Yahoo Ups the Mobile Ante

Yahoo is counting on user adoption of its new mobile search and content platform to boost ad inventory and create broader mobile reach for advertisers. Along with promoting the new Yahoo Go for Mobile 2.0 application to its huge online audience, the publisher hopes pre-bundling of the app on devices from Samsung and Motorola will also grow market share. The publisher’s new wireless search service has also been designed to speed up information gathering for users in the hopes of boosting usage.

“With Go 2.0, we’re now going to be able to grow the client [application] inventory,” said Yahoo Senior Director of Global Mobile Products Ojas Rege. The company will now offer display ads targeted based on content and behavioral data, or targeted to specific carriers. No new advertisers are running ads in conjunction with the platform launch, Rege added, mentioning Pepsi as a recent mobile advertiser.

Yahoo will also continue selling sponsored mobile text listings, now through its oneSearch service, which will be the default search technology for the new platform as well as its other mobile Web and SMS services. Rather than listing Web links to traditional sites, the search service offers up category-specific data based on keyword searches. The content platform, now in beta, allows users to toggle from one content-specific area to another, accessing customized information and RSS feeds, and providing search results relevant to that category.

“The mobile search experience has to be completely different than the PC search experience,” said Rege.

Indeed, recognizing the need to provide quick bits of information with minimal click-through, the new search service provides users who enter terms like “Broncos” or “Beyonce” with data on sports scores or celebrity break-ups instead of just links to sports or entertainment news sites.

“Applications like [Yahoo’s] make mobile content easier to find,” said Christine Overby, principal analyst at Forrester Research. “One of the reasons we find a dearth of [mobile ad] campaigns in the U.S. is it’s so difficult for consumers to find things either on their phone or their network.”

According to a mobile marketing paper published by Forrester last month, 11 percent of U.S. mobile consumers use the mobile Internet.

Go 2.0’s segments content areas into categories including News, Sports, Finance and Entertainment. The Local section offers city guides and rated business listings, along with local news, weather and traffic. In addition to e-mail and SMS messaging, the platform also integrates Flickr, Yahoo’s photo-sharing and management service, allowing users to tag and post photos from their phones to their Flickr accounts.

Besides promoting the mobile services to its Web audience, Yahoo has set up several distribution partnerships. Samsung will pre-load the new search service and content platform on mobile phones around the world, and Motorola will pre-install the Go 2.0 application in its mobile devices this year. Yahoo has also extended its relationships with Nokia and Blackberry maker Research In Motion, making the platform available to Blackberry and Nokia device users in 2007. In addition, oneSearch will be the exclusive search provider for Opera mobile browsers.

Mobile Marketing Association Executive Director Laura Marriott likens the approach to Microsoft’s software distribution partnerships. The relationships “might help drive early adoption” by users, she added.

Yahoo also aims to derive revenue from its mobile offerings through alignments like the one it announced late last year with Vodafone; the U.K. wireless carrier is using Yahoo as its exclusive mobile display ad provider.

Samsung and Yahoo rival Google are also pairing up to promote Google mobile applications in Samsung phones this year. Selected handsets will include Google Maps and Gmail applications, and enable easy access to Google search. Google offers a mobile version of its AdWords text link ads.

When it comes to mobile advertising, “It’s still too early to give a clear advantage to any one company, even a company with a brand as strong as Yahoo,” said Forrester’s Overby.

Lee Hancock, founder and CEO of mobile content provider go2, takes the increasingly competitive state of his industry as a promising sign. “I think the competition is very healthy….It will ultimately result in enhanced content to end users because the advertising business model will encourage a lot of competition in the marketplace,” he said.

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