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Yahoo Talks More About Panama January 29, 2007

Posted by Bill in online marketing, Search Marketing, Yahoo Search Marketing.
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LAST WEEK’S WALL STREET Journal ran a piece on how Yahoo advertisers are faring as they migrate to the new Panama ad platform. I wanted to give Yahoo the opportunity to talk about the migration in its own words. What follows is my interview with Yahoo’s Senior Vice President of Advertiser Products and Platform, Steve Mitgang.

How do you think Panama will impact the Yahoo advertiser and searcher customer experience?

The focus of our old system was pay for placement. After you met the basics for editorial relevance, you’d be in the top spot if you paid enough money. That didn’t always lead to the most relevant search listings.

With Panama, the heart of the system is about making the most relevant connection between searchers and advertisers. We’re rewarding ads based on relevancy factors, like click-through rate. All things being equal, better ads get better click-through rates; so we’re incentivizing advertisers to focus on the quality of the ad message, and not simply on the bid price.

Meanwhile, our old system didn’t allow for enough testing. But in our new system, advertisers give us multiple creatives, which we rotate to see which has the most impact. So we have more quality ads to choose from, and ultimately more relevant listings for our searchers.

Everyone wins. Searchers see more relevant ads. As searchers see relevant ads, advertisers get more click traffic. Publishers on our content network get more clicks as well. And Yahoo gets greater revenue through our advertisers’ success.

How do you think the Panama migration is going?

I’d say it’s going extremely well. We’re well ahead of schedule on migrations, with tens of thousands of advertisers using the new system today. And call center volume is below expected, which means that people are pleased.

Of course, every company has customers with concerns, whether you’re talking about Apple, Nike, Microsoft — or yes, even Yahoo. When concerns come up, the most important things for us is to let the customer know how we can help, or that solutions are coming that will satisfy their needs.

One common challenge we’ve faced is the customers with very specific needs — customers with unique set-ups that really depart from the norm. Our No. 1 goal is to help them with whatever issue they have as the migration proceeds.

What has Yahoo done to educate advertisers about the migration?

We set out months and months ago to create the best migration possible for our advertisers. We talked to advertisers of all shapes and sizes — both to educate them, and to understand how to best educate them further as the migration progressed. We have provided every type of communication — brochures, e-mails, tutorials, letters, live seminars, webinars, and we placed our customer service numbers prominently.

Everything has been built from the customer perspective, and we’re working to make sure we get in front of advertisers so they know what’s coming, how to deal with change, and how to get help if they need help.

What do you think could have been done better to prepare advertisers for Panama, or to help them along the way as the migration proceeds?

The only thing we could have used is more time. A few days or a few weeks later gives you more cycles [of preparation], and would give you another opportunity to catch that bug or to prepare just a bit more — not just preparing the application, but readying the customer service side as well.

But all in all, we’ve done very, very well for an extremely complicated and complex job. And you can see that success in our low call volume to our help centers.

How far do you think Panama will go in helping Yahoo with its corporate challenges?

Like I said earlier, by giving the searcher a better experience, we’re also helping Yahoo’s bottom line. Panama will help everyone monetize better — the advertisers, the publishers, and Yahoo.

Beyond that, this is a platform we can iterate on. Our old platform was from 1998, and was built by a startup. It ended up becoming very popular, but it wasn’t designed to be what it eventually became. Panama is built with the future in mind: it isn’t just for 2007 — it’s for how digital marketing will evolve in the future. We’ve made it so it can be upgraded very fast, which means any new additions can be rolled out quickly, to better help all of Yahoo’s digital advertisers.

So Panama won’t just be for search ads?

We designed Panama not only around text and search listings, but around all kinds of digital advertising — including rich media, mobile, etc. We made it an ad platform, not just search platform.

Will there be offline ads through Panama as well?

I suppose that in theory, Panama’s ad configuration model could work for any type of ad. But for now, our goal is to be the first buy for advertisers in the digital world.

