The Yahoo-Microsoft Search Alliance – Here We Go!

This week, it’s happening – the much-vaunted transition of Yahoo PPC traffic to the Microsoft Adcenter platform and the combination of the two programs. Not since the launch of Yahoo Panama back in early 2007 has there been such a momentous shift in the traditional PPC marketplace.

Yahoo and MSN have done a commendable job of preparing advertisers for the transition. It was announced nearly 18 months ago, and both engines have sent out continual communications and progress reports, using email, social media, in-person events, webinars, and information within the respective user interfaces. I attended the Search Alliance Summit in Seattle back in June, just prior to SMX Advanced. It was just a one-day seminar (and I missed the first half due to travel challenges), but it was jam-packed with useful information. Since then, I’ve received countless communications from both MSN and Yahoo, updating me on the change. Kudos to both for the great communication!

All that communication doesn’t mean much until launch, though. Now is the time where the rubber meets the road. We’ll finally get an answer to probably the biggest question on PPC advertisers’ minds: the traffic quality question. Will Yahoo’s historically-lower quality search partner traffic pull down results? Or will adCenter’s more robust matching & relevancy algorithms offset that? I for one remain skeptical – if I had to bet right now, I’d say that we’ll see a 30-40% decrease in results with the influx of Yahoo. I hope I’m wrong.

Another unknown is how well adCenter will transfer Yahoo’s icky Standard and Advanced match types into the more commonly-accepted Broad, Phrase, and Exact match. (Incidentally, I don’t think anyone is sad to see Standard and Advanced finally go away.) adCenter has provided information about how match types will be mapped, but I have my doubts. Even though it was 3 ½ years ago, I still remember how badly Yahoo botched the transition from the Overture platform to the Panama platform, and how long it took me to straighten out my PPC account. I was doing in-house SEM at that time; I shudder to think how arduous that task will be in an agency setting….

Finally, I would like to know when we will be able to set separate bids for Bing vs. Yahoo traffic. Frankly, I was stunned to discover that this option wasn’t baked in to the original Alliance plans. Advertisers have begged, pleaded and cajoled for more control in setting bids across networks since PPC first started. Why on earth this wasn’t part of the deal from day one is a mystery to me, and one that smacks of a money grab. (The official word from both Microsoft and Yahoo is that there were too many technical difficulties with building this functionality into the initial Alliance launch, but I’m not buying that. C’mon – you are Microsoft, aren’t you?)

We need this granularity in bidding. Traffic quality varies so widely from Yahoo to Bing, it’s not even funny. And it doesn’t always go the same way. We have a large B to B client who gets fantastic results from Yahoo – better than Google, even (higher traffic and a better CPA). However, their MSN campaign was a complete flop. They’re the only client we’ve ever turned off in MSN and left on in Yahoo. On the other side of the coin, we have clients who’ve flopped royally in Yahoo, but had huge ROI in MSN. And there are others who get consistent results across all 3 search engines. Regardless, I need the ability to bid appropriately based on traffic quality. Really, we all win when this happens!

What are you seeing so far with your Yahoo and MSN traffic?

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The Microsoft-Yahoo Alliance – 3 Things I’ll Miss

The search marketing world was buzzing last week over the Microsoft-Yahoo Alliance and what it means to PPC advertisers. Marketers lauded the Alliance, celebrating the impending demise of the aging Yahoo Panama user interface. My friends David Szetela and Joe Kershbaum discussed the Alliance during the latest episode of PPC Rockstars. (Side note: If you’re a PPC advertiser or account manager, and you’re not already subscribed to the PPC Rockstars podcast, do yourself a favor and go subscribe right now. You’ll thank me later.)

Overall, I agree with the sentiment out there – Yahoo Panama is clunky, and outdated, and was flawed from the start. That said, there are 3 things I’ll miss when the Alliance finally rolls out.

