Is the Yahoo Bing Network Emerging From Google’s Shadow?

In mid-April comScore reported that for the first time Bing reached a 20 percent search market share in the United States. Adding in the 12.7 percent of U.S. searches conducted on the sites of its search alliance partner, Yahoo, and the Yahoo Bing Network’s effective search market share is now nearly 33 percent. While this figure is still far behind Google’s 64.4 percent of U.S. search share, as detailed in the same report, it’s on the rise; in December of 2012 comScore reported Yahoo Bing accounted for 28 percent of the search market vs. Google’s nearly 67 percent.

Judging by these numbers alone you would think there would be high adoption of the Yahoo Bing Network by search marketers. However, that’s not the case. We recently published a study of paid search performance on the Yahoo Bing Network and Google AdWords across six industry verticals in 2014 and found on average just 32 percent of advertisers had an ad display on the first search engine results page (SERP) of both Google and Yahoo Bing during the year, compared to 66 percent who displayed a first SERP ad on Google alone, as well as a mere 2 percent who displayed a first SERP ad exclusively on Yahoo Bing.

The implication, of course, is that the 66 percent of companies advertising on Google alone may potentially be missing out on one-third of consumer searches. If that’s not incentive enough for these advertisers to investigate Yahoo Bing, consider these additional facts:

Performance on Yahoo Bing Improving at a Faster Rate

Without a doubt Google AdWords offered higher click-through rates than Yahoo Bing in 2014; Google’s average click-through rate across all six verticals we studied was 5.47 percent — 126 percent higher than Yahoo Bing’s 2.42 percent average CTR across the six verticals. However, the gap between the two search engines has narrowed considerably since the last time we conducted this study in the third quarter of 2012, when Google’s average click-through rates were actually 265 percent higher than Yahoo Bing’s.

What’s significant is the reason why. In short, performance on Yahoo Bing is improving at a faster rate than performance on Google AdWords: Yahoo Bing’s average click-through rates improved by 175 percent from Q3 2012 to 2014, while average click-through rates on Google improved at a healthy but far lower rate during the period, just 65 percent.

Some Get Higher CTR, Better Positioning on Yahoo Bing

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While overall Google offered a superior average click-through rate in 2014, there were groups of advertisers in all six verticals who sponsored paid search campaigns on both engines and saw higher click-through rates on Yahoo Bing than Google last year.

Most significantly, 18 percent of advertisers in the Shopping and Classifieds (retail) vertical who advertised on both engines in 2014 saw a greater click-through rate on Yahoo Bing. In other words, nearly one in five retailers on both search engines had a better CTR on Yahoo Bing, including giants like Sears, Macy’s, and Best Buy. In both the Travel and Automotive verticals that number was 16 percent, and included advertisers such as Hotels.com, Travelocity, Southwest Airlines, Royal Caribbean, Dodge, Lexus, Nissan, and Carfax.

Providing insight into this phenomenon, we found that on average these advertisers’ search ads gained far more favorable positioning on the first Yahoo Bing search engine results page (SERP) than on Google’s, meaning their ads were displayed higher up on the page, making them seen and clicked more often by consumers.

For example, using a scale from zero to 10 — with zero representing the premium or highest position at the top of the page and 10 representing the lowest position at the bottom of the page — the Shopping and Classifieds advertisers with a better CTR on Yahoo Bing experienced an average position of 0.7 on Yahoo Bing compared to an average position of 2.2 on Google, a 66 percent difference. Similarly, Travel advertisers with a better CTR on Yahoo Bing experienced an average position of 0.6 on Yahoo Bing compared to 1.9 on Google, a 68 percent difference, while Automotive advertisers with a better CTR Yahoo Bing had an average Yahoo Bing position of 0.7 compared to 2.3 on Google, also a 68 percent difference.

Lower Cost, Less Competition on Yahoo Bing

Overall Google AdWords offers advertisers an advantage over Yahoo Bing in click-through rates (as noted above) as well as in impressions, delivering 138 percent more impressions than Yahoo Bing across all six categories in 2014. However, the Yahoo Bing Network has advantages of its own. Namely, in cost per click and competition.

The average cost per click on Yahoo Bing was 42 percent less expensive than on Google across all six verticals in 2014. Breaking it down by vertical, within Shopping and Classifieds, the average CPC was 49 percent less expensive on Yahoo Bing than on Google, 45 percent less expensive in Automotive, 35 percent less in Financial Services, 38 percent less in Travel, and 33 percent less in Education. The Business vertical had the largest cost difference between the two engines, as the average cost per click on Yahoo Bing was 63 percent less than on Google.

Together with a lower average CPC, there was far less competition on Yahoo Bing than on Google in 2014. Within the six verticals studied, Google experienced nearly double to more than triple the number of advertisers who gained placement on its first SERP than those who did on Yahoo Bing last year. More advertisers, of course, means more heated competition to reach consumers as well higher CPCs, since competitive bidding increases your cost per click in paid search campaigns.

Should You Advertise on Yahoo Bing — and How?

The obvious recommendation for any search marketer is to test every aspect of your program — including the search engines you advertise on — and measure your results over time in order to understand what works for your specific business. The findings discussed above certainly provide compelling reasons to test the Yahoo Bing Network.

To go beyond the obvious, however, perhaps the question is not so much should you advertise on Yahoo Bing but how.

Yahoo Bing is a very different animal than Google AdWords. Yet it seems many advertisers simply try to replicate what’s working in their AdWords campaigns on Yahoo Bing, almost as an afterthought, and expect the same results.

A more constructive strategy would be to recognize and embrace the difference between the two search engines and try to take advantage of Yahoo Bing’s unique advantages. As a practical example, one approach may be to identify highly profitable keywords for which you’re receiving poor coverage on Google and test those keywords on Yahoo Bing, which offers less competition.

We can’t say for certain how 18 percent of retail advertisers got better click-through rates and positioning on Yahoo Bing than on Google in 2014. But it’s a safe bet they didn’t run the exact same campaigns on both search engines.

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