Yahoo Details Search Platform Revamp

Yahoo is today expected to share details of its impending search platform revamp, which will begin a phased implementation in Q3.

The new platform will add a range of features not currently available to marketers running their campaigns with Yahoo Search Marketing and its distribution network. These include keyword grouping enhancements, IP-based mapping features to support geo-targeting, better scheduling capabilities, the expression of business goals such as cost-per-acquisition, and indirect conversion tracking.

The company will also move to a quality-based ranking model, which will come after its market-by-market rollout of the new platform.

Tim Cadogan, Yahoo’s VP of search and sponsored search, described the upgrade in sweeping terms.

“We went about it from the point of view of our constituents, the advertisers and the users who ultimately look at these advertisements,” he said. “How can [marketers] spend money effectively? How can they identify and address a business goal? How do we provide insight — not just reports — that allows the advertisers to do something meaningful? It’s the difference between information and knowledge.”

The announcement comes today because Yahoo is releasing APIs for the system, which it must do to allow service and tool providers to prepare adequately for the changes.

Yahoo said it spoke with thousands of advertisers as it prepared to develop the new campaign management platform. It said “hundreds of thousands” of marketers use the system, hence the carefully phased rollout.

Following is a summary of the coming features and enhancements.

New IP mapping technology, courtesy of Yahoo’s 2005 purchase of WhereonEarth, will allow marketers to type a neighborhood or informal geographic moniker and have the place mapped to postal codes. Cadogan said it would “really help understand idiomatic expressions of user intent.”

The system will also let ads and offers be grouped and auto-optimized more easily. Whereas the current platform forces marketers to link a keyword to one title/description and one landing page URL, the new one allows marketers to rotate multiple ad executions and display the highest-performing ads more frequently. A “visibility quality index” will score ads based on quality, bid and other variables to enhance optimization.

New scheduling features will let marketers set up an ad or group of ads, run them during a specified period of time, and then pause the campaign without losing their ranking data. The loss of ranking information when a campaign is temporarily stopped has long been a bane to SEM pros.

The platform will have more transparency in the bidding process. A slider bar on the pricing page will let advertisers project their likely share of clicks based on a specified bid. “It’s an immense amount of transparency we’re offering compared with other providers,” said Cadogan.

The platform will also use cookies to track what Yahoo calls “Assists,” or conversions that happen after multiple clicks on the same advertiser’s ad.

In addition to its planning and targeting enhancements, the new platform will look quite different. Changes to the user interface include a simplified YSM control panel and streamlined content review process, allowing campaigns to be activated faster.

All the changes will be a shock to many marketers, hence the company’s plans to roll out the product and its features gradually over the coming months.

Yahoo’s Cadogan: “The reason for phasing is to get advertisers into the new system before we start modifying the ranking scheme, so they can react in their comfort zone before we implement that additional change. We want to walk advertisers through it as best we can.”

Executives also discussed some of the company’s more embryonic plans, such as offering demographic and behavior-based targeting, as well as consolidating display and search-based advertising into a single system, a la Microsoft’s plans with adCenter. No timeline has been set for these projects.

“We want to progress toward the point where things are integrated. It’s not necessarily one size fits all. It’s more of a federated approach, but making sure our platform supports all approaches,” Cadogan said.

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