Danny and I had an opportunity to talk with Microsoft SVP Yusuf Mehdi and Yahoo EVP Hilary Schneider earlier this morning. Both were instrumental in the deal and will be deeply involved going forward. They characterized the parties’ search integration as a long-term partnership, which implies ongoing cooperation and a high degree of collaboration.
We had a limited time to get a range of questions out but we were able to get a bit more clarity than we had from just the conference call and press release this morning.
Yahoo is going to be doing “premium search” sales. What is “premium search”?
Hilary Schneider explained that the bulk of growth in paid search spending over the next several years is going to come from “medium and larger” advertisers (think: Fortune 1000, brands). She said that “2/3 to 3/4 of all the spend” will be coming from larger advertisers. Yahoo will be the partner servicing and selling those categories of advertisers, which also feature “more complexity in their campaigns.” Smaller advertisers will deal directly with adCenter’s self-service platform. SEM firms using APIs will deal directly with Microsoft. Indeed, all search-related APIs will be supported by Microsoft.
Hilary said advertisers that had been pre-briefed were “thrilled” that they would be getting more scale via the deal. Yusuf Mehdi added that Microsoft and Yahoo would “go out jointly to the market to explain” how accounts will be handled going forward.
At the five year mark, Yahoo apparently has the unilateral option to alter the sales arrangement if it so chooses.
One outstanding question: Since Microsoft will have its own display advertisers — display is not part of the deal — presumably there will be some large/brand advertisers that have relationships with both Yahoo and Microsoft. It’s not clear how those situations will be handled. Who “owns” the relationship in such cases?
What does the agreement cover precisely?
The deal covers “web, image and video search.” Mehdi explained there will be a single crawl and a single index that both parties will have equal access to — “parity” in his words. He made the additional point that Google never provided full parity to partners and third parties using its index.
Yahoo has a broader option but is not required to use Microsoft in areas beyond those explicitly mentioned above — for example in Maps and Mobile. Hilary emphasized that Yahoo “remains committed to owning the user experience,” but could well use Microsoft search results more broadly than in just the web, image and video categories. It’s plausible that at some point Yahoo might simply adopt Virtual Earth as its own mapping platform (however I’m speculating entirely there).
Also note that if there is a single crawl and a single index, as Yusuf Mehdi explains, Yahoo will in fact need to use that index in other areas that do rely on a search crawl as opposed to structured data feeds from third parties.
What about BOSS and SearchMonkey?
Mehdi said that Microsoft will be taking them on (“the code and the responsibility”). Beyond this he suggested that Bing would be incorporating the best of Yahoo’s search assets and user experience into its platform and technology, including, for example, Search Monkey.
I then asked the follow-up question: If Bing incorporates the best of Yahoo Search and Yahoo is using the same index and has the same results as Bing, what will differentiate the two engines or sites in the future?
The answer was general: Yahoo will do UX innovation in mobile and on its various internet properties. The contention is that greater scale and a unified platform permits greater innovation for both parties “on top” of the core search index and technology. But it’s not clear how that will play out in a specific user-experience ways.
What happens with contextual advertising?
Medhi said that “We’ll build it and Yahoo will sell it.”
How will the deal affect Yahoo’s newspaper consortium?
Yahoo’s newspaper relationships have repeatedly been cited as strategic for the company. As might be expected Hilary Schneider said that this deal would make those partnerships better. The newspaper publishers have started to sell Yahoo search as well as display advertisering. She added they would now get greater reach through the combined platform and partnership.
What happens in 10 years?
The term of the announced deal is 10 years. What happens when it expires? Hilary Schneider said that she hoped that the partnership would be very successful and that it would be a “lifetime partnership.”
What do you say to the people who contend that this deal is a win for Microsoft and that Yahoo has given up in search?
They disagreed with that contention, as one would expect. In particular, Hilary Schneider emphasized that over the long term it would constitute “a winning play” for Yahoo because it would strengthen the company’s relationships with advertisers and provide a stronger platform. She added that she believed the deal would “accelerate innovation” and allow Yahoo to invest more aggressively in consumer experiences that are now the core focus of the company under CEO Carol Bartz.
There are still a number of unanswered questions, and some probably that the parties haven’t answered for themselves. We’ll have much more to say over the next several days on the topics touched upon here, as well as others.
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