#1 – Lack of competition on MSN/Bing. It’s well-known that conversion rates on Bing are far superior to conversion rates on Yahoo. In my experience, if Google’s conversion rate is X, Bing converts at 3X and Yahoo converts at 0.6X. One of the reasons Bing converts better is the lack of competition.

The Alliance puts advertiser ads on the best PPC engine AND the worst one. We don’t yet know whether advertisers will have the option of creating separate campaigns for Yahoo and Bing. If that’s not an option, we’re all going to see lower conversion rates.

Even if this is an option, I’m betting more people will opt in to Bing when they can do so through one interface (as opposed to two currently). That’ll increase competition, thereby splitting the conversion pie into fewer pieces – resulting in lower conversion rates.

#2 – The quality of Bing traffic. While this is related to competition, it’s not exactly the same. PPC traffic comes not only from the search engine domain (e.g. Yahoo.com or Bing.com), but from search and content partners as well. Partners almost always dilute the quality of traffic from a PPC engine – especially in Yahoo’s case, where poor performance from search partners is well-documented. We don’t know whether Bing will add search partners to the mix; but if they do, we’re in trouble.

#3 – Yahoo’s Bid Slider application. OK, so it’s a minor feature in the overall scheme of things. But I use that slider a lot when managing client PPC bids. It’s a great visual that helps advertisers estimate ad position and bid quickly and easily. It beats Google’s Bid Simulator by a mile, even though the Bid Simulator is 2.5 years newer. It’s one of the few things Yahoo got right with Panama.

Under the Alliance, PPC management will happen in the adCenter interface, and Yahoo’s Panama will go away. For the most part, I’m glad, but I’ll miss that slider.

What will you miss when YSM goes away?

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Busy Week In The PPC World

It’s been a busy 7 days in PPC land, at least for me. One of the things that’s kept me busy is the Adwords Professional exam. My certification was set to expire at the end of this month, so I needed to re-take the exam. I’ve been using Google Adwords since its inception in 2002, so the exam wasn’t difficult, but it did take time. (By the way, I passed with 97%!)

Speaking of the Adwords exam, I wrote about why you should become a Google Adwords Certified Professional at Search Engine Watch last week. If you’re not certified, check it out.

Also keeping me busy this week is reading about the approval of the Microsoft-Yahoo Search Alliance. While nothing’s changed yet, the alliance could prove to be interesting over the next 12 months. I for one am looking forward to saving time and effort managing campaigns in the two very different interfaces.

For more on the merger, take a look at John Lee’s post on the Clix Marketing Blog. He pretty much took the words out of my mouth with that post. It’s great stuff!

And with that, I’m off to the rat race!

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Yahoo Search Marketing Bulk Uploads – Now Easier Than Ever

One of the most popular posts on this blog is a post I wrote 2 1/2 years ago, entitled Yahoo Search Marketing Bulk Uploads In 10 Easy Steps. One could argue that the title is an oxymoron – anything with 10 steps is, by definition, not easy. True, but I still think the process I outlined in that post was the best way to upload campaigns from other search engines into Yahoo.

Until now. A couple weeks ago, Yahoo made several improvements to their online interface, including simplifying the bulk upload process. Finally, the 10-step process has been condensed into one step! Campaigns can now be uploaded literally at the click of a button.

This is a huge step in the right direction for Yahoo, and in my opinion one they should have taken years ago. With the Microsoft deal looming on the horizon, the improvements may seem better late than never. But for now, advertisers need to work with the YSM interface if they want their ads to run on Yahoo, so the latest improvements are more than welcome.

What do you think of the YSM upgrades?

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The Top 3 PPC Innovations of 2009

Well, the New Year is here and believe it or not, it’s 2010. I know, everybody makes “top” lists around this time of year, but there were some great PPC innovations in 2009 that I can’t let go by without mentioning.

#1 – The New Adwords Interface. Around mid-year, Google released a beta version of a very different Adwords user interface. Early on, it was much maligned for issues such as horizontal scrolling and instability. Google, in its usual fashion, took the criticism in stride and gradually made improvements (I guess that’s the point of a beta, right?). At the end of July, the interface came out of beta and everyone was ported over whether they liked it or not.