How Search Turned MTV Into MySpace January 21, 2007

Posted by Bill in Google, Search Marketing, traditional advertising.
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For last week’s pronouncement that shook the new media world — but didn’t particularly surprise it — look to MySpace co-founder Tom Anderson. MySpace, Anderson informed German mag Der Spiegel, has “replaced MTV.”

The point is debatable. Between its acquisition of 10-million visitor RateMyProfessors.com and a rumored investment in social networking site TagWorld, MTV is clearly gunning for a return to empire. But at least for now, it does look as if the world’s sixth most popular site has stolen the lead from the suddenly presidentless MTV.

But the MTV versus MySpace competition is a bit more complex than just the old replaced by the new. That’s because MySpace isn’t as much the usurper of MTV, as it’s an evolution of MTV’s basic concept: a horizontal channel in which glamorous stars, the common folk, and the channel itself are all on surprisingly equal footing. And, like MTV, MySpace is a channel that’s built on reaching out to a youth generation who’s the first to have really grown up with a new medium. So MySpace hasn’t replaced MTV, as much as MTV has evolved into MySpace. And none of this evolution would have been possible without search.

Let’s start with MTV. MTV was first built around the ’80s generation, the first generation to really grow up with television — and even color television — as a given in the home. Their baby- boomer parents also grew up with TV, but the boomers often weren’t born into a TV household.

MTV also introduced horizontal media in 1992, when “The Real World” spawned reality TV a full 8 years before “Survivor.” And “The Real World” entirely changed the rules of how television works. Now, instead of a medium in which lofty stars appear on the screen while couch potatoes watch them, MTV’s invention of reality creates a model in which the stars and the mere mortals occupy the same space. MTV showed us how media can become horizontal. MySpace isn’t so different. MySpace is also built on capturing, and capitalizing on, the first generation of youth who’s grown up with new media — in this case, the Internet and mobile. In Anderson’s own words to Der Spiegel: “If you are 23 now, you probably started using the AOL Instant Messenger ten years ago. It’s totally natural for you to talk to your friends that way. A few years after that you started text messaging. I think the MySpace generation is these people who just have this experience. It’s perfectly natural.”

MySpace is also a truly horizontal medium, with everybody vying for the same attention: Madonna, Jamie Foxx, and the Honda Element all have to go head to head with your 12-year-old cousin to get noticed.

And so, again, while MySpace may have replaced MTV, it’s also just an evolution of the MTV model, brought online. Both MTV and MySpace gained success by providing young people with the opportunity to just be themselves, while understanding that technology had made young people “just being themselves” into something fundamentally different than it had ever been before. And they both did that while creating a new kind of horizontal channel.

It was search that allowed the MTV-MySpace evolution to happen. As New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman points out, search is the Web’s great flattening force: by offering a single window through which to jump to the Web’s billions of disconnected pages, search pulls the entire Internet together.

Instead of developing a relationship with just one site at a time — in the way that viewers watch one TV channel at a time — search turns the Internet into a single, unified Web. That puts all Web pages on equal footing, all Web pages at the mercy of the user, and all Web pages in direct competition with one another. (A similar point could be made about the effect of remote controls on TV, but search gives way more user control than remotes do, across billions of pages rather than just dozens of channels.) Search made the Web horizontal, and that horizontality enabled MySpace to use the Web to take MTV’s horizontality to a whole new plane.

This means a tremendous amount for those of us in search. If search is a driving force behind the new horizontality, then those of us in SEM — the first industry to make business sense of a horizontal universe — can drive unique value in the new horizontal world.

That’s also a challenge. As communications evolve — and search, and elements of search, become just one piece of a much larger media picture — SEM needs to turn its insights into ideas that can provide value, regardless of the directions that media take. And if we can’t make that happen, it won’t just be MTV that’s facing replacement.
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(For a bit more on the future of search and social media, have a look at my recent interview with MarketWatch.

