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October 18, 2006

Attending the Yahoo Influencers event for Panama release

I have just returned from Yahoo’s Burbank headquarters, the home of the newly released Panama advertising platform, where I have spent the past two days learning – and testing live – the much hyped Panama program. It was part of the Yahoo Influencer Event, which I was honored to be one of seven industry reps to be invited. We were primarily those who were particularly well versed on all things Yahoo or pay per click advertising, and all of us write about it in some capacity, whether it is on a blog, website or a published book.

Andy Beal, Marketing Pilgrim
Mona Elesseily, Traffick/Page Zero
Andrew Goodman, Traffick/Page Zero
Barry Schwartz, Search Engine Roundtable/Search Engine Watch
Catherine Seda, Author/Entrepreneur
Greg Sterling, Search Engine Journal

The group as a whole meshed pretty well and it was great to catch up with many of them.

There were so many Yahoo employees involved in Panama that came to present or answer Q&A we had on the new platform. The thing that I found most interesting of the entire event is the access we had to very high level employees at Yahoo for the Influencers event. Three men who sat down at our table at lunch, and who were merely introduced as “the engineers” were actually Zod Nazem, CTO; David Ku, VP of Engineering; and Brian Acton, Director of Engineering. They then spent time with us after lunch talking about their experiences with Panama, as well as answering our questions.

The other presenters on Monday included Steve Mitgang (Sr. Vice President & GM), John Slade Sr (Director, Global Product Management; also familiar to those who attend the click fraud panels at SES); John Kim (Sr. Director, Advertiser Product Marketing), Betty Park (Director, Sales), Karen Sharkey (Sr. Director, Customer Solutions), Tim Cadogan (VP of Search), David Pann (VP of Product Management), Darshan Kantak (Director of Product Management), Mark Morrissey (VP of Global Product Management). There were also many who popped in and out throughout the day, many commenting when they could.

Some YPN team members presenting on Tuesday included Bill Demas, Will Johnson and Cody Simms. We also met Michael Mattis, blog editor of the YPNBlog.com, although not the infamous sock monkey.

And as you have likely heard, Yahoo announced the Panama release in their earnings call, shortly after our event wrapped up. We got to play around with the system with money courtesy of Yahoo, so we did keyword research and created new ad campaigns right in the new Panama ad platform. Andy Beal and Catherine Seda tried to outrank each other for the term “SEO” until Catherine’s budget ran out.

I was very impressed with a lot of the new features in the new system. You can suggest a URL to extract keywords from (whether your own site or a competitor), then can easily deselect words you don’t need. For example, when I used jensense.com, it picked up the term “snowboarding” since I used it as an example in the YouTube post I did. But it was easy to deselect it from my list.

They also added a new slider into the system, so you can slide it back and forth and see how much it costs in order to get 100% impressions and getting the best ad placement. Then you can slide it lower to fit your budget, and when you do, it will show you how many impressions and clicks you could expect, as well as showing how much you will miss. There were new features I know I am also forgetting that I will remember as soon as I log back into Panama tomorrow.

The one thing that surprised me the most was that there is still no way to block specific publisher sites from displaying ads. I have always felt that this has limited the number of advertisers willing to opt into the Yahoo content network, and have felt that the different pricing between search and content is better than nothing. But having the ability to block any publisher would definitely give more advertisers the confidence to run their ads on the content network if they feel they have control over where those ads appear. I was quite vocal on this one, as were the other attendees who do a lot of PPC.

And it looks as though the demise of the keyword traffic tool will become a reality. I was also vocal against that one because it is a great free tool to send newbies too who want to start poking around into keyword research. We may have managed to convince them to keep it in place until they have a Panama edition of a similar tool in place that is accessible to all webmasters (not just advertisers).

They also talked a bit about the YSM API. It sounds as though they really want to encourage third parties to create tools using it.

As for the Yahoo Publisher Network side of things, it seems like they were waiting on the Panama release before pushing forward on new things. And when put this way, it makes sense for them to wait and push out features with the new platform than adding something on the legacy platform. So publishers should be seeing new things on the way now that this is done.

Cody Simms from YPN also said targeting should be improving with the new system, and tweaks will continue to be made, which I know all YPN publishers will be happy to hear. The many elipses (…) have disappeared now as well.