I was one of the early detractors of the new interface, but I have to say that now that I’m used to it, it’s one of the greatest PPC innovations not only of 2009, but of the past 5 years. I love the graphs that show trends in impressions, clicks, conversion rate, and/or a number of other metrics – enabling users to spot issues instantly. And many functions that once required running and poring over multiple reports now can be performed right in the interface. Placement performance reports are nearly a thing of the past – I can see how individual content sites are performing right in the interface. Search query reports also can be run in-line. You can even segment by day of week, network, or device – right in the interface. I sound like a broken record, but it’s really cool and a huge time saver.

#2 -Bing. While Microsoft’s rollout of their new “decision engine” isn’t strictly a PPC move, it’s definitely had a ripple effect on PPC. While market share for Bing is still paltry compared to Google, it’s growing – and PPC advertisers are seeing increased traffic as a result. While some of our Fluency Media advertisers haven’t seen a lift, others have – especially those in the travel vertical. Bing is really a pretty good search engine, and I expect big things from them in 2010.

#3 – Yahoo’s so-called auto-optimization debacle. Way back in January 2009, Yahoo changed their Terms and Conditions, allowing them to “auto-optimize” PPC accounts. The PPC engines have offered optimization recommendations for years. Our Google reps regularly provide optimization suggestions for our clients’ accounts. The difference with Yahoo is that they (1) created new campaigns without input from the account manager, and (2) implemented the campaigns live without permission, or even knowledge, of the account manager.

This caused a huge stir in the SEM industry, with recognized experts denouncing the practice. While Yahoo tried to defend themselves, no one was buying it.

Personally, I was able to get our rep to opt us out of auto-optimization, but it was a terrible experience all around.

Well, those are my top 3 of 2009 – what were yours? Share them in the comments!

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Uploading PPC Campaigns Quickly

If you’re like most PPC marketers, you start a new campaign by setting it up in Google, most likely using Adwords Editor. Editor is probably the single most useful Adwords tool Google has released yet, and it’s one of the first things I teach new PPC hires at our agency. But I digress.

Even though Google has by far the largest market share in the search world, you’re missing 20%-30% of searchers by putting all your eggs in that basket. To take your PPC campaigns to the next level, you need to expand to Yahoo and MSN. But how? MSN has adCenter Desktop, but it’s still in beta and not everyone has access to it. (Plus, it’s not the most user-friendly tool out there, but again, I digress.) Yahoo doesn’t even have a desktop editor. What to do?

Lucky for you (and for them), both Yahoo and MSN have made bulk uploads much easier than they used to be. The days of creating a massive spreadsheet, copying, pasting, and hoping, are over.

Yahoo makes a decent effort to make up for their lack of a desktop editor with their “Convert Third Party Campaigns” function. You’ll find this in the “Import” menu of the YSM interface. Here’s how to use it:
1. Export your Adwords campaign from Adwords Editor using the Export function. Save the file as is.
2. If your Adwords campaign has any negative keywords, open the CSV file and delete those rows – you’ll need to manually add those negatives to Yahoo later.
3. If your campaign status is anything other than Active, Paused, or Deleted (such as Pending), change it to either Active or Paused. Yahoo doesn’t understand Pending and your conversion will fail.
4. Go to the “Convert Third Party Campaigns” page in YSM and follow the steps to convert your file.
5. Once the file is converted, download the conversion file, make any edits (such as updating tracking URLs) and save the file as a Unicode Text with a .csv extension.
6. Then go to the Import Campaigns tab and follow the steps.
7. Pray you didn’t get any errors.

If you do get errors, it’s not easy to figure out what to do. If the only error is “this keyword was not added because it is a duplicate of another keyword,” you’re fine – Yahoo’s match driver means fewer keyword variations are allowed in Yahoo than in Google. If you got other errors, you can either try to fix your upload file and re-upload, or just go into the interface and fix them manually.

