May 42009

Yahoo Match Type Games

We noticed a spike in Yahoo impressions, traffic and costs without any corresponding lift in sales generated, so we took a look under the hood.

Like Google has done before it, Yahoo is taking its definition of "advanced matching" to a whole new level! We did some digging in our search logs to see what people were searching before clicking on one of our client's ads. We saw lots of unrelated traffic coming in on our ads.  The brand ads are riddled with far-off non-brand queries, non-brand traffic on completely unrelated searches are being served ads from our clients -- a real mess.

To give some background, Yahoo offers two match type options: standard and advanced match. Yahoo's advanced match is similar to Google's broad match in that it allows an ad to be served for 'related' search queries. (The question is how the algorithm deems a search as 'related'/'relevant'.) There is no 'exact' match option, like on Google and MSN. Yahoo uses canonical roots, and drops 'duplicate' (keywords normalize to the same root) phrases if loaded at the same time, in the same adgroup. (ie 'mitten' and 'mittens' would probably be considered duplicates, so one version would be dropped.) If there are cannonical 'duplicates' in the account, Yahoo will serve one of these ads for a given search, even if the other ads (not served) matches the search query exactly!

Standard match doesn't seem to be the problem. From what I gather, standard match ads are served with relevant, very similar searches, sometimes with slight difference - like plurals, singulars, misspellings, reversal of word order, etc. This is what is supposed to happen with Standard match, so no problem. Ads on advanced match seem to be the real pain point, with lots of unrelated traffic funneling through.

The trouble with poor traffic coming in on these ads is it drives down the sales/click for these keywords. As such, to maintain efficiency, our bidding system decreases bids. This lowers the ad's position on the page, and decreases sales volume.

Adding negatives associations to avoid obvious poor traffic helps, but when they serve our "flower bouquet" ad on a user search for "chocolate" it's tough to control.

Hopefully, Yahoo will tighten its matching algorithm. In doing so, it'll benefit advertisers by cutting poor traffic and unproductive spending. Right now, Y! gets additional clicks and revenue with the funny matching. In the long-run Yahoo may be punished from casting the net too wide, as users will become trained to not rely on Yahoo's Sponsored Listing results.

We passed along some of the search log findings and Yahoo's engineers are looking at it. We'll let you know what, if anything, they have to say.


20 Responses to "Yahoo Match Type Games"
James says:
I've found the exact same issue with Yahoo advanced match and I too have reported my findings to my account rep and asked her to forward them on to R+D. In all fairness, Google broad match will also do some undesirable things, it just seems that Yahoo advanced match is a little looser than adwords. My overall message to YSM is that they should help their advertisers make more money and in the long run, their efforts will result in Yahoo making much more money. As it is now, I feel that YSM is taking a "short term" approach to sqeezing out as many ad dollars as they can, at the expense of the long term health of their ad system.
Shay O says:
Thanks for pointing that out Joy. It seems the match-type games never end. Another problematic aspect to this aggressive matching is that the engines can shop the traffic around to more of your terms. As you bid one down the 'bad' traffic jumps to the next.
I totally agree. Google too has cast the net quite wide with its broad matching. It is certainly a short term gain to capture as many clicks as possible, though it'll hurt Yahoo in the long-term as users are trained to expect poor results from Yahoo. Also, advertisers will need to turn down bids to maintain efficiency since poor/non-converting traffic is filtering through and bringing down the sales per click. It is a bad cycle.
Jon says:
We've also noticed an increase in poor performing search network partners - if you look into your logs, you'll notice the same thing - sites that don't comply with Yahoo's T&C's. They seem to do this once every quarter.
Exactly, Shay. And so the cycle continues. Advertisers have to bid down the next phrase as the sales per click drops with unrelated traffic. We can add negatives and change to exact/standard match to try and 'help' the matching problem, though it is impossible to anticipate the next mismatch!
Interesting! Thanks for sharing, Jon!
If I had known semantics was going to play such a huge role in my professional career, I would've listed in college when they talked about it; I suspect the same is true of Yahoo's engineering organization...
I know it, Chris!
Heh heh heh, Chris, you're funny. I'm pretty sure your professors wouldn't have suggested that "when someone says 'NASCAR points' what they really mean is 'Designer lingerie'!" I'm betting this game comes out of the accounting department, not the engineering department at Yahoo!
Yes, George, it does appear that the search engines' semantic philosophies are informed moreso by Keynes than by Wittgenstein.
Lee Steele says:
What the heck were you thinking using Yahoo's "advanced" match type for your client in the first place? It's a lazy man's approach to generating lots of (lousy) clicks. You got what you deserved IMHO.
For small accounts, in small niches, you can do a great deal with exact match and standard match. The long tail is important, control is valuable, targeting is super. However, the all-exact-match-all-the-time approach is naive. We know, we've tried it. You end up either shrinking the program (losing topline at the same efficiency) or spending all your time flipping ad copy on unmanageably large campaigns. The account in question has more than 1 million KWs running. To suggest that the client would benefit from the exponential growth associated with capturing every permutation of word order within keywords, misspellings, typos within SKUs, etc is foolhardy. The additional time required to manage the 25 million KW account costs money, and that cost would not be justified by results.
Marie says:
Well, these are the kinds of things that keep search agencies afloat. Small companies can't make Adwords and Y! sponsored search work, and have to turn to agencies for professional help.
Good point, Marie. If this stuff was easy we'd all be out of work :-)
Matt Commins says:
Great article! I've always been suspicious of Yahoo's "broad" match. I've seen through my own logs that my ads showed for completely unrelated keywords too. Also, do not forget to exclude (block) domains. You can find this option on the "Administration" tab in the " Account General Information" section.
Thanks, Matt. We are able to see conversion data by domain as well, and have used this to block unproductive domains. Now if Google would allow us to do this for search, we'd be able to trim some of the fat on that engine too. (Google allows advertisers to block domains on content only right now.)
Hi Joy, Great writeup - totally agree that Yahoo's Advanced match has issues. Have to really agree with Jon above as well. Where we've had the most issues with Yahoo is the search partners they are putting into their Search network. I'm not talking about their Content Network - which we have not used for a long time because it is filled with fraudulent low-quality sites. I'm talking about campaigns that we are only running on the Yahoo Search Network, and then we look in our logs and find all kinds of "link farm" sites. We really spend time excluding these sites when they pop up. I feel it is inexcusable that Yahoo let's these types of sites be a part of its Search network. They need to have better standards and kick these sites out (or not let them in in the first place) but it seems that someone has made a decision to go for revenue as opposed to having a high-quality ad network with high-quality traffic.
Yes, I know it! Yahoo is scrambling to reclaim market share and so is including lower-quality sites. I think this will hurt them in the long-term.


Check out what others are saying...
[...] is getting very EXSPANSIVE about its Advance Match Type for keywords to the point where its search quality is almost as bad as Google’s Advanced [...]
[...] Rimm-Kaufman Group wrote this week about Yahoo! making changes to their matching policy and expanding their definition [...]

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