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The Yahoo/Microsoft Search Alliance: Managing Campaigns Through The Transition

You’ve heard about the Microsoft/Yahoo search alliance, but what does it really mean for you and your paid search marketing campaigns? It’s not going to be as easy as flipping a switch. The good news is that a single platform and account team will streamline your marketing efforts and will likely drive more traffic in the process. However, there are still strategic decisions to be made. To minimize the disruption to profitable paid search programs, marketers will have to be thoughtful about campaign structure as they go through the transition and will need to be reactive to changes as they begin to understand the traffic and consumers from the combined search engines.

It’s coming up quickly—North American accounts will be transitioned before the holiday season in Q4 2010, with worldwide rollouts to follow. With the search alliance, Microsoft adCenter will be the consolidated platform for advertisers on Bing and Yahoo However it’s the Yahoo account teams that will support managed accounts through and after this transition.

As Yahoo and Microsoft make these changes, there are a variety of transition options for marketers. If you are confident in the quality of your Bing campaigns, you could choose to do nothing—our Yahoo campaigns would cease to receive traffic and your adCenter keywords would gain traffic. But taking a do-nothing approach won’t account for the changes in keyword performance that will occur when your adCenter campaigns are shown on both Yahoo and Bing. You will still need to augment your existing campaigns with relevant keywords and creative that have been performing well on Yahoo.

Advertisers without mature programs on Bing will need to consider a more significant change, such as porting Yahoo or Google accounts to adCenter to avoid a drop in traffic and revenues. The search alliance will offer an automated tool for uploading ads from other accounts, but marketers may want to manage it manually to maintain more control over their traffic.

Regardless of the approach you opt to take, there will be some unavoidable costs of this migration for marketers on Yahoo and Bing. The data and history lost may make it feel like you are starting your search marketing campaigns over. Without the ability to review and analyze historical performance, there will be significant challenges calculating accurate bids, resulting in an even more unpredictable market at the onset.

The loss of quality score history on Yahoo may make the initial auction landscape challenging as well. Finally, marketers should be wary that large scale campaigns are bound to experience some data quality issues and errors during the migration process. Throughout the transition, marketers should keep an eye out for missing keyword coverage, malformed tracking URLs, and ad copy that breaks character limits.

So, where do you start? Whichever option you choose, you should leverage your established search marketing program to go through this transition. Here are some things to keep in mind as you start thinking about the best approach to this transition.

Shape your campaigns for your strongest performer

Most marketers will have to significantly expand their campaigns in Microsoft’s adCenter to capture traffic after the search alliance transition. As you do this, you will need to make a decision about what model to use for your Bing campaigns. For many, Yahoo campaigns are likely to align with current inventory and have relevant messaging for traffic from the publisher.

But Yahoo campaigns rely on canonicalized keywords, different match types, and different character limits for ad copy than Bing campaigns. If you plan to port Yahoo accounts over, you will have to be sure that keywords are expanded to include misspellings and plurals, and that your creative fit within the adCenter character limits. Google campaigns have similar structure to Bing, but have different targeting parameter options. Consider the effort it will take to port all the Google targeting parameters like dayparting and geo-targeting before choosing this option.

Prepare to bid with no history

As you build out your search program, keywords that you migrate to adCenter will lack the click and conversion history required to make effective bidding decisions. Adding to the complexity, the bid settings of any old keywords on Yahoo will not be relevant because the traffic and auction characteristics for the combined engines will be different.

To prepare for this situation, you should ensure that your bidding solution can adjust quickly to changing traffic data. In order to start bidding accurately with a limited history, marketers should use data from similar keywords to determine bids. As you gather more keyword data, you can begin weight historical patterns more significantly in bidding decisions.

Attention to detail counts

Don’t let little issues with your keywords or creative cost you money or cause you to lose you traffic. Bing and Yahoo indicate that they will help review programs for errors but here are some particular disparities between the engines that marketers should keep in mind:

  • Match types. If you are moving keywords from Yahoo you will want to be sure that you expand keywords to include plurals, misspellings, apostrophes, etc. Even with “Broad Match” on Bing, you will not get traffic on all variations of keywords that Yahoo provided with canonicalization.
  • Character limits. The search alliance will limit your ad headlines to 25 characters like in Google and Bing. Be sure to cut down the headline text of any ads brought over from Yahoo.
  • Dynamic insertion parameters. Dynamic keyword insertion looks different at each engine. If you are porting over campaigns, be sure to review that the dynamic creative text is set up correctly.
  • International campaigns. If you are running a campaign that blends US and international marketing, the transition will only affect North American accounts. Marketers should geo-target campaigns in order to migrate those in North America and continue running international campaigns separately.

Monitor and react quickly to performance

For search marketers, this transition will be a learning process. The best way to capitalize on the combined marketplace is to monitor and react to the way your keywords and campaigns perform. Marketers can make it easier for themselves by setting automated alerts that notify you when performance of a keyword or group hits a specific threshold. Additionally, marketers should plan to monitor budgets to ensure that costs are in line with expectations.

Explore new inventory

Searcher demographics are different across engines. As traffic continues to grow on Bing, this is a great opportunity for marketers to explore the market. Studies suggest Bing users are more likely to click on ads than Google searchers, so you should take advantage of these differences. Try adding new keywords to adCenter accounts and analyzing the traffic. Now that it will be possible to manage Yahoo and Bing accounts in one place, marketers can focus more attention on optimizing traffic and less on campaign management. Marketers should continue testing a variety creative copy to hone in on the messaging that is most profitable on the combined marketplace. Marketers should regularly review raw search queries and add new keywords and negatives to campaigns.

The transition represents a risk for marketers who manage spend on Yahoo today, but also should be seen as an opportunity. Marketers that bring the proper focus and attention to the search alliance transition will find themselves well positioned to take advantage of new inventory opportunities that arise from the combined engines.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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