It’s even easier to bulk upload to MSN. You can do it via the online interface – simply follow the instructions outlined in the adCenter Blog. The sticking point of this is when you use keyword-level destination URLs – these are not carried over into your import, because MSN decided to use that horrid “param1″ function. You’ll have to add those manually later, or use this workaround: In your export file from Adwords, change the ad copy destination URLs from whatever they are to “{param1}” (without the quotes). This will bring in all your keyword-level destination URLs – but not your ads. So you’ll still have to do some manual work, but usually campaigns have far fewer ads than keywords!

Uploading via adCenter Desktop is even easier. You can import your file from Adwords without even converting it. Just make sure to edit your ad copy destination URLs as described above if you’re using keyword-level URLs. Entering ad copy in Desktop is much easier than in the online interface.

If anyone knows a better way to import campaigns with keyword-level URLs in MSN, please post it in the comments! Also post your questions, tips, and tricks – when we share our knowledge, we all improve.

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YSM, You Are the Liar!

Yahoo Search Marketing caused a stir recently when they updated their Terms and Conditions to include “auto-optimization” of YSM accounts. They decided to update one of our client’s accounts shortly thereafter, and it was anything but “optimized.” I’m quoted in the Search Engine Roundtable post, so I won’t reiterate Yahoo’s idiocy here.

Now, Yahoo has decided to speak out on the issue on their blog. They sing the praises of this “service” and claim that it “helps small advertisers improve performance issues on their accounts.” While that may be true for some advertisers, it was anything but for my client. Then Yahoo has the audacity to say that “not everyone in the blogosphere understands this new program, which we believe is the result of misinformation more than anything else.” What?!?!? Misinformation???

Bullcrap. My story is 100% true, and it offends me that they would call it “misinformation.” Furthermore, it appears that they went against their own intentions when they took it upon themselves to optimize our client’s account: Yahoo claims in their blog post, in bold font no less, that auto-optimization “is not designed for larger advertisers who actively manage their accounts.” I manage hundreds of thousands in advertiser spend and have been doing SEM since 2002 (before Yahoo even HAD a PPC program – it was still Overture then). I do actively manage all of my clients accounts. Yet Yahoo felt the need to add a new campaign with ad copy that could have been written by one of my 11-year old twins (wait, I take it back- it wasn’t even that good). And they were bidding on keywords that aren’t even relevant to my client’s offering. It was as far from optimization as it could be.

Yahoo goes on to say that “Advertisers are notified of any changes within 24 hours (usually, fewer than eight hours).” Double bullcrap. I never received any notification that this had been done – I found it by accident when I logged in to “actively manage” my client’s account.

Yahoo, you screwed up once by launching this “feature” in the first place. You screwed up a second time when you violated your own principles by doing this to an account that is being actively managed by a professional SEM. You screwed up a third time by calling all of us SEM pros – A-list bloggers and long-time SEMs – liars.

Three strikes and you’re out. I shut off Yahoo for this client and many others as a result. It’s just too risky and their attitude sucks.

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YSM Minimum Bids – A Usability Nightmare

Not long ago, Yahoo implemented minimum bids based on Quality Score, a la Google Adwords. The good thing about Yahoo’s system is that they warn you ahead of time when keyword minimum bids are increasing, and they actually give you time to make adjustments (unlike Google). Yahoo also has a section within the YSM interface where you can edit your CPCs on these keywords all in one place. It’s great.

Except for one thing – that section sucks, usability-wise. I recently had a client with several minimum bid updates that needed to be made – like, a few pages’ worth. I followed the handy link from the client’s account Dashboard to the page to edit the bids. I wanted to update some, but not all, of the keywords on the first page to the required minimum. So, I used the radio buttons near the middle of the page, and hit Save Changes. The page refreshed, and voila! Wait. None of my changes were reflected on the page! OK, I thought – I guess I have to use the check boxes on the left-hand side. Checked the ones I wanted to update and hit “set keyword bids to minimum.” OK, great. Went to page 2, did the same thing, went to page 3, and so on. Hit “save changes” when I was all done. Whoops – now only the last page of changes were made! Everything else was lost in the shuffle.

