Yahoo Aims for Consumer Finance Ad Dollars with Revamped Section

While hardcore investors are online researching gold funds, Yahoo is panning for the precious stuff with the launch of its newly redesigned Personal Finance section today. The publisher hopes a more touchy-feely approach to finance will build a new audience of everyday home and retirement planners, which could help the portal strike it rich in ad revenue. Ad inventory within the area is already sold out for the unveiling, with placements going to T. Rowe Price, E-Trade and Intuit’s Quicken and TurboTax, among others.

Yesterday’s visitors to the Yahoo’s Finance section may have had trouble finding the Personal Finance area amidst a clutter of graphs, decimal points and links to stories with words like “chairman” and “shareholder” in the titles. “We just [weren’t doing it] in a compelling way,” said Yahoo Finance GM Peggy White, who expects “a big boost” in traffic to the new section, which is prominently promoted on the Yahoo homepage.

“CPMs tend to be considerably higher than CPMs in the investing category,” she said, referring to consumer-aimed financial services advertisers. More than a third of the top 50 online advertisers by media value in October 2006 fell under the financial services umbrella, spending a total of $83.3 million on Web advertising that month, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

The ability to reach young financially-savvy consumers could draw advertisers. A July 2006 Forrester Research report showed online research for auto insurance more than doubled between 2003 and 2006 for those aged 18 to 24 (up from 19 percent to 47 percent), ages 25 to 39 (up from 13 percent to 44 percent), and ages 40 to 54 (up from 13 percent to 27 percent). In fact, according to a companion Forrester report, usage of the Web to apply for credit cards, home equity loans and checking accounts dwindles as users age.
The revamped Personal Finance section was “designed with advertisers in mind,” said Richard Kosinski, business and finance category development officer for Yahoo. The company held 11 sessions with advertisers to assess their needs.

Budgeting software Quicken has exclusive sponsorship of the Tax Center; other launch advertisers include Lending Tree and Bank of America. Standard display ads, sponsorship-style placements and pre-roll video ads also are available. According to White, video content will be integrated throughout the section. The publisher will focus on behavioral and contextual targeting; for instance, using behavioral targeting, someone researching 529 college savings accounts might be served an ad aimed at parents.

Yahoo revealed a weakness with financial advertisers in September when it announced it expected lower than anticipated online ad sales in Q3 2006, particularly in the financial and auto categories. However, in September 2006, Yahoo Finance garnered the most unique visitors, nearly 6 million, compared to portal rivals MSN Money (5.2 million) and AOL Money and Finance (4.1 million), according to Nielsen//NetRatings. Both competitors have personal finance sections, featuring standard content topics, from debt management to retirement planning.

They each also offer personal budget management systems that require registration, which can be a rich data source for ad targeting and lead generation. While personalization through registration has long been a mainstay of Yahoo’s offerings, the company has chosen to launch its new section without a personalization feature, which might be added in the future.

That decision could have derived from the 49 pre-launch research sessions conducted with consumers. As a result, the publisher has come up with content organized into nine “resource sections,” some the same as before — but some new, such as Career and Work, College and Education and Family and Home. Real Estate is there now, too, covering topics like preparing a home for sale in winter. Each area also includes category-specific search, integrating Yahoo content appropriate for each resource section. Category-specific sponsored links, however, are not yet offered.

The publisher is also integrating user generated content from its Yahoo Answers section, featuring five editorially-chosen questions tailored to each resource category. Tabs for bookmarks, as well as and Digg tagging are also readily accessible.

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