Yahoo Demographic Targeting For Search – More Questions Than Answers

By Tad Miller | Mar 20, 2009
More Articles by Tad


I was little bit excited to discover that Yahoo added some new features to Yahoo Sponsored Search this week.  Some of them like dayparting were no brainers, and I honestly don’t understand why it took them years to finally offer it.

But the ability to have demographic reporting and to have incremental bids for gender or age groups was what really sparked my interest.  This was the first time that Yahoo ever gave any insight or transparency into its paid search traffic.  I have always had issues with the quality of Yahoo Sponsored Search PPC traffic.  It usually has the highest costs per click, lowest conversion rate and highest conversion costs.

MSN has been offering demographic targeting on its search traffic for quite a while, but lets face it targeting females age 30 to 34 on MSN is like trying to slice out a piece of pie – when the pie is the size of a penny!  Yahoo is a much larger search engine in terms of traffic. Google only offers demographic targeting on its Content Network.

I really hoped that seeing the Yahoo breakdown of male vs. female traffic and breakdown of age groups, especially the age 17 and under age group, would provide some insight into why Yahoo’s traffic performs the way it does.  Yahoo is giving advertisers the ability to exclude the age 17 and under age group and if you are selling big ticket items or offer B to B products or services it only makes sense to exclude this age group.

So my hopes were high and I enabled Yahoo demographic reporting the very same afternoon it was offered on all my Yahoo adgroups.  But, seeing a few days worth of demographic data has honestly given me less faith in Yahoo’s traffic.

Yahoo told Barry Schwartz:

they get this demographic data from several sources including their large registered user base, publisher sources and other third-party sources.

So essentially searchers have to have a Yahoo id and be logged into a Yahoo service like e-mail, fantasy sports or MyYahoo to have visibility into the demographics of the searcher.  The demographics come from Yahoo Profiles that those searchers fill out.  So right away many users of Yahoo search will not be logged in and covered by the targeting – that’s expected and OK.  But, most loyal Yahoo users will log in for some reason, and they are the true and recurring Yahoo users.

After 3 days utilizing the demographic reporting with one of our biggest advertisers the results of capturing these demographics are a little disappointing.  Demographic targeting only captured:

  • 2% of total Yahoo impressions
  • 22% of Yahoo clicks
  • 16% of total Yahoo spend

This was a large amount of traffic and frankly a large spend over 3 days.  To miss 98% of the impressions doesn’t seem very effective.  Capturing only 22% of total clicks over that same time is also inadequate, but is a disproportionately larger data capture than total impressions.  Why such a poor capture on impressions and why such a difference in capturing more total clicks?

Additionally, Yahoo makes a big deal about being able to exclude the age 17 and younger demographic.  But after 3 days and thousands of clicks not one single impression or click has been measured for that demographic.  Are they hiding this data?  Why should I exclude something I can’t see?  This was the one segment I really wanted insight into to know if it was negatively impacting my performance.

Am I really supposed to make rational decisions on demographic bidding with such a tiny sample of data to base it on?

Explanations and Conspiracy Theories for Inadequate Demographic Data:

  • The majority of Yahoo Paid Search Traffic isn’t from Yahoo.com.  A recent study from Efficient Frontier says that Only about 45% of Yahoo’s paid search traffic comes Yahoo.com.  The rest of the traffic comes from Yahoo’s Syndicated Search Network.  The Yahoo Syndicated Search Network is composed mostly of newspaper and TV station websites and even Ebay.com.  So if 45% of my traffic is using Yahoo.com, demographic targeting likely won’t apply to the other 55%.  What percent of the remaining Yahoo.com users are logged into Yahoo?
  • Demographic targeting data capture on impressions is terrible because Yahoo Advanced Match is terrible and is way too expansive and broad in how it shows your ad.  This combined with the irrelevant impressions you might get from Ebay or other syndication partners is always the reason for Yahoo having the worst click through rate of all the search engines.
  • Data Capture on Clicks is so much better than impressions because despite the majority of impressions coming outside of Yahoo.com, the overwhelming majority of clicks come from Yahoo.com.

The demographic data Yahoo is providing honestly doesn’t make me want to bid higher on a certain age group or certain gender.  Although, all of the demographic clicks I can target are certain to be higher quality Yahoo.com search traffic, which is worth more than the syndicated crap they give me elsewhere.

The lack of demographic data just reinforces my belief that way to much Yahoo paid search traffic is coming outside of Yahoo.com and that there isn’t a lot of quality in that traffic.

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