Yahoo Trots Out New Search Ad Platform

Yahoo publicly showed off its in-development search ad platform, “Project Panama,” for the first time today at the Search Engine Strategies conference in San Jose.

The platform, set to roll out in Q4, offers advertisers a host of new features. Yahoo also plans to introduce a new ad ranking system in the first quarter of 2007. The latter rollout could come earlier, but Tim Cadogan, Yahoo’s VP of search, said that will depend on talks with advertisers. “Does it make sense to do this during the busy shopping season?”

Product Marketing VP John Kim walked marketers through the new interface. “What’s changing is that this new platform will be much more marketing focused… much more intuitive. This application is for managing objectives.”

In the new interface, advertisers will be able to choose sets of targets, creatives, and calls-to-action. “We’ll be introducing graphics and rich media, coupons, and phone calls. This will be very important in new channels such as mobile,” he noted.

He also promises better targeting. “We’ll have a better ability to know if searcher means Paris, Texas or Paris, France, said Kim.

When selecting ad groups, the advertiser can determine whether or not to manage contextual campaigns separately from paid search ads. The keyword selection tool will scan the ad’s landing page and recommend keywords and phrases. Collaborative filtering technology can be used to refine those suggestions.

On the new pricing page, a slider bar shows the number of clicks an ad should receive for a given bid. An estimated average ad position is also displayed. A new feature is the share of available or potential clicks an ad is estimated to receive.

Advertisers can also set up A/B ad testing and will have the option of the best performing ad automatically being chosen to run.

Budgets can be determined on both an individual campaign and account-wide levels, which will provide greater flexibility in managing search spend on both the micro and macro levels.

The most popular new feature, at least as far as the audience was concerned, is an option to receive account ‘alerts.’ “We will tell you if you’ve run out of money, or if your credit card has expired. You can click a link and take action to correct it,” Kim explained. In time, advertisers can set business rules as alerts. Yahoo provided examples such as, “Are new competitors entering the space?” or, “Is the campaign underperforming by 5 percent?”

Finally, the system will allow advertisers to see historical search data, such as original search terms high in the purchase funnel that lead to indirect conversions, based on search research and patterns. “Not only will you take the keywords into consideration that lead to conversions, but everything that led up to that final consideration,” said Kim.

John Slade, who heads product marketing, explained the new ranking model. “If the amount you’re willing to pay is not the only factor that determines the order ads are shown in, it’s going to be a better world. A high quality ad will be rewarded with a better position — based on bid,” he explained. “You will get a great position for less money.” This, the company hopes, will lead to a better end user experience and free advertisers from bidding wars.

As Yahoo migrates to the new platform, existing ads will continue to be served. The new interface will be available to advertisers in a “read only” mode. They can click the “go” button once they’ve had an opportunity to explore its features. Yahoo invited those present to join the early migration phase, a move greeted with great enthusiasm.

Finally, ad sales head Dan Boberg assured advertisers they can continue to work with third party tool providers, SEMs and agencies once the switch is made. “We’re working closely with third parties to make sure their tools are ready to work with the new application,” Boberg said.

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