It also looks like Yahoo will continue to push the non-monetizable publisher options to publishers. This includes the tab within the YPN control panel that shows the other various Yahoo programs that publishers could potentially use as a way to improve or gain traffic. This was one thing I wasn’t quite so happy to hear about… as a publisher (and I know others have said this to me as well) we want to hear about options that make money directly, and not so much about Yahoo products that do not. So why I don’t mind hearing about something like Y!Q once in a while, it has seemed lately that this is happening more frequently and will continue with this trend.

We also heard about future vision of YPN and where it is headed, but unfortunately that part was under NDA. However, I can say that publishers will like where it is headed and what the future of YPN will bring.

Overall, I was extremely impressed with the event. All seven of us signed NDAs, but most of what we heard was bloggable once the embargo was lifted at 3pm Tuesday… which was also bumped up by 15 minutes to allow some of the attendees to push their blog posts live prior to flights taking off at 3pm. And all the Yahoo’ers were extremely candid. There were surprisingly few instances where they wouldn’t answer a question, and it wasn’t very often that I felt an answer was taking a circular route to avoid the real question. In fact, there was multiple times I couldn’t help but think “Wow, I can’t believe they are telling us this!” It was a definite class act.

And of course, there was the swag. Black and white bags for the girls while the guys got orange and grey versions of the Yahoo Publisher Network bag. And inside was a YPN branded Zen Photo MP3 player. While in the elevator to the event, several of us mentioned how little Yahoo swag we had. And when we got the bags with the goodies, Andy Beal remarked “You had me at Zen.” I wish I thought of that line! We also got Yahoo gum (“Yodelicious. Freshen breath. Yodel. Repeat.”), stickers, buttons, a magnet, a swanky YPN pen, lighted keychain. And also included, which I somehow missed until just writing this now, was a Yahoo sticky note pad, a “Do you Yahoo!?” notebook with matching sticker inside, girlie Yahoo tshirt, “Beta This” lighted ball, umbrella, a funky mini flashlight I am sure my daughter will permanently borrow, a YPN mini basketball hoop and ball which my daughter has already taken, and a nice purple YSM travel mug which I know I will use well. Swagalicious!

I know there is plenty I am forgetting, once I go through my notes I will likely post a followup as well. It was an intensive two days!

I would definitely attend something like this at Yahoo in the future, it was well worth the trip down and can only hope they do it again!

A special thanks to Kristen, Gaude and Steph for the work they did putting this all together for us. It was a class event, complete with a night out which ended it bowling down the street from the Kodak Theater.

And also a shout out to Dax who indulged my inner Disney princess (or was it Maleficent?) with an all-day trip to Disneyland on Sunday (read about his Disneygasm) but as tempting as it may be, I won’t tell how he screamed when we went on Tower of Terror. And also to Barbara and Greg Boser (AKA WebGuerrilla) whom I stayed with for a couple days before the influencers event and hung out with in their office before I flew home.

Last but not least, if you want a Panama invite (restricted to US only at this time, lucky I attended the Influencers event or I could be waiting a while!) click here to request an early invite. Otherwise, you will be sent an invite sometime between now and early next year.

Posted by Jenstar at October 18, 2006 10:37 PM


Jen, thanks a lot for attending. It was great to hear everyone's feedback, yours very much included of course!


Posted by: Cody Simms at October 19, 2006 07:20 AM


Great overview and as a yhoo shareholder who has gone through a lot these past couple months, I am glad that they are finally doing something right.


Posted by: Mark at October 19, 2006 10:14 AM

Hi Jen,

Sounds like you had a fun time and thanks for a great review. I really hope they keep the keyword traffic tool - not sure I could live without it!


Posted by: Elle Brown at October 19, 2006 03:27 PM

Jen, what's your take on whether this new system will allow Yahoo to regain some of the market share they've lost to Google? (http://www.threetwentyinteractive.com/2006/10/google-pulls-away.htm)

They're falling further and further behind, and it's no surprise to me. This stuff all sounds good, but is it enough to stop the slide?

Posted by: Shane Pike at October 20, 2006 06:02 AM

So still no news about coming out of beta? If only they (and other companies) had used a different word, such as test or trail, then they would have had a better image.

Posted by: Paul Wells at October 20, 2006 09:59 AM

Well, they could do a Flickr and leave beta for gamma :P

Posted by: Jenstar at October 20, 2006 11:15 AM

Features are okay, I guess ... but the issues I and many other advertisers are most concerned about are engineering/programming fixes. There are many serious problems with Y!'s code, their accounting math, their reporting ... when will we hear more about what they are doing to improve their programming? You can't keep piling on features when the foundation is rotting and expect to survive ... unless you're Microsoft.

Posted by: James at October 26, 2006 01:06 PM