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Yahoo - Bartz - Ramsey, + AOL + Microsoft on Display

  |  September 16, 2011   |  Comments

What does an upcoming strategic partnership between three mega providers of display mean for you as a PPC search advertiser?

At this point it's old news that Carol Bartz was fired from her position as CEO of Yahoo. It's even been a week's worth of rumors that AOL and Yahoo are potential merger candidates. Adding fuel to the fire is a recent announcement from Yahoo, Microsoft, and AOL regarding display inventory. According to Peter Kafka at All Things Digital, "Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL have agreed to sell each other's 'Class 2 display' inventory - graphic ads the companies can't sell on their own and would normally hand over to ad networks."

But what does Carol Bartz's departure or an upcoming strategic partnership between three mega providers of display mean for you as a PPC search advertiser? Well, there are lots of layers of potential ramifications.

First, let's look at the AOL/Yahoo merger. They both have a content-centric publisher strategy and their display inventory is heavily sold into the agency community as premium, "good neighborhood" inventory. The unsold inventory will apparently be cross-sold between the three providers before being released into the ad network and exchange marketplace based on the new announcement. Yet, from an M&A perspective, Microsoft is in a better position to take over Yahoo than AOL for the following reasons:

  1. The adCenter search integration is mostly complete and nearly all large advertisers and agencies are serviced by the Yahoo sales team.
  2. The U.S. government (Department of Justice/Federal Trade Commission, etc.) has already indicated that they may be uncomfortable with Yahoo's traffic being monetized by Google. AOL has a Google search monetization feed.
  3. Microsoft needs scale in adCenter and despite some bumps along the way is interested in remaining active (and a leader) in the search and display ecosystem.

Of course, some conspiracy theorists postulate that Microsoft may like to be in a position to take over the combined AOL/Yahoo entity. It's not likely that any M&A deals are going to be announced in short order because there are lots of moving technical, regulatory, and business parts. In the meantime, here are some things to consider.

With corporate turmoil, employees sometimes get nervous. So ahead of potential pink slips, Yahoo is at risk of losing some top employees. Don't be surprised if your contacts there get moved around even if they don't actually exit themselves. If you are an advertiser or agency that relies on the Yahoo team to do a lot of the heavy lifting for you in regards to competitive spending reports, or hands-on campaign suggestions, or implementation of suggestions, there may be some disruption.

If you are a big user of Right Media's platform for retargeting of searchers or site visitors, then some of the turmoil may already have percolated into that part of Yahoo's ecosystem with Ramsey McGrory, VP, Yahoo NA Marketplaces and head of Right Media apparently exiting recently as well. Google's cache of the Right Media Management Team page spidered on September 11 shows him listed, and as of this column, he's gone.

In this interim period, where Yahoo's leadership Tim Morse, formerly CFO, named interim CEO, we probably shouldn't expect heavy technology investments to be made for tuning Yahoo SERPs to make them somehow more relevant or innovative than current SERPs. Similarly, it's unlikely that any major investments will be made into Right Media's technology stack beyond those changes already launched in beta or already in the pipeline.

Assuming you don't see any staffing turmoil, your best bet is to continue to treat your adCenter campaign as an important conduit to great search traffic. There's no reason for you to let the corporate uncertainty at Yahoo change your strategy of optimizing for the combined Bing/Yahoo traffic source.

It might even be nice to call your Yahoo rep and reassure her that as long as the traffic from the adCenter platform continues to perform and can be delivered in the expected volumes, you'll continue to buy that traffic.

If you haven't been giving your adCenter account its due level of attention, then now might be a good time to resynchronize accounts, double-check your syndication settings (are you opted in to the: All Bing and Yahoo search networks and syndicated search partners, Only Bing and Yahoo websites, or Only Bing and Yahoo syndicated search partners?). These settings are at the ad group level (odd that they aren't at the campaign level). Check your device settings too. Perhaps "smartphones and other mobile devices with full browsers" is too broad a categorization as mobile device traffic grows.

Stay tuned as the saga of the Yahoo, Microsoft, and AOL "coopetition" continues.

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Kevin Lee

Kevin Lee, Didit cofounder and executive chairman, has been an acknowledged search engine marketing expert since 1995. His years of SEM expertise provide the foundation for Didit's proprietary Maestro search campaign technology. The company's unparalleled results, custom strategies, and client growth have earned it recognition not only among marketers but also as part of the 2007 Inc 500 (No. 137) as well as three-time Deloitte's Fast 500 placement. Kevin's latest book, "Search Engine Advertising" has been widely praised.

Industry leadership includes being a founding board member of SEMPO and its first elected chairman. "The Wall St. Journal," "BusinessWeek," "The New York Times," Bloomberg, CNET, "USA Today," "San Jose Mercury News," and other press quote Kevin regularly. Kevin lectures at leading industry conferences, plus New York, Columbia, Fordham, and Pace universities. Kevin earned his MBA from the Yale School of Management in 1992 and lives in Manhattan with his wife, a New York psychologist and children.

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