for them on this trip, putting out fires at the agency, and making sure that the creative work gets done for both of them.

What this entire episode demonstrates is not that uncommon in our industry. No, it doesn't happen every week, but it does happen. What I am fairly sure of is that the client does not think about those effects. This episode demonstrates several aspects of client/agency life that I'd like to zero in on:

  1. Last minute requests by client -- Normal, but try to understand the impact this has. Is the request absolutely necessary? And how could it possibly damage the relationship?

  2. Requests that are not related directly to agency work -- Try to understand that the agency cannot service every client's needs if the retainer does not allow for it. Many will go to great lengths to accommodate, but if you are a client that often makes last minute requests, please understand that you should be willing to pay for them.

  3. Understand travel plans and the AE's ability to work effectively -- Last minute travel is especially stressful as many of these people do "attempt" to have some semblance of a personal life. If you are going to inconvenience them, make them as comfortable as you can while doing it.

  4. Lack of preparation by client -- The client getting their work to the AE late, causing further stress on the AE to accommodate them, is fairly common, but set your expectations for what you'll be able to get back in time. Don't transfer your stress onto them.

  5. Putting the AE and agency in a situation unprepared -- Especially with senior leadership on the client side could damage their reputation and potential for future work. Don't set them up to fail. Agencies are almost back to being stable. You can't abuse them like you did in the downturn and expect them to just take it. You could find yourself without an agency very quickly.

All of these issues, over time, damage the client/agency relationship. They damage the ability of the AE to work effectively for the client, and worse, they embitter the AE to even work with that client.

Every time the client loses an AE there is a learning curve for whomever has to take over the business. Every time an agency loses an employee due to client behavior, they have lost the investment they made in that AE. Not only that, but turnover is a key transitional time for the client to consider switching accounts. Losing an AE can cost you more than one employee because every time an employee leaves, especially to another agency, they become a potential recruiting arm for that new agency away from yours.

If clients are going to make last minute requests that will inconvenience your staff and cause stress, have the guts to make them pay for it -- the employee flies business class, stays in a hotel close to their office, etc. Make employees not mind doing last minute requests that throw their life into chaos. Make them understand that YOUR senior leadership defends their employees. Make them understand that you'll go to bat for that AE. The long-term benefits will far outweigh the short-term costs to make them understand -- and that understanding comes from actions you demonstrate to them.

Sean X Cummings is director of marketing for Ask.com.

2. Publishers will get comfortable with their content being read offsite.

Not only is the majority of content being consumed from within mobile apps, but also a growing percentage of the content is being hosted by platform providers. For example, Facebook has Instant Articles, which allow publishers to have their content stored within Facebook. This enhances the viewing experience as users see content immediately and don't have to click on a link that takes them to a publisher's site -- and away from their mobile app experience. Other platform providers like Google and Twitter are developing similar capabilities.

The downside of these initiatives by platform providers is that users will not always go to a publisher's website to read an article. As a result, publishers will need to get comfortable with their content being read "offsite," and they will need to find ways to measure how consumers are interacting with their content (and brand) beyond their own website properties. Fortunately, new analytic tools that provide a comprehensive picture of offsite and onsite user activities are becoming available.

3. Marketers will start leveraging content data to gain cross-platform visibility.

As marketers distribute content across a variety of platforms, they will discover that content performs differently on the various platforms. For example, a particular piece of content might drive more clicks on Twitter but more email signups on Facebook due to the nature of each platform's audience. As a result, marketers will need visibility on how their content is performing across platforms so they can distribute content effectively.

To get insights on content performance across platforms, marketers will start to use "content data" -- data that captures how different audiences act on content across platforms. This data will enable marketers to push past the limitations of traditional cookie-based marketing -- particularly important as more content gets read on mobile devices where cookies don't work -- and target audiences across different platforms with their content.

4.  Publishers will leverage their audiences to provide a new source of advertising revenue and to strengthen relationships with brands.

Top publishers are continually testing new ways to drive long-term ROI in today's shifting publishing landscape. From a subscriber perspective, a lot of emphasis has been placed on digital subscriptions and the use of paywalls, but the verdict is still very much out in terms of how effective they are.

On the advertising front, realizing they have a treasure trove of data about their subscribers, publishers will try to model Facebook's targeting approach and give their advertisers the ability to market to specific target audiences directly from them. In addition to being a new source of revenue for publishers, this will also be of benefit to a publisher's advertisers. Advertisers will have a new option that is different than the fraud-riddled ad exchanges they are shying away from.

5. Paid distribution will no longer be a dirty little secret for publishers.

Historically, it has been a major faux pas for publishers to pay for content distribution. While the decline of content's organic reach in social channels is no longer up for debate, many publishing industry pundits have clung to the belief that good content should and will find its own audience.

Good content might indeed find an audience over time, but it might not be the ideal audience and it might not meet business goals. As different content will likely resonate with different people, each piece of content should be distributed to the audiences that will help publishers achieve their business goals. As content consumption patterns continue to shift, publishers will need to use editorial content in new ways in 2016 -- be it justifying advertising rates and attracting new audiences or signing up new subscribers.

Now a valuable currency, content can be used to drive many business goals. For that to happen, content needs to get in front of the right people. In 2016, more publishers will embrace the fact that paying for content distribution to targeted audiences is the best way to do that.

6. Kittens will no longer cut it.

As marketers spend money to distribute their content, it becomes important to make sure that business goals are being achieved. Creating massive amounts of content and blindly distributing it across audiences and platforms will not always achieve business goals. Moving forward, content will need to be developed through the lens of business objectives, target audiences, and distribution platforms.

Marketers can better understand how content resonates with various, niche audiences across different platforms by focusing on measuring content effectiveness -- particularly against business goals. Looking at how the content experience and resulting target audience response differs based on distribution platform (e.g., Facebook, Twitter) is the first step to improve content creation and measurement.

In closing, 2016 will be an exciting year in content marketing. Marketers will develop a "mobile-first" mentality and become better at leveraging the platform providers -- both from a content hosting and a content distribution perspective. Content marketing initiatives will go to the next level in the year ahead, becoming much more effective at meeting business goals.

Yaniv Makover is CEO of Keywee.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia at @iMediaTweet.

"Businesswoman change landscape from dry to spring" image via iStock.


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