This week, Yahoo Search Marketing will begin truncating its sponsored search text ads after the first 70 characters. Many search marketers see the move as a positive one.
While some search marketers may miss Yahoo’s longer text ads, most see the move to match Google’s shorter listings as a positive sign of industry standardization.
The overwhelming response of search marketers polled by ClickZ News was that Yahoo’s December decision to shorten the display of paid search ads on its site from 190 to 70 characters will be positive for users and advertisers. Several SEMs agreed that this kind of standardization is a good thing for the industry, allowing advertisers to manage their keyword buys more easily, to compare results across engines, and to create ads that are more in line with consumer behavior.
“The shift to a shortened description reflects a growing trend toward alignment with consumer expectations and current market conditions. We also believe that growing broadband penetration is forcing users to think and act more quickly, in line with how technology in general is changing,” said Noah Elkin, director of industry relations at icrossing.
Yahoo predicts that the move will improve the end-user experience, and increase an ad’s clickthrough rate while maintaining conversion levels. Andrew Levasseur, senior search manager for Avenue A | Razorfish Search, said he has found that to hold true for his clients, when he’s compared short-form ads like those used by Google with the longer-form ads of Yahoo
“The short-form forces advertisers to be more concise, and to only include that important information that delivers results,” Levasseur said. “We have had the opportunity with Google to test short-form ads, and based on this testing have a better understanding of what works. We can now apply that learning on Yahoo”
Adjusting to the change isn’t as simple as porting Google ads to Yahoo, say many SEMs, noting that there are more differences between Google and Yahoo than just the allowable size of their text ads. “People are not the same at every search engine,” said Matt Naeger, VP at Impaqt. “You can’t just move your Google ads to Yahoo — you’re going to have to re-learn what ads work with Yahoo’s audience.”
By eliminating the variable of ad copy length, the move will make it easier for advertisers to compare the results of the same ads in Google and Yahoo, said Ben Wills, director of search marketing at Fortune Interactive. “Both engines have different demographics and this move by Yahoo could further highlight these differences. On an equal playing field, it will become more apparent to advertisers which search engine their target audience uses most frequently.”
Many SEMs said they previously used longer ads to better qualify clicks, providing users with more information to decide if they really wanted to see more before having to click through. Many SEMs have been voicing concerns about how the change will affect this in industry forums, such as Search Engine Watch’s.
“The Yahoo ads allow for a bit more pre-qualification of the click by clarifying exactly what the marketer has to offer,” said Kevin Lee, executive chairman and co-founder of Did-it.com. “However, only the Yahoo pure bid system allows for pre-qualification anyway. If one tries to pre-qualify the click in Google, the click-through rate and quality score drops and position drops, requiring a higher cost per click to regain position.”
Some Yahoo syndication partners will continue to display longer text ads, leaving SEMs like Levasseur to consider optimizing the first 70 characters, and counting the remaining 120 characters as “bonus copy.”
“There are situations where longer ad text really makes sense, but generally speaking shorter ads will tend to perform as well or better than long ones — if they’re well-constructed. I think this is because people tend not to read them closely, or completely in any case,” said Ben Perry, director of paid search programs at iProspect. “Yahoo doesn’t offer IP-based geo-targeting, so it’s useful sometimes to mention that a product is available in eight states only and display the state abbreviations in the ad, for example.”
Regardless of the number of allowable characters, SEMs insist that it’s what’s inside that counts. “Standardization of creative units allows us to focus more on the message and other key variables that drive ROI,” said Dave Williams, chief strategist for 360i.
“In the long run, messaging is probably more important than the shape of the ad. That being said, Google ads tend to get about double the click rate of Yahoo ads. Why? I’m sure Yahoo is working on figuring that out — which may be why Yahoo is going to the shorter format as a requirement,” said Dana Todd, EVP of SiteLab International.
One immediate benefit to Yahoo will be the ability to get more ads on each page, leading to more potential revenue from advertisers, Perry said. “The engines are also always looking for more ad space to sell, particularly search ads. I think this benefit far outweighs any benefit that a sub-set of advertisers get from the longer ad specs.”
Williams speculated that another reason Yahoo made the move is to get more ads above the fold on partner sites, making the fledgling Yahoo Publisher Network more appealing to publishers in its competition with Google AdSense. Another factor that may have driven Yahoo to make the change is the need to make ads more readable in a mobile environment, suggested Elkin.