Yahoo Rolls Out Relevancy Rankings on Paid Search

The rumblings have been in the works for sometime, but Yahoo has set Feb 5 as D-Day for the roll out of their new quality and relevancy scoring on paid search ads. No longer will bid price be the sole determining factor that determines position, bringing Yahoo! closer to Google’s model.

In a release that just hit my inbox, Yahoo says:

“With the new ranking model, all Yahoo! search marketing ads in the U.S. will be ranked by quality in addition to keyword bid price. As a result, Yahoo! will be able to provide a more relevant search experience to users, more valuable customer leads to advertisers, and additional opportunities to its distribution partners.

“Yahoo! is very excited to introduce our new, more quality-focused ranking model because it has the power to significantly enhance the experience we deliver to our users and unlock the full potential of Yahoo!’s search marketing network,” said Terry Semel, chief executive officer, Yahoo! Inc. “With this important piece in place our new search marketing system will allow Yahoo! to more effectively connect people with the businesses, products, services and information they are passionate about.”

Sure, it’s marketspeak, but what do you expect from a media release? Posts about the roll out should be going live soon on the YSM blog, but as of this posting, they weren’t live yet. There’ll probably be something on the Yodel blog as well, but again, nothing yet.

A number of people will post on what this means for execution of marketing strategies. I’d like to comment about the user experience and what this means. Here are some findings about interactions with top sponsored based on our most recent eye tracking study:

Yahoo devotes more screen real estate to top sponsored ads than either Google or MSN. This often marginalizes the presence of organic listings above the fold at typical resolutions. While Google and MSN often shows 2 or 3 organic results at 1024 X 768, often Yahoo only manages to squeeze one result in.

People tend to scan 3 or 4 results at a time, and they almost always start at the top, including these top sponsored ads. They also like to include one organic result in this initial scan set. Yahoo’s regular presentation of 4 top sponsored results breaks the user’s desire to have an organic alternative in their scan set.

Yahoo’s emphasis on top sponsored ads did mean they captured the highest click throughs of any of the 3 engines on top sponsored ads, FOR FIRST VISITS ONLY. On repeat visits, these click through rates dropped dramatically on Yahoo!, but Google managed to hold their rates steady.

Yahoo had the highest occurrence of pogo sticking (returning to the results page after clicking through to a site) and a number of these were after a click on a top sponsored ad. This indicated that many searchers didn’t find what they were looking for, and purposely avoided top sponsored ads on the repeat visits.

All of these findings indicate that Yahoo’s announcement will be good news for users. These top sponsored ads are a key monetization strategy for Yahoo, and if they can improve performance by increasing relevancy, it will mean less pogo sticking and keeping users from avoiding these listings on repeat visits. And good news for users will translate into better results for advertisers.

Of course the cynical side of me asks, “what took you so long?” I think the time is right for Yahoo to leapfrog Google, not keep playing catch up.

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