Search buying after Yahoo-Microsoft deal

Search marketers are readying new paid search buy strategies in preparation of the Yahoo-Microsoft search deal, which is expected to be implemented in the US by the holidays. Four experts offer tips

Sloan Broderick
Managing partner, MediaCom Interaction US

As Microsoft and Yahoo proceed with their search alliance, the advertising community is eagerly awaiting details of the joint effort and how it will impact its approach to paid search, one of the primary tools for lead generation. While some questions remain unanswered, there are a number of issues emerging that agencies will need to address on behalf of their advertising clients.

MSN AdCenter will gradually assume all Yahoo syndicated traffic and Microsoft’s Bing search algorithm will power all of Yahoo search. As a brand marketer, you’re best served to either enhance your existing AdCenter account or build a new one based on your Google account. Creating an AdCenter account based on your Yahoo account can potentially limit your opportunities, due to compatibility issues with it and Yahoo’s keyword match driver.

As Microsoft assumes a greater share of Yahoo-syndicated traffic, ensure that all syndicated search partners match up between the two services. If you are excluding partner sites in your Yahoo account, you must apply these same settings to your AdCenter account, assuming Microsoft offers the feature. Microsoft would be wise to copy this Yahoo feature now or otherwise risk jeopardizing long-term ad revenue.

Agencies should also prepare clients for increased competition and pricing. Consolidation of advertiser bases and real estate will increase bid pressure and result in increases in average costs per click, regardless of the vertical. Prepare now by finding out what this added cost will be to your business. It will help to blend your historical MSN and Yahoo reports to establish a baseline before the transition begins. Also, there is some speculation that popular supplemental programs, such as Yahoo’s Rich Ads in Search and Bing’s Cashback for Search will continue to be offered exclusively by Yahoo and Microsoft respectively but not through the alliance. Marketers will need to stay up to date on how all of these issues shake out.

While it is still early in the process, it is imperative for the agency community, on behalf of its clients, to adopt a proactive and vocal approach to shaping the agenda over the first months of this new enterprise.

The Takeaway
Test search tools and be aware of new pricing models across the merged engines

Jason Hartley

Media supervisor, 360i

Paid search is an effective tool for lead generation, but it presents challenges. Like any paid-search initiative, it is important to follow best practices such as clear ad copy; small, tightly themed ad groups; and relevant landing pages. Understanding performance data and optimizing across the engines is also critical — something that will no doubt become more challenging following the merger of Yahoo and Bing’s search ad platforms.

The major differences when using pay-per-click specifically for lead generation lie in measurement and optimization, especially when your success metric hinges on someone else closing the leads. Unlike a straightforward e-commerce PPC campaign, where transactions are completed and tracked entirely online, lead closure can involve online and offline activities driven by many people: operators, salespeople, inspectors.

Each additional person makes it more likely that the origin of the lead will be lost. For instance, if a home visit is necessary to close a lead, this might happen weeks after the lead is generated, making it difficult to optimize PPC efforts based on performance in real time. In addition, the agent might miscode the sale when they close the lead.

Ideally a marketer should establish an automated data-sync process, which sends lead closure data automatically from your CRM to your search-management software on a daily basis. This is fast and limits human error. Without a data sync, marketers rely on historical conversion metrics and expected post-click performance to optimize campaigns.

Even with these data, it’s still necessary to adjust your proxy metric as often as new information becomes available. There’s a lot you don’t know, so you have to make the most of what you do know. Unfortunately, when the Yahoo/Microsoft integration is complete, it will reduce what you know a bit further. The two engines attract different demographics with different behaviors. When the performance and bidding on the two engines are blended, you could be over- or underbidding for one of them.

The Takeaway
Establish metrics for search buys specific to the engine and sales goals

Frank Lee

SVP of client services, The Search Agency

For many consumers, the term search engine is synonymous with Google. And for many marketers looking to target these consumers through paid search, this meant advertising on Google and ignoring the other engines.

According to ComScore’s April numbers, both Yahoo and Microsoft have been slowly eating into Google’s market share and now account for more than 29.5% of total searches. As part of their search alliance, Bing will power both MSN and Yahoo search by the end of the year. This will significantly reduce the effort required to develop targeted campaigns for these additional sites.

Here are some strategies to drive new leads from their combined audience:

Bid aggressively early on. While some take a wait-and-see approach, this is a great opportunity to generate more traffic, test your campaign creative and build your quality score history before your competitors jump in.

Study the search engine demographics. Although the audience for different keywords varies dramatically, Yahoo and Bing have comparatively higher market share with consumers age 50 and older, according to a study by Evergreen Direct, while Google users tend to be younger and more comfortable with emerging technology.

Get comfortable with the new MSN desktop tools. In the past year, MSN made improvements to the account management tools it provides to advertisers. You can now make bulk changes to an account, change a parameter in a destination URL and pause keywords in bulk, all through the desktop toolset. Other tools to explore are the Keyword Research Tool and the ad preview tool.

Dig into your referring domains. Google, Yahoo and Bing have distribution partners that can broaden the reach of your campaigns, but only Yahoo has the option of opting out of selected distribution partnerships if they fail to drive quality leads. Hopefully, MSN will continue to offer this opt-out feature across the combined platform, as it can help you stay within your cost-per-lead targets.

The Takeaway
Testing and demographic identification are key for driving leads through search

Chris Tuleya

Director of search, Underscore Marketing

The partnership between Microsoft and Yahoo is not only about and, but also about the partner sites to which each partner provides its listings. One could argue that this combination will make a search marketer’s life easier, because there are just two top-tier search partners with which to deal. Those of us in the business know this is far from the truth.

This merger stresses the importance of website tracking when running a lead-generation search campaign. The current landscape includes Google, Yahoo and Bing, which lets us divide our budget and analyze our cost-per-lead three ways, optimizing and reallocating budgets accordingly. As it currently stands, this is not ideal, but this merger further reduces this transparency and leaves us with just two sources of spend to analyze performance against, significantly changing the game.

Under the new world order, a search marketer needs to take an approach that centers on site-side analytics. Because cost transparency is gone, a lead-generation campaign should not be run without the proper web analytics tools in place. I cannot say which tool is best for your campaign, but when deciding on one or reevaluating your current one, be sure it can do three things well:

First, it must clearly identify referring URLs within paid search. By knowing what sites drove your search traffic, you can identify areas of success and optimize campaigns accordingly at the parent level.

It also must properly track drop-off within forms. Knowing where someone drops off on a form, and how they got there, can tell a great story about the searcher.

Finally, ensure it provides proper tracking between organic and paid listings. Why pay for something you can get for free, unless you don’t know you are getting it for free?

On the outside, this partnership appears to simplify the landscape. However, in reality, it just muddles it more. The best we can do is ready our campaigns for the transition and be prepared to optimize, which as search marketers is right up our alley.

The Takeaway
Analysis of search campaigns used for lead generation will be more important

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