Strategies for Yahoo!’s Shorter Descriptions

As of January 18, your PPC (define) search campaigns ad listing descriptions in Yahoo’s results are shorter.

In an attempt to increase CTR (define) and improve advertising yield, Yahoo has been reducing its display length for the description portion of its search listings from 190 to 70 characters. You may have received a warning email from Yahoo or read about the change in the media. Regardless of whether you pre-edited your descriptions or not, the policy change affects your campaign.

It’s no coincidence the new 70-character description length matches perfectly with Google’s and MSN’s descriptions. However, for the time being, Yahoo will retain the longer title length of 40 characters, unlike MSN and Google. Even so, many marketers and advertisers may feel the temptation to unify all their creative around the Google/MSN format, forgoing the additional title length in exchange for campaign simplicity.

That move may not be right for you. I’ll explain why, but first some background.

The move is both smart and dumb for Yahoo It’s smart because many marketers will move their Google AdWords creative directly over to Yahoo Most savvy search marketers have already paid close attention to Google ad creative, and those ads are often been written to maximize relevance and CTR. If a mass cloning of Google campaigns occurs, Yahoo makes more money as relevant, compelling ads replace those not optimized for CTR. In addition, Yahoo will likely be able to add one more PPC listing to the Yahoo SERP (define), increasing the paid listing real estate and upping the likelihood a searcher will click on one or more ads. Again, Yahoo makes more money.

But we’re marketers. We don’t really care whether Yahoo makes more money or not. Marketers are already managing chaos with different ad formats and different rules regarding when an ad will be eligible for display due to varied interpretation of match types between Yahoo, Google, and MSN.

Before you clone your Google campaigns into Yahoo, consider that any changes result in the ads going back through Yahoo’s dreaded editorial process. So first, evaluate if the truncated ads continue to communicate your advertising message appropriately. Many advertisers write their descriptions in an inverted pyramid format, so truncation may not be a big deal because the meat of the message is in the first few words.

Also, remember Yahoo and Google campaign structures are likely very different. Yahoo requires much more work on keyword expansion due to its standard-match-first policy. Though you may rely on Google campaigns running on broad or phrase match, Yahoo creative and keyword lists may need to go much deeper. In addition, unless you really want the highest possible volume of clicks from a listing, your ad creative may be better served with a clear message about the product or service you provide. In Google, less-than-compelling ad creative is penalized with a lower quality score. That results in a lower position or more expensive campaign.

If you decide to directly move Google creative over to Yahoo, you may want to select a vendor that can upload the creative through the Yahoo API (define) to streamline the process. Alternately, you may decide only your power keyword listings require immediate attention and review. If you’re a typical search marketer, your campaign keywords have very different click and traffic levels. The most important ad listings to review are those on ads that get the highest visibility based on impressions and position.

Another reason to keep Yahoo titles at the maximum length is that often, additional length allows you to more effectively communicate your value to potential customers. On the other hand, you may have already created compact ad titles that communicate with the same level of clarity as longer ones do. Google and MSN forced many of us to become experts at compact communication.

In the past, longer Yahoo ads allowed for a more click prequalification by clarifying exactly what you have to offer. However, only the Yahoo pure bid system allows for prequalification. If you try to pre-qualify the click in Google, the CTR and quality score drops, then position drops, requiring a higher CPC (define) to regain position.

The time and effort it takes to review your campaigns could be significant. You’ll find much of your time is spent counting characters. No word yet on whether Yahoo’s bid tool will display truncated results or not. My guess is it won’t, forcing you to either use the “LEN” command in an Excel spreadsheet to count characters or actually run the search on Yahoo to see where the cutoff for your ads will occur.

My team and I will be watching millions of listings over the next few weeks to get a better idea of the actual impact of the change. Interestingly, shorter ads may allow Yahoo to display more PPC listings at the top of the page, increasing the chances a searcher will find one or more they like and changing the dynamics of which positions are most coveted. I’ll keep you posted if anything interesting shows up as the data come in.

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