Interview with Josh Siegel of Yahoo Publisher Network (YPN)

There is a ton of buzz surrounding the YPN beta program. As a beta tester, I tend to frequent the forums a bit and saw the same questions often being asked over and over again. So, I decided to ask YPN for a chance to ask the questions and get some answers – and being the sports they are, they agreed to do it. From international challenges to ways publishers can achieve better targeting, I asked and they answered. Read on to see what we discussed and figure out what a mechanical bull has to do with contextual advertising. ;-)

Q&A with Josh Siegel of Yahoo! Publisher Network

Josh is responsible for the overall business operations of the Yahoo! Publisher Network online program including account management, customer support, payment, and partner management functions. He also manages the overall policies and business requirements for the program.

RAE: One of the bigger issues surrounding the YPN beta program is the targeting of the ads (and as a result, low click thru rates) based on feedback at forums and my own experiences as a beta tester. Can you tell me a little bit about the targeting process and what you’re doing to improve the experience? Can publishers do anything on their sites to help improve targeting?

JS: I’m glad you bring this up because we’ve found that the majority of our publishers have been very happy with the ads served on their site. We do find typically that sites that have little content are harder for our crawlers to find matching ads to serve. Additionally, if your site has terms that we deem sensitive then we will serve generally targeted ads. My suggestion to help improving the ads targeted in your site is to use our Ad Targeting feature (which allows the publisher to influence the type of ad category) and make sure your content is well described and updated regularly.

RAE: How do you obtain feedback from your publishers and what have you learned about what is working and what isn’t as a result?

JS: We use a variety of means to get feedback from publishers. First, we take customer service very seriously and have multiple ways to get data from actual customer calls and emails.

In the publisher interface, we also have a number of features that encourage publisher feedback either via a poll, the email support form, or our support number.

Lastly, we talk to publishers literally daily either through our product marketing efforts, industry conferences, or through our account team.

So far, the publishers have been really receptive and pretty clear about what they like and what we need to improve.

RAE: It has been widely reported that Google had inadvertently mentioned a lower forecast for their contextual advertising revenues re: their Adsense program. What is the opinion of the YPN team in regards to their own forecast for growth in the contextual advertising space?

JS: We think the growth of publishers and social media is a big opportunity for both contextual and other advertiser and targeting products. Yahoo! will continue to focus on helping publisher’s and end-users engage with social media whether it’s Flickr, Delicious, the Yahoo! Developer Network, or enabling market-leading monetization through content ads from The Yahoo! Publisher Network.

As to specific market guidance, we are not able to provide additional information at this time.

RAE: What types of sites does YPN value most in their publisher network? Do those types of sites get more customization options, better payouts or other benefits? Do you see yourself creating a program for “elite” publishers in the future?

JS: The Yahoo! Publisher Network has a broad range of service offerings both a self-serve offering as well customized strategic offerings for very large publishers like Cnn.com, Espn.com and various Viacom sites and we really value all relationships.

As the complexity of a publisher’s business grows, a different level of engagement is often required to properly service their business needs.

Smaller sites need simplicity, business term flexibility, and basic configuration and reporting options. As the Yahoo! Publisher Network grows, more products and services will be available to all publishers.

If your site generates more than two million searches or 20 million page views monthly, you may be eligible for a customized program featuring a full range of Yahoo! products and dedicated account management. Premier services include potential access to Search, Content, and other monetization products. I would encourage anyone reading to visit http://publisher.yahoo.com for more information about our specific offerings.

RAE: Your absence in the International space is largely noted in forums with International publishers wanting to know when YPN will become available to them. What are you expansion plans for rolling out your contextual product internationally? What difficulties do you face when entering the International space?

JS: Our plan has been to begin with a beta in the United States, learn our lessons and perfect the formula, and then rollout more broadly. I can’t reveal details on when we’ll roll out to other markets but we’ll be sure to keep you posted.

The challenges associated with entering international markets include localizing the product including the interfaces and underlying web services for language and other market specific needs. Additionally, we need to ensure that operationally, we can support customer service, payment, and other publisher services to the market.

RAE: What are some of the common mistakes you see publishers making in regards to ad integration? Is there an internal listing of bad implementations, color schemes or other things that you see happening time and time again? Do you plan on providing tips and advice to publishers to help them maximize their earnings?

JS: Generally speaking, we see a lot great implementations, and others that do not optimize the opportunity as well as they could.

For any publisher to be successful long-term, they need to provide content and services that allow them to aggregate and reach a meaningful set of users. So, a focus on who your users are and what is of value to them ultimately will help build sustainable value.

For implementation tips, we recommend the following:

  • Place ads above the fold, in non-banner format
  • In some cases, Yahoo! has seen publishers significantly increase the revenue generated by their sites simply by moving ads from top banner placement to placement within the article. In general, ads in a non-banner placement perform better than traditional banner implementations.

  • Create ad appearance based on ad placement
  • To improve the performance of your site, it’s important to consider the placement of an ad when creating its appearance. In general, inline listings perform well when they are blended in with content. Ads in a banner placement perform well when they stand out to the user. We advise publishers to keep this in mind when choosing the font type, font color, font size, shading, color, border, etc. of the ads they place on their sites.

  • Target the ads on your site to your audience
  • You as a publisher know your audience best. While a contextual crawler can generate ads that are relevant to the content on your site, it cannot identify and target ads to other interests your users may have. Tools like Yahoo! Publisher Network’s “Ad Targeting” feature enables publishers to guide the types of ads that appear on their sites by telling Yahoo! which other subject categories might be of interest to their users. This allows publishers to engage their users more deeply through more tailored advertising.

  • Keep close track of your site performance, especially when experimenting with ads
  • As you make changes to your site and experiment with different ad formats, it is important to keep close track of your site performance. Yahoo! recommends that publishers keep tabs on their site performance by URL or by channel and review their reports regularly to assess the results of their changes.

RAE: I know from meeting several members of your staff that you’re a hard working bunch and that you guys really give it your all to improve your program. How do you guys deal with the day to day pressure of entering the contextual advertising space and how do you reward yourselves for hitting important milestones and jobs well done?

JS: Great question! I think the team is motivated to really do something special in the industry. Yahoo! assets are second to none when it comes to publishers and social media, so over the next year or two, the possibilities are really exciting. I think that attachment to the vision of what the Yahoo! Publisher Network can ultimately be enables us to get through the day to day realities of running a business of this scale.

We do take the opportunity to celebrate our successes when we can. I hope I am not telling any company secrets, but one of our outings for a major milestone was meeting up at restaurant that had a mechanical bull. Can you imagine a bunch of Internet geeks riding a bull? Good times…

RAE: As with many dedicated companies, the office becomes like a second home for many people on the team. What is considered the “favorite spot” of the office and why do employees like it?

JS: We actually just moved to a brand new campus in Burbank that has a great coffee bar (featuring free coffees). So if anyone was curious where our team energy comes from, the secret is now out.

The Yahoo Coffee Bar (Thanks to Kristen for the picture)

RAE: Thanks for taking the time for this Q&A. I know you guys are extremely busy and it is good to know that you’re willing to take time out and answer questions on many publishers’ minds.

JS: My pleasure. Thank you for the opportunity.

About Rae Hoffman

Rae Hoffman aka "Sugarrae" is an affiliate marketing veteran and the CEO of PushFire, a search marketing agency specializing in SEO audits and link building strategies. She is also the author of the often controversial Sugarrae blog. You can connect with Rae via Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

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