Last summer, Yahoo took the liberty of updating its standard terms of service to allow itself to modify paid search accounts as it sees fit, leaving the advertiser to accept full responsibility for Yahoo's keyword updates, copy updates, and other campaign modifications.
As a good search marketing practice, Yahoo shouldn't be touching these campaigns at all without the advertiser's desire for assistance (in effect, the only choice under these terms is to accept the terms or lose your account access), and search advertisers running on the Yahoo master service terms should pay close attention. Yahoo itself should be very concerned, as this will send many advertisers (in-house, agency, consultant, independent) bolting for the exits, ultimately driving a greater share of the paid search market into the hands of Google and others.
This change in terms may also partially be the reason for the company's reported loss of paid market share in Q4 2008, as blogged by Silicon Alley Insider on Friday.
Again, these changes are not reflective of negotiated terms of agreement that many agencies and search managers have in place. But it would be fair to say that most of those using Yahoo paid search do not have negotiated terms, and thus have no choice but to accept the standard deal. In case you haven't read the language, here it is again:
"OPTIMIZATION. In the U.S. only, for those advertisers not bound by an Insertion Order, we may help you optimize your account(s). Accordingly, you expressly agree that we may also: (i) create ads, (ii) add and/or remove keywords, and/or (iii) optimize your account(s). We will notify you via email of such changes made to your account(s), and can also include a spreadsheet of such changes upon your written request. If you would like any of such changes reversed, please reply to such email within 14 days of the change(s), and we will make commercially reasonable efforts to reverse the change(s) you specifically identify. Notwithstanding the foregoing, you remain responsible for all changes made to your account(s), including all click charges incurred prior to any reversions being made. It is your responsibility to monitor your account(s) and to ensure that your account settings are consistent with your business objectives." (emphasis mine].
The issues raised with this approach are numerous, but the last sentence of the provision above is a good place to start:
1) Yahoo is not concerned about managing your business objectives and ROI; they are concerned about theirs. There are myriad reasons for bidding low/high, adding/removing copy, title keyword construction, etc. that contribute to business objectives. Yahoo is not reaching out to understand your business or comprehensive business strategy, so these "optimizations" are effectively blind, and without a true business or ROI context.
Here are a couple of other issues with the ToS:
2) Yahoo wastes search advertiser's time. Not only do search advertisers now have to worry about managing their Yahoo accounts, they also have to manage Yahoo's management of their accounts. It's no consolation that the company will notify you of updates. The burden of evaluating and appealing Yahoo's optimizations still lies with the advertisers. If you are managing your Yahoo account properly based on the new terms, then your workload may have just gotten much heavier, depending on the size of account and amount of revisions.
3) Is there anything to stop Yahoo from maxing out advertiser's budgets? It appears there is a possibility within point (iii) "optimize your account(s)" that spends could be fully pushed out to client-authorized levels, regardless of the quality of the traffic. Maybe a Yahoo representative can jump in to this column's comments section and explain and clarify, but the way this is worded, there appear to be no controls here.
If for no other reason, Yahoo should change this language and approach to regain and retain the trust of the search marketing community and advertisers, and the subsequent market share that it represents. Search marketers and advertisers have been the company's greatest evangelists, and have also been a key element to building the success of search engine channels. Clauses like this may very well be the thing that destroys many years of built-up paid search share in very quick order.