February 25, 2009, 12:00 AM

Yahoo touts new features to help marketers hit the bullseye with online ads

Taking advantage of the popular sites it owns and its search engine, Yahoo has unveiled three features that can help online retailers and other advertisers present ads to consumers likely to be interested.

Yahoo has introduced three new ways advertisers can better find and connect with consumers most likely to purchase their goods. The programs aim to help advertisers, including online retailers, sift through the mass of shoppers on the Internet and serve up ads only to those in specific demographics or who, by their online behavior, have shown they are interested in products a retailer is selling.

The first product, Search Retargeting for Display Advertising, enables advertisers to serve up display ads based on a consumer’s previous Yahoo search queries. For example, if a consumer who typed ‘adirondack chairs’ into Yahoo search later goes to ESPN.com, he could be shown a display ad for the lawn chairs on the sports web site.

The second program, Enhanced Retargeting for Display Advertising, is based on the web sites consumers visit and their behavior while at the sites. For example, a consumer who searches for Saucony Hurricane running shoes on a sporting goods site might be shown a display ad for that exact type of footwear on a different web site she visits later on.

The last service, called Enhanced Targeting for Search Advertising, allows online advertisers to pinpoint the time and day of week they want to display their ads, and specify characteristics of their target viewer, such as age or gender.

This third product plays to Yahoo’s strengths, as it operates a larger network of web portals than some of its competitors. These include Yahoo Finance, Yahoo Groups, the job site HotJobs.com and many more. It also operates a popular e-mail service. These assets give Yahoo access to a massive amount of data it can offer to marketer clients seeking just the right audience.

Yahoo, for example, could allow marketers to target ads based on information consumers enter when they register for an e-mail account or sign up at Yahoo Groups.

In addition to what consumers offer up voluntarily, Yahoo also uses cookies, small bits of codes that monitor user behavior, to keep track of information about online shoppers, searchers and surfing behavior on Yahoo corporate sites.

“They just have a massive, massive amount of data,” says Mark Simon vice president of industry relations for search marketing firm Didit.

It`s important to note, however, that ads will only be shown on web sites that are part of the Yahoo Network of publisher sites. Yahoo won`t specify the number of sites in its network, but Simon says it is in the tens of thousands.

Overall, Yahoo is just now catching up with competitors such as MSN and Google, which have offered targeting capabilities for some time, Simon says. “They’ve been looking for something more robust, something to put them more on par with their competitors,” he says. “This is allowing them to compete with some engines that have had this for awhile.”

With all the targeting and tracking capabilities available today, it may seem as though networks are reaching the peak of their targeting potential. Not so, says Simon.

He says ad networks are slowly embarking on the what he calls the “nirvana of targeting capabilities” for e-retailers: When retailers will have the ability to show ads only to consumers who buy-not just browse-online. That way merchants aren’t wasting their time with consumers who don’t make online purchases.

Ad networks likely have that data, but using it could get sticky, Simon says. That`s because it would mean taking information the network has from one of its e-commerce clients, and using it to help a different e-retailer-one that may be a competitor.

For example, if Yahoo can see that a shopper clicked on one of its client’s ads for wristwatches, went to the site and bought a watch, Yahoo could give that information to other retailers looking to target only individuals who buy online. That could include other online jewelers.

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