Welcome The Pubvertisers January 15, 2007

Posted by Bill in Online Advertising, Online Auction Tips, online marketing, Search Marketing, traditional advertising.
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Last Wednesday, megapublisher Meredith Corporation (publisher of Better Homes and Gardens, Family Circle, and Parents, to name a few holdings) purchased interactive agencies Genex and New Media Strategies. It was an incredible deal for Meredith, as it brings advertising accounts like Honda, Unilever, Citigroup, ABC, Coca Cola, Ford, Sony, and AT&T under Meredith’s roof, and most likely onto Meredith’s magazine pages. It’s also a move that would have been utterly unthinkable ten years ago.

The Wall Street Journal’s Emily Steel puts it this way: “There used to be a clear division between media outlets… which sold ad time or space and ad agencies, which designed and placed the ads on behalf of marketers. One reason [for the division]: the potential for conflicts of interest if an ad agency owned by a media company was seen to be unfairly directing ads to its sibling media outfits.” But times are changing. Steel goes on to cite other examples of the new pubvertisers, including Conde Nast and Wenner Media, both of which have created in-house ad divisions; Gannett Media, which now owns interactive shop PointRoll; and Google, which has “expanded aggressively into ad sales.”

I think it’s Steel’s last example–Google, or, more broadly, the whole world of search–that’s the key catalyst in the pubvertising trend. That’s because search has placed a whole new level of analytics and transparency into the publishing world; and it’s this analytics-based transparency that makes pubvertising possible.

Why? Because advertisers would mistrust pubvertising in environments in which there’s little recourse for evaluating the agency’s suggestions. It’s only when good analytics can show advertisers when they’re being lied to, when they’re being led astray–and when they’re being offered sound advice–that makes it safe to take advice from a source that may have a conflicting interest. Analytics create transparency, which creates trust, which is the crucial element for pubvertising to get off the ground.

And it’s the search engines that are leading the way in both providing and leveraging this kind of transparency. From free keyword tools to human sales reps, search engines are kings in advising advertisers how to manage keyword spend. But while they’re pushing keywords, the engines also provide clear data on how those keywords actually perform. That transparency makes customers feel secure both listening to the engines’ advice on buying keywords, while purchasing those keywords directly from the engines themselves.

Of course, it’s obviously in publishers’ interest to have ad agencies in-house, because having an in-house ad agency places advertisers within immediate reach. Publishers know this, which is why pubvertising is a trend that will only grow. And to allow that trend to grow, publishers of all kinds will look to offer better analytics and transparency to make that pubvertising possible. I’m not just talking about the MSNs, Yahoos, and Googles of the world entering into an arms race to create better targeting and analytics. I’m talking about even the lowest-tech of ad formats getting into the game, as was the case when print classifieds joined forces with Google late last year.

This has serious ramifications for the future of the ad agency. As publishers look to beef up their analytics and transparency so they can get into advertising, ad agencies will have to beef up their analytics capabilities to get closer to the publishers they’ll need to work with–or be purchased by–to survive. That’s exactly what happened in the world of search, in which a transparent, analytics-heavy publisher model (the engine) gave rise to a new kind of transparent, analytics-heavy ad agency (the SEM firm).

And so as pubvertising shifts from yesterday’s impossibility to tomorrow’s new standard, look to a huge surge in the analytics-based publisher, the analytics-based ad firm, and clients who expect analytics-based transparency from both. Meanwhile, Madison Avenue firms who can’t keep up–because they can’t get up to speed with their data–will face a real uphill battle in the new ad world that looks more like the search world every day.

What Wikiasari Can Teach AT&T About Mobile Ads January 9, 2007

Posted by Bill in Google, mobile marketing, online marketing, Search Marketing, traditional advertising.
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On the heels of AT&T’s acquisition of BellSouth, the newly-ginormous AT&T announced last week that it would enter into mobile advertising. If all goes well, advertisers will purchase their first mobile ads through AT&T later this year; AT&T hopes to make several billion dollars in ad revenue (through sales of mobile, online, and TV spots) annually through 2012.

