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The Search Alliance: the Path to a More Competitive Search Market

Back in 2009 when news of the Search Alliance between Microsoft and Yahoo! first broke, CEO of WPP Sir Martin Sorrell described the deal to news agency Reuters as “extremely encouraging” with the potential to “introduce more balance into the search and display markets.” When we put pen to paper, this was our number one priority too. Since then, we’ve reached some important milestones; North America transitioned to the Microsoft Advertising adCenter platform in 2010 and the Asian expansion of our partnership was initiated through the implementation of a brand new combined search marketplace in India in September 2011.  Most recently, as of October 2011 Microsoft’s technology now powers Yahoo!’s algorithmic search across the globe on desktop and mobile. 

Promoting competition

Over the course of the next few months, we’re taking big strides towards making the Search Alliance a reality in Europe. This next phase will see both Microsoft and Yahoo! combine their paid search marketplaces accessed through one platform, the Microsoft Advertising adCenter. The UK, France and Ireland will be the first markets to experience this powerful shift towards a more competitive search space. Other markets will follow later in the year.

Following the rollout of the combined marketplace in the UK, one ad buy through Microsoft Advertising adCenter will allow advertisers to reach 17.8 million unique searchers who are using Microsoft and Yahoo! sites (including Yahoo! Search, Bing and partners), providing 429 million monthly searches and a 5.6 per cent search share. 3 million of these people don’t use Google. In France, advertisers will have access to a captive audience of 13.2 million unique users across the combination of sites with 196 million monthly searches[1].

Aside from scale of audience, we’re also focused on taking on our main competitors when it comes to driving online purchase activity, the holy-grail for search advertisers looking to drive direct response. Significantly, searchers on Yahoo! Search, Bing and our partner sites are likely to spend 112 per cent more money than the average searcher, and 65.3 per cent more than Google searchers worldwide. This is an engaged, active and high-quality audience with buying power, an important factor for search advertisers to consider.

On the move

As sales of smartphones and tablets continue to grow globally – according to Gartner, sales reached 472 million units in 2011, up 58 per cent on-year – so too will mobile search, with 37 per cent of consumers using their mobiles to find information after seeing an advertisement offline. In turn, optimising campaigns for the mobile channel has become an important priority for advertisers. As consumers who conduct mobile searches are generally further along in the purchase funnel, this is a key focus for the Search Alliance, with the Bing and Yahoo! mobile search audience expanding through one-button access to Bing on all Windows Phones, and Bing as the default engine on all Nokia and RIM Blackberry smartphones.

Simplifying the process

But it’s not just a numbers game. By combining to provide a strong ‘number two’ challenger brand in the search marketplace, Yahoo! and Microsoft are also aiming to simplify the way in which advertisers can purchase non-Google inventory, and drive related cost efficiencies. This is an important goal of the Search Alliance, and is one of the chief benefits of the paid search transition process and switchover from Yahoo! Search Marketing to Microsoft Advertising adCenter.

By combining both offerings under one platform – adCenter – it will be a lot easier for agencies to manage their campaigns and reach new customers. In addition, the combined offering will also help advertisers to better optimise their campaigns across a larger volume of traffic. Effectively, optimisation efforts will be focused on one place instead of two, with a net result of superior campaign performance. Place this in the context of the ecosystem Microsoft and Yahoo! create through strategically bringing together the right partners  - such as Nokia, Facebook, Skype and RIM - and the result is unique search marketing opportunities that deliver scale, choice and a strong return on investment.

Easy steps to migration

So how will it work? The answer is a three step process. Firstly, we’ll either connect advertisers’ existing Yahoo! account with their Microsoft Advertising adCenter account, or create a fresh account if they don’t already have one. Secondly, advertisers’ campaigns will then be created in adCenter and left in a ‘paused state’ until Yahoo! search traffic is sourced out of adCenter. Finally, ad serving for Yahoo! search queries will transition from the Yahoo! Search Marketing platform over to adCenter.

Throughout the process, the specialised account teams provided by Yahoo! and Microsoft will be working together to provide advertisers with any support that is needed. Part of that support will be guiding agencies and advertisers in creating, or transitioning, their adCenter accounts, as the process will vary depending on whether the advertiser is an existing client of Microsoft, Yahoo!, or both.  Existing clients of both Microsoft and Yahoo! will be supported in deciding whether or not to keep an existing adCenter account and augment its budget, retaining historical quality, username and passwords, or follow the path of Yahoo! only clients and create a new adCenter account, importing the Yahoo! structure. While the transition process will vary depending on the client, the account teams will always be on hand to ensure that the transition goes smoothly throughout.

In short, as migration approaches, we take another step in Europe towards our goal of closing the gap on our competitors in the search space and offering efficiencies of scale, enhanced optimisation and increasing search ad effectiveness for our agency and brand partners. There’s still some important work to be done, but by continuing to offer consumers choice and a fantastic experience, and delivering better results for advertisers, we’ll be well on the way to creating a marketplace that is healthily competitive and more innovative as a result.


[1] All figures taken from comScore qSearch (custom), correct as of December 2011