Ode to the Yahoo (née Overture) inventory tool

Why is it that we never truly appreciate something’s value until it is gone? For years the public Yahoo inventory tool was frequently shot down for its inaccuracy. Today, as it is dying a slow death, the industry realizes just how significant the tool was in shaping our industry.

Launched as the Overture Search Term Suggestion Tool, the Web-based application allows users to determine the number of times a word is searched across the Yahoo network during the previous month. Perhaps more interestingly, up to 100 derivatives of this keyword are provided along with search volume. Clicking on a derivative generates yet another list of derivatives, displaying a powerful visual of the long tail in just a few minutes.

In discussing this topic with industry experts, Kevin Lee of Did-It said, “Nothing beat the Overture inventory tool for illustrating the long tail of keyword queries to marketers. Letting them pick the keyword was so powerful.” So while John Battelle’s concept of “the database of intentions” might be based on what is under Google’s hood, it was Yahoo that first put this data in the hands of everyday people.

Clearly, the tool has been a primary source of research for many a search marketer for pitches, proposals or actual campaigns. For those with dedication, tracking queries over an extended period of time informed seasonality, changing consumer tastes or even the search effect of offline media campaigns.

During my SEM agency days, I frequently pulled up the tool in meetings and shot from the hip. In just a few minutes, I could not only describe the target market’s behavior, but quantify it as well. It never ceased to amaze those on the other side of the table. Exclamations such as “But why are people searching for that product? We discontinued it two years ago!” quickly materialized into minor consumer behavior revelations.

Over the years, other tools came into vogue as industry leaders criticized accuracy of the tool’s estimated volume as well as the editorial aspect.

Today, pragmatists such as Andrew Wagner of Trafficbuyer Digital agree that the tool is both directional and helpful. Andy Beal of MarketingPilgrim said, “The numbers were never accurate, despite our many years of trying to apply a multiplier that would lead to a fair representation of actual search frequencies.” Mr. Lee also agreed: “The data was always taken with a grain of salt, but having counts presented, even when they were obviously inaccurate, brought the data to life.”

It wasn’t until I held a recent Search 101 seminar that I realized just how much the tool had aged. Like an elder relative, the tool fell asleep frequently at the table. Sometimes it just didn’t make any sense at all. On a call with some Yahoo employees, my greatest fears were confirmed: The tool would not longer be supported in the near future.

So where to turn now that the tool’s days are numbered? Hugh Burnham of RareMethod suggested that the Trellian Keyword Discovery tool, coupled with MSN adCenter research, helps him gain insight as to how and where to advertise most effectively.

For Mr. Lee, his team long since turned to internal tools, though he is pleased to see keyword research functionality incorporated in some APIs, allowing technologists to combine data from multiple sources.

Danny Sullivan of SearchEngineLand.com said that the Google AdWords tool is now his first stop. This, of course, was not without a heartfelt expression of sorrow: “I’ll absolutely miss that little bugger.”

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