Yahoo's new Gemini platform lets advertisers combine purchasing for mobile search ads and native advertising, which until now have been offered separately. But Yahoo will have to work hard to get ahead in this fast-growing area, industry commenters say.
Yahoo this week introduced Gemini, a marketplace where it says advertisers can purchase both mobile search ads and native advertising inventory, in-feed ads that advertisers strive to make as interesting as other unpaid content. The move makes it more convenient for advertisers to purchase both products from Yahoo, optimize their ad spend, and enlarge their reach on multi-channel campaigns, according to Yahoo, which claims that Gemini offers advertisers "the performance and ease of search with the scale and creativity of native advertising."
But Yahoo, which is the third-ranked search engine in the U.S. behind Google and Microsoft, still has work to do to get ahead in mobile search, according to Dustin O'Dell, mobile sales manager with ad network AdTheorent.
"What type of audience still uses Yahoo to search, especially on mobile? I think it will be up to each brand to decide if they can find value in that audience," notes O'Dell. A Yahoo spokeswoman says the company does not break down what percentage of its search ads come from mobile search.
Tony Vlismas, senior director of marketing at Polar, which offers publishers its own native advertising platform, believes the move will, however, make the relatively new native ad format more palatable to advertisers. Yahoo is offering "a tool that mixes the familiarity of an existing product with a newer format where some players are only willing to dip their toes at first, or really have no idea where to start."
Mobile search is the fastest growing part of the search market right now and Yahoo is far from the only player trying to crack it. Users on mobile are generally searching with a specific intent to purchase and since their mobile provides location-based data, they can be more easily targeted with ads than those on desktop. But few marketers have yet to figure out the best format for ads on mobile.
Some believe that when done right, native advertising fits better to mobile than a display ad. "Banners and popovers do not work on mobile. Oftentimes the highest click-through comes from readers clicking them by mistake," says Vlismas.
But Yahoo and other players risk alienating users if they put too much native content into the feed. "With native advertising growing, will search results be overwhelmed with paid content? If or when that happens, the results could be similar to the low marks banner ads get," says Tina Cassidy, senior vice president and chief content officer at InkHouse Media + Marketing, a native advertising content provider.
Facebook already announced in January that it is phasing out its sponsored stories, after getting feedback that users were overwhelmingly annoyed by them. The quality that goes into creating a native ad is also important in its acceptance. "At the end of the day, native advertising needs to be compelling enough for readers to want to consume it," says Cassidy.
But O'Dell believes that ad relevancy trumps format. "It doesn't matter if it's an in-feed ad, a short film, or even a standard banner. If an advertiser can provide value at any given moment, then that ad has a greater chance of being successful," he says.
Ad technology and data processing power are just getting to a point to make this a reality, he notes. "I believe we will start to see brands really leverage data to make all their advertising as relevant as possible, which to me is the true definition of native advertising."
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Mary Lisbeth D'Amico is a freelance writer based in Jersey City who frequently covers digital marketing, social media, tech startups, and venture capital. She has contributed to a wide range of publications including The Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Red Herring, and Real Deals. Find her on Twitter at @mldamico.
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