I, for one, think it could be a great idea for AT&T to serve as a mobile ad network. But if it wants to succeed, AT&T should start thinking about Wikiasari.

Wikiasari is an upstart search engine (still in development) from the people who brought you Wikipedia, the wildly-popular user-generated encyclopedia. Like Wikipedia, Wikiasari will rely almost entirely on its community–this time, to determine search results. (The initial sorting and ranking will be done by technology, but humans will determine the end product). Wikiasari, a culmination of sorts in user-generated content, is a real watershed in the history of media.

There are two ways that user-generated content has changed everything. First, it’s flipped the traditional platform/content dynamic on its head: in traditional media, content is king and platforms play a supporting role; in user-generated content, it’s not always clear which one is the star. Newspaper readers focus a lot more on the news than on the paper; moviegoers pay more attention to the movie than to the screen; but it’s the YouTube and MySpace interface–and not the bevy of amateur-produced clips of dancing beavers and shoddy personal pages–that really shine in the user-generated media.
A second change user-generated media has brought is a shift in the nature of the communications conversation. In the traditional world, mass-communication high priests (Hollywood, the press, Martha Stewart) talk to (or at) the media consumer. In consumer-generated media, users engage in a community-wide conversation, and the high priests are largely left out. “The one thing that I feel like I know how to do is build communities,” Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikia (Wikipedia and Wikiasari’s parent company), told Noam Cohen of The New York Times. “I mean people who know each other, who have discussions.”

User-generated content, in other words, is making the media world a lot less like the traditional mass media, and a lot more like the telephone–a medium for enabling consumer-generated conversation, in which the business ignores content entirely and instead focuses on building platforms that make peer content-sharing (i.e., phone calls) function a lot better.

Wikiasari is a major moment in this consumer-generated evolution. Consumer-generated search, even more than a consumer-generated encyclopedia, marks a shift towards consumers’ looking to a community for answers about their questions and needs, rather than looking to an all-knowing, ready-made information source. If Wikiasari takes off (and if it doesn’t, another wiki-based search engine surely will), it will mark a point at which the bulk of shared ideas comes from information-seekers turning towards their colleagues, rather than information being decreed from on high.

It would be well for AT&T to consider all this as it jumps into mobile advertising–at a time when mobile advertising is clearly failing to live up to its hype, and search is about to catapult consumer-generated media light years ahead. The two developments, after all, aren’t entirely disconnected. Users want their media to act like telephones; it’s clearly bothering them that mobile advertisers–who introduce unrequested, industry-produced content onto mobile screens–are trying to make telephones into the old media that everybody’s ditching. No wonder there’s a backlash, with 79% of online consumers bothered by the concept of mobile ads.

That’s not to say that mobile advertising has no future. For one thing, mobile ads can leverage the phone as a communication device, rather than trying to subvert it. That was the secret behind last summer’s “Snakes on a Plane” mobile campaign, in which mobile users sent friends a personalized message from an automated Samuel L. Jackson, demanding that the recipient see the action flick ASAP. The campaign clearly got the point that mobile is about peer communication–and 1.5 million “Snakes” calls were forwarded in the campaign’s first week.

A second way for AT&T to leverage mobile media is to provide phones that better enable the communication that the user-generated world craves. This could be as basic as improving mobile filesharing capabilities, or as sophisticated as helping two drivers in two different vehicles find one another via GPS. The bottom line is that the new-information consumers don’t just want to receive information; they want to communicate. And AT&T, which now owns Cingular and stands above a vastly huge telecom empire, is in a perfect position to offer that kind of capability.

If it’s thinking of going further into mobile content before the end of this year, AT&T should think seriously about the meaning of user-generated content now. And if it’s stuck for answers? I’d suggest it start its search at Wikiasari.