Google's Superiority Complex

Is it Google or Yahoo or Microsoft that leads the pack in search advertising platforms? What makes a good search advertising platform? Ease of use? Time to market? Does anyone care about volume?

Somewhere in the Microhoo/Yahoocrosoft discussions, mainstream press began reporting that "Google's superior advertising platform" dominates Yahoo. This started to happen right around the time Yahoo snubbed Microsoft with a Google ad platform test.

Speculation continues as to whether Yahoo will actually continue with its own platform (although sources close to the project at Yahoo say giving up isn't an option) while the advertising world wonders why the press keeps calling Google's system superior. Is it ... really?

In order to resolve my internal rage, this week I spent some time with advertisers and took a good long look at my own search advertising efforts.

Unproductive Argumentative

Earlier this week, a conference call with financial services firm Collins Stewart took place to discuss potential Yahoo/Google advertising partnerships with industry experts and practitioners. Seth Barnes, senior Internet marketing manager at Edmunds.com, said he didn't notice any change in campaign performance when Yahoo and Google combined forces in contextual search ads.

The real argument here isn't which platform is better; it's who's better at monetizing. Yahoo and Google both rank listings according to a combination of cost and response rates, so where's the beef?

Which one is easier to use? What are the major differences between the two? I've spent a fair amount of time using both, and leaving aside delays in API (third party search tools) feature rollouts, I asked some practitioners in the space what they thought as well.

Technology Works

For the most part, I (along with the folks I spoke with) liked the Google AdWords editor better than Yahoo's because you can download and work offline. Yahoo (and others) still offer the bulk sheet (think very large spreadsheet) as an upload option, but compared to Google's technology, Yahoo appears a bit behind the times.

Google also received lots of positive notes on its speedy technology. Advertisers noted that Yahoo's system hadn't changed much since the Overture acquisition, which makes changing and updating slower than Google.

Google is best known for its clean looking interface. This "clean" appearance is also prevalent in its advertiser interface. Cleaner doesn't necessarily mean better, yet anything that ensures fewer headaches in the process of managing search advertising campaigns is bound to be received well.

The Volume Question

Advertisers have reported sharp declines in traffic from Yahoo, along with lower-quality clicks. Of course, this can easily be attributed to poor campaign management, and obtaining scientific data for a measure like this is nearly impossible.

Reprise Media's David Singh noted that since Yahoo stopped syndicating listings to MSN, the 60-40 (Google-Yahoo) split in volume is now closer to an 80-20 split in Google's favor.

Again, much of the volume discussion can boil down to search advertising campaign dynamics. Yet each advertiser I spoke with noted a drop in traffic volume from Yahoo in the last two to three years.

Quality in Superiority

The last focus area I asked about was the quality of service. Since the campaigns I personally manage today are much smaller than my previous campaigns, service isn't much of an issue for me since I don't need (nor do I ask for) much personal attention.

The high maintenance folks in my group responded to my service quality question by unanimously declaring Google's service group better than Yahoo's. However, each of the advertisers I spoke with noted that Yahoo is making great strides in its weak areas.

In the end, is Google's system better, or are they just monetizing better? It sounds to me like a little bit of both, but we shouldn't count Yahoo out. While Microsoft wasn't included in these conversations (and people have been saying this for years), big blue could still best them all.

We really shouldn't count Yahoo out of search advertising because handing Google a monopoly in search advertising won't be healthy for the industry. I have nothing against Google, mind you; I oppose a lack of choice because nothing good has ever come from smiling dictators.