Chris Sherman emailed me about a month ago and asked if I’d be interested in doing a piece for Search Engine Land about the Search Alliance and the upcoming transition of algo and paid search. With the help of Kristen Morquecho, my PR goddess, we were able to navigate all the necessary channels and get this out yesterday. Of course, since then, parts of this post have already proven to be relevant. Today, for example, Microsoft announced that they had canned the old webmaster toolset, including the Backlink Tool, and are starting over from scratch. That could leave alot of SEOs in a lurch if Yahoo! Site Explorer goes away, but it’ll probably drum up even more business for Rand Fishkin at SEOmoz. That’s OK, he’s a good guy and probably deserves it. So here’s how it went:
With the Yahoo! Microsoft Search Alliance in full swing, the accompanying transitions of both paid and organic search are imminent. As such, search publishers and search marketers alike have some work to do. I’m going to walk you through this as best I can from the perspective of a large advertiser within Yahoo!. I will endeavor to provide tips and information that will enable both large and small advertisers, publishers, and webmasters to navigate the process smoothly. I’ll progress from the simplest of issues to the more complex, starting with a guide to resources.
First, The Links
The best thing I can do for you is to first point you to the various public repositories of information as published by Yahoo! and Microsoft. First and foremost, Yahoo! has set up a Transition Center to guide small- and large-size advertisers, publishers, and technology partners to provide useful information. New items keep popping up here, so make sure to come back more often as the transition gets closer. For example, Yahoo! just added a page on upcoming editorial guidelines. There is also more general, press-oriented information available at www.SearchAlliance.com. In similar style with a bit more detail is the YSM Blog. I’m also going to make reference to Yahoo! Site Explorer and Bing Webmaster Center, both of which SEOs and webmasters should be getting to know if they haven’t already.
Yahoo! has shared that we’re going to begin live testing of both organic and paid listings (showing search listings from the Microsoft platform on Yahoo! Search) this month. Barry Schwartz posted here on July 16 noting the email sent to advertisers. The idea as I understand it is to test the integration points for both organic and paid results, and if all goes well we could see a transition of organic (“algo”) listings in the August/September timeframe, with the paid transition right on its heels. The goal is to migrate all paid advertisers to adCenter by October 15. The key here is quality. Yahoo! and Microsoft have been very clear that only if we can ensure a high-quality experience for users, advertisers and publishers will we hold to this timeline.
Publishers and Domain Match
The publisher story is fairly straightforward. Yahoo! is trying to set the transition up so that it’s seamless for publishers. Publishers of paid listings will ideally make the same calls for ads, which will be translated and returned with adCenter results, and likewise publishers of organic listings will make their same calls, which will then be translated and returned with Bing results. Same with domainers (come on, cybersquatters, stand up and be counted!). The domain match feed mechanics should remain unchanged, only the content of the feed itself will change.
Optimizing For The Alliance
The good news is that most people who optimize for natural search don’t have to change tactics drastically, because most folks don’t differentiate too much between the engines when optimizing for natural search. When Bing launched, there was some talk in the industry about how Bing put more weight toward internal links than did the other engines. But as time has passed, the engines have generally converged in the factors they deem important, so optimizing for Bing instead of Yahoo! Search, for example, isn’t much different. The thing that’s changing is that SEOs are now having to shift more of their attention to Bing, now that it will be powering a significantly larger share of search listings than before. But rather than changing the way SEOs optimize based on this market shift, we’re seeing them simply devote more resources to the newest of the three engines.
In most cases, this means first introducing yourself to the Bing Webmaster Center. First you’ll need a Windows Live ID, so if you don’t already have one, go ahead and sign up. The tricky part about using the webmaster center, for large websites, anyway, is the authentication process. The way Bing tries to ensure that the rightful webmaster is in charge of the Bing Webmaster Center account is to require a piece of code (xml or metatag) to be placed on the website. If you’re the webmaster for a small or medium-sized site this is fairly straightforward. However, as we know, larger websites sometimes don’t have webmasters per se, so this isn’t so easy. Especially if your homepage is one of the busiest pages on the Internet, you may have some difficulty putting a line of xml in the root folder or even placing a metatag on page header. What this really means is that if you haven’t gotten started on this process yet, you need to do it , and do it now. Bing does a decent job of telling you which method to use based on your access to the code – basically go for a metatag unless you can write to the root folder.
Once you’re authenticated, the Bing toolset can help you set up sitemaps, track inlinks and indexation, crawl errors, and the rest of the standard stuff that webmaster tools are supposed to offer. You’ll want to use the Bing tools to track these metrics separately from Google because Bing will now contribute potentially around a third of all your seo traffic, through both Microsoft and Yahoo! sites. Look at the Bing Webmaster Center Blog for updates and information.
