Yahoo, AOL Canada battle for Web advertisers

Small businesses advertising on the Web are starting to get more reasons to look beyond Google as Yahoo Canada and AOL Canada ramp up efforts north of the 49th parallel.

Both big names that have been with the Web since its earliest days, Yahoo and AOL are re-emerging as modern content portals that offer advertisers are lot of exposure. While it’s not the walled garden that AOL built in the ’90s, these networks still tend to retain users within their networks by offering a wide variety of content, a search portal, and a sign-in that offers personalized services ranging from e-mail to fantasy sports leagues.

Small businesses looking to promote themselves online often turn to Google AdWords, but Yahoo and AOL both pull in millions of unique page views per month in Canada and also offer tools for small firms to easily advertise across these top tier Web properties. Either could be considered complementary to AdWords, if not an alternative. Here’s a look at what the two Web giants are offering advertisers, and how they plan to pull in eyeballs.

AOL ad network
A diagram of AOL’s advertising network.

Search partner strategy

While Yahoo’s partnership with Microsoft Corp. has seen its search engine replaced with Bing, AOL has signed on as a Google search partner. Both Yahoo and Microsoft see search as a main pillar that will help hold up a business based around serving content.

“By combining the query volume onBing and Yahoo we give consumers and advertisers more choice and better choices in the market place, and that’s going very well,” says Matt Idema, country manager, Yahoo Canada. Now its focus has turned to getting to the number one position for content categories including Yahoo Sports, Yahoo News, and Yahoo Finance.

Customers can buy search advertisements through Yahoo that are placed alongside the Bing search results.

While AOL in the U.S. sells sponsored links that appear at the top of the Google results it displays, that’s currently not being done in Canada, according to Graham Moysey, general manager of AOL Canada. Google will be promoted through AOL Canada’s entry points.

“We aren’t going to try and recreate the search algorithm and compete with them,” he says.

Content strategy

Both AOL and Yahoo are making moves to provide original content for local audiences. Their home pages are packed full of links to articles featured in sections that highlight consumer content verticals such as autos, sports, lifestyle, news and finance. Both deliver lots of traffic, with AOL’s network holding 74 of the top 100 sites as rated by comScore. Yahoo is the fourth-most visited Web site, according to Alexa.

AOL recently made news when it bought the liberal political blog Huffington Post for $315 million. It’s a site that pulls in 1.5 million unique Canadian views per month, Moysey says. AOL can target those Canadian visitors to deliver relevant advertising.

“There’s a concerted effort to have relevant, engaging content and that will allow advertisers to participate at the upper end of the funnel,” he says.

AOL will also be repurposing U.S. content of interest to Canadians, such as celebrity gossip. It will be lining up big names with content verticals, as it has done with Heidi Klum for its motherhood channel.

Yahoo has recently moved to a global technology platform for all of its content channels, Idema says. That should help make publishing easier, and help Yahoo focus on localizing content. In Canada, Yahoo holds the number one position for the sports and finance categories.

Social and group buying features

AOL’s focus on social integration will be to tie Facebook into its Web site, Moysey says. It will also allow for commenting on and rating of its stories.

“It’s absolutely crucial,” he says. “You can’t be a big media company without incorporating social media.”

Yahoo is inviting its users to create content that will be shared on its network, Idema says. Fans interested in niche topics like a particular soccer team could create content about that subject, and then use Yahoo’s tools to share it on social networks. The capability was made possible by Yahoo’s recent acquisition of Citizen Sports.

Related Story: Group buying sites mature as huge market size becomes clear

“You don’t have to be a social network to be social,” Idema says. “It means creating a sharing content with a network of people that you have something in common with.”

Yahoo announced it would offer a group buying aggregation service in November, and that has started to be tested in the beta stage in the U.S. Canadians can expect to see the service launched here soon.

“I am interested in having it in Canada as soon as possible, as you might imagine,” Idema says. “The idea is to get enough people using it so we can get feedback on how to make it better before we launch it more broadly.”

AOL launched its own deals of the deal site Wow.com in November in the U.S. market. When asked if that would be rolled out in Canada soon, Moysey responded: “We are targeting useful businesses to our users that are high margin, and that would be one.”

Brian Jackson is a Senior Writer at ITBusiness.ca. Follow him on Twitter, read his blog, and check out the IT Business Facebook Page.

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