Panama Rollout Progresses

Yahoo today opened up its “Panama” search marketing platform to new U.S. advertisers, following its limited release to existing users in October.

The “intentionally gradual” rollout is paying off, since the company has been able to develop the campaign management platform with feedback from early adopters, and be responsive to suggestions for improving the “transformative” upgrade, John Slade, Yahoo’s senior director of product management, told ClickZ.

“There were some folks that wanted to get in and start using the new features right away. Others may have business reasons to wait,” Slade said. “Different customers have different comfort levels. But now we’re ready to open it up to the masses.”

Yahoo will continue to add features into the first quarter, but Slade said the company is satisfied that it will be able to be responsive to the needs of a large group of advertisers migrating to the new platform. Yahoo showed off Panama in August at SES San Jose. It began a limited launch of the platform in October.

Next quarter, Yahoo will turn on the new ranking algorithm, which takes into account more factors than simply bid price to determine ad ranking, as Google does with its Quality Score concept. After that, Yahoo will roll out Panama to advertisers outside the U.S.

One of the underlying ideas of Panama is a desire to simplify the platform for new users, while retaining and building up advanced features for experienced users, Slade said. To that end, Yahoo has made initial sign-up a five-step process, which only asks advertisers for minimal details to get a campaign up and running quickly.

“We’re not asking users to learn to use all the bells and whistles the first time. Our testing has shown that people are not interested in learning the full complexity right away,” Slade said.

New users can get things rolling by providing regional targeting preferences, desired keywords, campaign budget, and ad copy for their first ad. Then the advertiser only needs to supply a credit card to launch the campaign. On subsequent log-ins, advertisers will be presented with the more advanced features.

Yahoo also streamlined its ad activation process, to get new ads online shortly after they are submitted, in most cases. Editorial guidelines will be maintained, Slade said, especially in certain sensitive categories.

The keyword selection algorithms are new to Panama, with collaborative filtering to recommend more relevant keywords, tailored to the campaign’s budget. The system is designed to prevent advertisers who set a low budget from bidding on popular keywords that will be too expensive to be effective within that budget, Slade said. Tools that highlight the interactions between keywords, bid prices, and daily budgets are available, but not highlighted to first-time users.

“In tests, when we included those capabilities, users found it complicated and overwhelming,” he said.

Another marketer-friendly move by Yahoo was to attempt to speak their language, instead of requiring marketers to learn to speak like a search engine, Slade said. Yahoo has also included ad testing capabilities in Panama, which allow for randomized tests of multiple messages and targeting values, or optimized testing that gives better-performing ads more exposure.

Yahoo has created an extensive library of help content and tutorials, available in an Upgrade Center on its site.

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