Compare Your Data
When I talk to SEOs about the transition, the topic that always comes up is Yahoo! Site Explorer. This tool has long been regarded as an authoritative (and accurate) measure of inlinks/backlinks. What some people don’t realize is that Bing has a similar feature called ‘Backlink tool’. My recommendation is to dig into both so you can compare data and features between the two tools.
Now For The Paid Stuff
With paid search, the Search Alliance will create a unified marketplace based off of the adCenter platform. Most advertisers I’ve talked to have much less experience using adCenter than Google AdWords or Yahoo! Search Marketing (YSM or ‘panama’), so this is a potentially significant change for many advertisers. In the unified marketplace, advertisers will manage their campaigns using the adCenter tools, and in doing so we’ll get our ads distributed on both Microsoft and Yahoo, as well as their respective affiliate sites. This is a major shift in paid search buying for most of us, who currently manage YSM separately from adCenter. As this transition takes place, all advertisers will be migrated to this model, so get used to the idea that your Yahoo traffic will be coming through your adCenter buy. I think the important thing to consider first in planning for this transition is a review of your current adCenter accounts and campaigns. If you’re like me, you probably have one or more adCenter accounts that were set up some time ago, and they’re providing decent ROI at a relatively low volume. If that’s the case, you probably haven’t put an overwhelming amount of work or attention into these accounts. That has to change immediately. It’s time to dig into those accounts and ask yourself some important questions about how you want to manage your own transition.
Self-service or Managed?
One of the first things you’ll want to clarify for yourself in the paid search transition is who is going to be managing what. The guideline is that if you currently have a YSM account manager, you will be serviced post-transition (account management, sales, invoicing) by Yahoo!. However, if you’re a self-service advertiser, you’ll be serviced by Microsoft. Now, there are a few edge cases here where you might have an adCenter rep, but not a YSM rep or vice versa. If that’s the case I recommend contacting whichever account manager you do have, with the goal of having a Yahoo! account manager in a post-transition world.
The key to your success in managing the transition is to understand what your accounts look like relative to the way they should look, and putting in the work early enough to be prepared once the transition takes place. If you’re going to create new accounts, you have the choice of building from scratch or trying to repurpose either your AdWords or YSM accounts. In many cases the best option will be to start from scratch. While this sounds like a lot of work, odds are it will provide the best chance of success. From what I know so far, best practices on adCenter aren’t so different from AdWords or YSM, but experience tells me to start with a clean slate. If you’re a large advertiser you’ve probably launched quite a few keywords, adgroups and campaigns on either YSM or AdWords that didn’t amount to anything, so replicating this cruft on adCenter probably isn’t the best of ideas. My recommendation is to leverage your experience in prioritizing your work.
If you’re a small or medium size advertiser this prospect isn’t so daunting. It’s much easier to start off with a tidy account structure if you only sell a few products or have a limited universe of viable keywords to consider. Start with your head keywords, and organize them in a way that suits the adCenter structure. Then move down to the body. The tail? If you’ve already optimized everything else and the volume warrants it, sure.
For large advertisers, you’ll want to rely on your own paid search experience as well as the recommendations from your YSM and Microsoft account managers as you think about account structure. I’ll give you an example of how we’re looking at the situation. In one of our larger SEM programs we promote our shopping site. We’re looking at mapping products and categories in the following way: Top-level product category, e.g. electronics, corresponds to an adCenter account. Secondary product category, e.g. television, corresponds to a campaign, and tertiary category, e.g. Samsung 3D tv at the ad group level. That’s just one way to slice it. Obviously, depending on how you advertise, you may have a different view on it.
A Thought On Keywords
Everyone who’s ever done any amount of search marketing knows that AdWords and YSM have a very different notion of what a keyword is (and is not). I won’t go on and on about this, except to say that adCenter also has its own ideas. My experience tells me that adCenter’s system of keyword normalization is closer to AdWords than it is YSM. This would lead some advertisers to simply port their AdWords accounts over to adCenter. Again, I recommend putting in the work and re-creating from scratch. But hey, that’s just one guy’s opinion.
Just a quick note on geo-targeting. Just as YSM and adCenter don’t have the same notion of a keyword, they also have different definitions of North America. In YSM-ese, North America means USA and English speaking Canada. French Canada is a separate buy. AdCenter looks at it differently. My understanding is that adCenter separates the US and Canada by targeting, and doesn’t differentiate on language. So that means that in AdCenter you should have English and French keywords in your Canada account, and (American) English and maybe Spanish keywords in your US account.
Wow, that’s a lot to digest. And, there’s going to be more. If you don’t have a YSM rep, take another pass at the resources at the top of this post. Check them early and often. Again, if you have YSM reps, send them something nice and ask for their time, assistance, and expertise. They’ve all been trained on Bing at this point so they should be able to help. There will me much more detail coming out in the next few weeks about how to set yourself up for success in the unified marketplace, and with any luck you’ll be hearing more from me on this topic in the near future. Until then, Happy Searching!