Monday, December 19, 2005

Yahoo Reduces Ad Character Limit

This news makes me cranky, but it aids my laziness in the long run. ClickZ reports that Yahoo is changing the character limit for ads from 190 characters to 70 -- i.e., the same character limit as AdWords ads have. Google was just recently testing 200-character ads, in imitation of Yahoo, but now Yahoo's decided to one-up Google at the "sincerest form of flattery" game.

Advertisers have until January 18 to revise their ads, which sounds like a month's notice but isn't, due to the holidays. The timing makes sense overall, since the holiday crunch will soon be over and we'll be heading into Q1, which is generally pretty quiet. Still, extending the deadline a little further into Q1 would've been nice. After the 18th, ads that haven't been revised will be auto-truncated to 70 characters. The article says "a YSM spokesperson said the auto-truncation system doesn't prematurely end sentences or otherwise result in incomplete ads". Well gee, that would be an improvement over the way things are now, since in my experience, 190-character ads that fall out of the top position and into the right-hand side of the page are already truncated down to 70 characters, abruptly, with an ellipsis, and the result looks just awful. It's already canny practice to make the first 70 characters of your Yahoo ad a self-contained message, then use the 120 remaining characters to expand on that message, so the ad looks good whether or not it gets truncated. If the auto-truncation software that will be employed come January 18 is an improvement over whatever Yahoo is using now to truncate ads, then why aren't they using it already? And if, as I suspect, it's the same old same old, well, I guess I'd better hop to revising my Yahoo ads. By which I mean "copying my Google ads."

That's the bright spot here: Currently I write two versions of the same ad, one for Google, a longer one for Yahoo. The amount of work I have to do has now been cut substantially. Well, in the next month my and everyone else's workload will increase while we have to do all this busywork, and then in late January there will no longer be any need for writing two versions of an ad. That's good for my laziness and good for efficiency, though it's bad for my hourly billing. Still, not having to rewrite ads to two different character lengths will free up time to be spent on other work, and that will come as a blessing to SEM agencies overwhelmed by their accounts.

We've played this game before. Multiple times.
I remember it was two years ago almost to the day that Google stopped running longer-format ads in the top position, over search results. They were about the same length as Yahoo's ads are now. Anyone running that type of ad had to revise down to the familiar AdWords 25/35/35 format. Then Google wanted to dust off that old format this past August; I suspect some advertisers chosen for the test simply duplicated their Yahoo ads. And now Yahoo is pruning its ad length down to Google length, so that's yet another instance where advertisers can re-use ads written for one search engine to meet the other search engine's changes while the two play silly buggers.

Dear Google and Yahoo: Make up your minds! Pick a character limit and stick to it. It's shameless the way you flirt. If SEM were a romantic comedy, you'd be getting married and having your happy ending right about now. Exeunt omnes.

P.S. Oy vey. We'll see where that goes.