Industry Feedback – Yahoo’s Panama Migration

    January 29, 2007

Some agencies quoted in popular press stories about Yahoo’s Panama migration would have you believe the process has been a snap — and that it has been so because they were particularly adroit in their “due diligence.”

Anyone I’ve talked to directly, however, has described specific glitches and problems in detail.

Although I have not felt debilitating pain personally, and have great things to say about Yahoo’s yeoman efforts to provide customer service to as many accounts as possible, some agencies’ claims that there have been no major problems smacks of PR spin (and not only from Yahoo). Some of the SEM agencies seemingly least impacted by Panama appear to focus primarily on SEO.

The rest of us have been talking among ourselves. Why suffer in isolation? Misery loves company. So I asked a number of top SEM industry players to give me their hands-on, brain-hurt feedback specifically on the process of getting accounts up and running on Yahoo’s new Panama platform.

Making file formats compatible with one another, and translating data from a legacy system to a new system that has superior logic, aren’t trivial matters. (Remember Dataviz, that little software company that became a major force in helping, say, Mac users open up those pesky Microsoft office documents? Dataviz is still going strong, helping users grapple with the vast array of file formats today, that now have to be usable on mobile devices.)

Let’s face it, almost nobody on the planet makes “migration issues” their business full time. Remember the Y2K crisis? There were so few folks qualified to deal with the problem, for a couple of years a lot of old Cobol programmers suddenly found themselves on the cutting edge. All by way of giving Yahoo a bit of a break here. Their resources (and our preparations) are mainly devoted to making the new Panama the best it can be. Nobody wants to become a true expert on getting legacy accounts across the chasm to the new regime. Mainly because the problem will soon go away through a combination of technology and custom account rebuilding.

In the meantime, reach for the ibuprofen.

The industry response says: it’s been a bit of a mess. Yahoo’s doing their best to help, but the amount of help (let’s consider the fact that they have well over 100,000 active advertisers to assist) they can offer on custom problem-solving is severely limited, and will be case-by-case.

Much like being on an overcrowded exploration ship with insufficient rations, where everyone gets seasick at once. The previously-adequate medical staff and crew take care of a small handful of the ailing. Everyone looks forward to the day the ship finds its way to the destination, which surely promises freedom, abundance, and a better life for all. In the meantime, though, those who don’t get medical assistance pretty much get left to vomit over the rail.

Some agency people express basic frustration with just getting from Point A to Point B. Others have expressed concern that matters of editorial or platform “convenience” (to Yahoo’s advantage) have arbitrarily stripped out or changed old accounts. The upshot is definitely that you need to pay close attention to what shape your account is in post-migration. In particular, be careful with quirks like content targeting being accidentally turned on. In one such instance, Yahoo’s CSR did not admit fault for the $1,500 in unwanted content clicks, but instead, after some pleading, offered a 60% refund (instead of the more fair 100%), saying “I think you’d be smart to take the 60%, it’s a good deal.”

Here are some of the experts’ direct quotes.

“If Yahoo thinks your CTR is low enough, their editorial team has rewritten ads without permission. This typically includes your headline being changed to the keyword with the keyword insert function. [emphasis added] This can leave you legally exposed if you bid on competitors’ keywords and Yahoo editorial feels it’s appropriate to put that in the headline. This is probably an automatic process, but regardless, our recommendation is to explicitly state that Yahoo editorial cannot make changes to any of your accounts without permission.”

– West Coast Marketer

“Because of fundamental differences between our business methodology and Yahoo’s corresponding migration system, we’re proceeding with extreme caution. Though Yahoo has been terrific on the service side, their idea of “migration” is to transfer data from System A to System B, thus vastly oversimplifying our campaign architecture. Like transferring boiling water from one pot to another, it takes a concerted effort not to lose any steam. Normally, we’d address these differences using technology solutions, but because Yahoo’s old system canonicalized our keywords, much of our account data will have to be manually updated. All things considered, our migration has run smoothly thus far, and we look forward to the end result.”

– East Coast Marketer

“We’re happy about the transition in concept because the new platform is superior to the old platform. From an overall execution and transition standpoint, though, we are not happy. And I don’t blame the reps because they didn’t come up with the transition timeline and the transition process.”

– West Coast Marketer

There were many other comments, but this offers a representative sample. Thanks to those who sent comments, including FindMeFaster, Point-It, Page Zero, GotAds, and Reprise Media, among others.



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Andrew Goodman is Principal of Page Zero Media, a marketing consultancy which focuses on maximizing clients’ paid search marketing campaigns.

In 1999 Andrew co-founded, an acclaimed “guide to portals” which foresaw the rise of trends such as paid search and semantic analysis.