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January 31, 2007

The UK, Yahoo and PPC

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We have a problem. Humor me for a moment, okay?

To a large extent, the success of a site’s pay-per-click campaign depends on its ability to target the highest-traffic, highest-conversion terms related to its products and/or services. It’s about going after the keywords that will bring your site the most visibility and the highest rate of conversions for the least amount of money. If you’re a UK-company looking to sell to UK customers, it’s probably pretty important that your ad is running in the right country, right? Right.

Unfortunately for some UK advertisers, Yahoo seems to be having a slight problem with this and is actually displaying ads completely outside of their intended realm.

I came across an interesting Threadwatch thread today where one member comments that UK Yahoo PPC ads are being displayed on non-UK sites and Yahoo claims there is nothing they can do about it.

The member explains that he recently launched a UK-based paid search campaign for a site geared towards people living the United Kingdom. Since Yahoo UK PPC ads are supposed to run only in the UK and Ireland, he was pretty surprised when he discovered them running on sites in Germany and Italy.

When the TW member asked Yahoo about the strange occurrence, this is what they told him:

"We would like to inform you that when you sign up with Yahoo! Search Marketing, you sign up to display your search listings in Yahoo! Search Marketing’s search engine and in all of our partner search engines.
Please note that unfortunately we cannot cancel the display of your search listings on any of the smaller search engines as you have listed."

That doesn’t make sense, especially after they originally assured him that his ads were only running in the UK and Ireland. If Yahoo can’t control where they ads are run, why do they require advertisers to set up different Y!SM accounts for each of their 12 European-supported countries? I guess it’s possible that some of Yahoo’s affiliates are posting traffic on sites they shouldn’t and it’s being filtered out, but that’s somewhat unlikely.

I’m not sure if Yahoo has a problem with its country targeting or if they’re just unable to control where ads are displayed in general. You’ll remember back in May when Ben Edelman exposed Yahoo’s click fraud troubles in the US which spurred them to stop inadvertently (or not perhaps not inadvertently) running ads on low-quality spyware and adware sites. Maybe these cases are related, and maybe they’re not. Regardless, Yahoo seems to have a problem managing its publisher sites.

When Yahoo runs your ads on sites out of your intended target locale, it costs you money in unqualified clicks. Not to incite a riot of any sorts, but this may be considered another form of click fraud – charging advertisers to publish ads on high-quality sites and then replacing those sites with others unrelated to their business. The big advantage of contextual advertising is that you get to market yourself to the people who are interested in your products and will convert. Otherwise, why bother paying the high cost per click?

I was aware that Y!SM ran in twelve European markets, I just though advertisers had control over where their ads ran. I understand that if I set up a UK Y!SM account my ads will run in both the UK and Ireland, but I don’t want to waste my advertising dollars being charged for clicks coming from Austria and Switzerland. It doesn’t make sense and Yahoo should be able to do a better job controlling that.

If you’re a UK advertiser, we’d recommend taking a look at your campaign metrics to see if you’re being charged for clicks coming from outside your intended countries. If you are, it may be time to contact Yahoo and apply some pressure to get this problem resolved. As an advertiser, you can’t afford to be charged for clicks coming from misguided, un-targeted traffic.

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