Ready for Its Future?

It’s been a big week for Yahoo On Monday, it launched its search engine redesign and a new look. The face-lift is only part of an initiative that seeks to improve the user search experience.

Much of Yahoo’s traffic is currently non-search related. With the redesign, search is reengineered into the site as a whole. Searchers will discover (or rediscover) the great user experience that comes with great search results. Yahoo will only show banners that are keyword related, hoping searchers will rediscover the banner’s relevance. During a phone conversation Yahoo Vice President of Search Tim Cadogan told me, “Yahoo search is dedicated to delivering meaningful search results to visitors and the best possible search experience. Highly specific, relevant commercial search listings play a role in the search experience.”

If you’re a large advertiser, you may know Yahoo is directly selling keyword listings to its very largest advertisers, integrating those results above the Overture listings. Given Yahoo’s renewed search focus, large marketers in particular should consider exploring direct relationships with Yahoo Several types of search inventory are available directly from Yahoo: keyword banners, special ad units, and paid listings.

In addition to the redesign, Yahoo’s acquisition of Inktomi closed March 19. When the Inktomi results show up in Yahoo, they’re likely to have the greatest impact on search marketers. The date for Inktomi results integration hasn’t yet been announced, but no doubt a plan is in place and moving forward.

Even without a firm date, now may be an the time to review XML and per-URL paid inclusion, not just for Inktomi but for the general search marketplace. Per-URL inclusion is most appropriate for smaller sites, while XML paid inclusion works best for large, dynamic sites where a wealth of content or product information may be hidden from search spider reach.

Control is another advantage of XML paid inclusion. A search spider, even when it finds a page, may not select the most appropriate content that best reflects that page’s essence. With XML paid inclusion, you and your paid-inclusion reseller can control how the page elements are fed into the search engine. Freshness is another factor marketers should take into account when considering this method. Each engine has its own refresh rates, but Yahoo’s upcoming XML results from Inktomi will be refreshed every 48 hours.

Don’t forget the value of listing in the Yahoo directory. Its annual inclusion fee is worth the investment.

If you have a large site and have considered XML paid inclusion or already use it, now’s the time to do some housekeeping before the Yahoo integration goes live.

Some tips, tricks, and strategies for XML paid inclusion are:

  • Take a fresh look at your site from a broad XML-paid-inclusion campaign perspective. This might include reviewing page content and structures. Determine if title tags, descriptions, keywords, and other elements are unique and will result in a good feed.

  • XML feeds are not keyword listings. XML is a way to describe a landing page to a search engine so it can display a relevant result. Each element in the feed will get search engine traffic for a variety of phrases, all related to your document.
  • Have a good copywriting team comfortable with organic search engine optimization (SEO) best practices (linguistics and phrase construction) and online marketing copy. The same team can work with your XML reseller to review the feeds and ensure they not only accurately represent the landing pages but also communicate effectively. SEO copywriters include SuccessWorks,, and Shari Thurow. They can teach these copy skills to your internal team, too.
  • From your use of paid placement, know which pages or types of pages have the best conversion to action (sale, order, etc.).
  • Have your reseller add tracking codes to each listing, or start a tracking session on the click-through. Know the conversion rate of your XLM listings and whether they meet your goals.
  • Keep a close eye on your most popular XML feed listings. Chances are they deliver the highest percentage of your XML traffic (the typical 80/20 rule). Those high-traffic listings are the most important aspect of your campaign. You’ll learn which listings deliver volume and buyers. Use data from successful listings to raise the return on investment (ROI) of your entire campaign.
  • If popular listings aren’t producing positive ROI, take action fast. They are burning your marketing budget every day.

You may spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on search marketing and not qualify for XML paid inclusion because your site doesn’t have enough content or product detail. In that case, the Yahoo team may be able to help by putting together a special package that includes sponsored listings in Yahoo that come in above Overture’s listings. These sponsored listings require significant commitment and deep pockets. Cadogan recommends you prepare objectives and strategy before inquiring about a custom, long-term listings purchase.

You must know:

  • Success metrics for the campaign.

  • What Yahoo keywords work for you (requires some geeky analysis of referrer data on paid listings).
  • What keywords you want to buy direct on Yahoo
  • What CTR you normally get for the ads you want to run. This is important because the Yahoo sales team will want to sell you the listings based on CPM, not CPC.
  • What price for the custom listings ads works for you — year round. It will be a long-term deal.

The new Yahoo benefits even marketers with modest budgets. Yahoo’s new search interface makes the shortcut to its Yellow Pages easier to find. That means you should consider a $25 “Sponsored Business” ad. As more people start using the new Yahoo search, those listings could really work for you. Larger advertisers can also benefit from Yellow Pages search traffic by taking advantage of the new graphical ad units in Yellow Pages results.

The new Yahoo search will enable preferences to be set by Yahoo user ID. That may open the door to even more enhancements. Some of these may be user initiated and eventually could result in a smarter search algorithm that knows things such as my Zip Code, preference for commercial/sponsored links, prior search behavior, even Yahoo Store purchase behavior.

There’s no doubt the granularity of that kind of information would allow Yahoo to increase revenue streams from marketers targeting specific geographies or types of buyers while improving user experience. As a marketer, you owe it to yourself to keep track of what Yahoo has going on.

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