By this time I’ve spent 30 minutes and have gotten nowhere. I finally realized that I needed to (1) expand the number of results on the page so I could see ALL the keywords at once; (2) I needed to use the dang check boxes to set bids to minimum and (3) I needed to save changes before moving on to something else.

It took me close to an hour to do something that should have taken 5 minutes with a more user-friendly page. Don’t get me wrong – I’m glad Yahoo has this feature. They just need to make it a little more intuitive and/or add some instructions to the page!

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Microsoft Walks Away from Yahoo

Well. Looks like there won’t be any Microhoo after all, at least not now. Last night, Microsoft decided to walk away from their hostile takeover of Yahoo. In a statement, Steve Ballmer of Microsoft said, “”We believe the economics demanded by Yahoo! do not make sense for us, and it is in the best interests of Microsoft stockholders, employees and other stakeholders to withdraw our proposal.”

When this whole offer was first announced, I thought it was a done deal. It honestly seemed like a way for both engines to compete with Google. As time went on, though, it became apparent that Yahoo had a little more fight left in them than we thought. So for now, the three engines remain.

It will be interesting to see what Google does now. The Google/Yahoo PPC test has been going for a while, and has gotten mostly positive feedback from advertisers. Will this “test” continue, or will something unexpected happen?

Time will tell. Never a dull moment in the SEM industry!

Discussion continues at Search Engine Watch forums.

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Microhoo: Can Microsoft Get Into The Search Race?

Two weeks have gone by since Microsoft announced their bid to buy Yahoo, which Yahoo rejected (even though we all have a pretty good idea that it’s going to happen eventually). I was catching up on the Daily Searchcast episodes this past week, and Danny Sullivan gave a great analogy that really made me laugh, yet is so true. To paraphrase, he said,

“5 years ago, Google screamed past Microsoft and Yahoo. Yahoo said, “Oh my God, look – they’ve gone right past us!” So they looked around at whoever had the fastest car, threw a lot of money at them, then jumped in and went after Google. And Microsoft said, “Oh, I guess there’s a race going on!” Then they sat down and started building a car from scratch to catch them, saying, “We’re gonna build our car!” And by the time they got into the race, they just couldn’t get there. So, now they are saying, “Hey Yahoo – can we just take the driver’s seat and use your car instead?”

As someone who’s been doing search marketing for almost 6 years, I’ve been around to see all these things happen – and Danny’s description is funny because it’s so accurate. Yahoo, seeing their huge Internet portal brand getting passed up by Google in the blink of an eye, went out and bought Overture. Problem was, Overture’s PPC interface was outdated and clunky. It reminded me of the movie Cars – it was like a 1950s has-been race car trying to go out and catch Lightning McQueen without so much as a tune-up.

And Microsoft – oh my. We were part of the adCenter beta back in 2004, and I said at that time that, instead of taking the best features from Adwords and Overture/Yahoo and building on them, they decided to start from scratch, complete with the bloated code and other annoyances that are typical of MS applications. After using Adwords for 2 years, trying to decipher adCenter was like going from driving a brand-new Porsche to driving a ’99 minivan . (Go ahead, ask me how I came up with that analogy!) AdCenter was, and still is, painful to use – and frequently not worth the effort given the small amount of traffic it generates.

The big question is, will buying Yahoo get Microsoft into the search race? I still say no. Panama is a huge improvement over the old Overture technology, and Yahoo does have a decent-enough market share. But my fear is that MS will go in with their monolithic infrastructure and ruin Yahoo in the process. The only way this will be at all a good thing is if MS combines their tiny market share with Yahoo’s and lets us use the Panama interface to push our campaigns to both audiences. Otherwise, I believe Google will keep on pulling further ahead of the pack, leaving both MS and Y in the dust.

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