Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The Editorial Process

Have you ever wondered who those “editors” are at Overture/Yahoo? What exactly do they do? Why do their decisions seem to be inconsistent.

Well, I can tell you. I used to be one of those editors.

Here’s the basics:

An editor receives a full week of training when they start, mostly on the guidelines and interpretation thereof. Some of them are cut and dry, and any editor will make the same decision (unless they are just being sloppy.) Like the back button. It’s got to work. If someone goes to your site from a PPC ad, and sees that it’s not what they are looking for – they must be able to easily return to the listings using the back button.

Some of the rules require interpretation. This most often is an issue with content. Let’s say you want the keyword “tire” and your site sells rims. Is a rim a tire? Is it a tire part? The editor gets this in front of them, and they make a judgment call. My judgment call may be different from the editor sitting next to me. Is someone who types the word tire into an engine looking for rims? In fact, might decide one way today… and (having forgotten about seeing the listing before) reverse my decision a month later when presented with the same scenario.

Now, here’s where it gets fun… The editor may turn to their neighbors and get an opinion from one, two or three others sitting nearby. We did that all the time. Some editors more than others. Some editors are inclined to be more lenient. Some are more strict to the letter of the guideline. Some think more like the advertiser, some more like the searcher. And sometimes, at the end of a long week, when we are rushing to meet our quota (yes, they have quotas for the number of listings an editor must process) – we get sloppy and don’t pay as close attention. We miss content, we forget to check the back button. Listings get declined when they shouldn’t or approved when they shouldn’t. Not often, but they do. (I prided myself on my exceptionally high quality scores, with a less than 2% error rate.)

The most common reason to decline a listing is probably obvious path. You have a lovely home page, and want all visitors to your site to go there – but how do they find the exact thing they were searching for from there? If it’s obvious (shown on that page, or listed in a menu), then you’re good to go. If the editor doesn’t see how to find it, then a searcher is unlikely to as well. Unless of course, the editor doesn’t know that the keyword you want, “dubs,” are large rims, and thinks it has something to do with voiceovers… and then, even though you have 22” rims listed in the menu, they might decline. I’d hope that they’d take a moment to figure out why you want the term (asking, doing a web search) first, but – sometimes that quota looms and finding answers takes time.

Here’s the thing about editors. They’re only people. People are inconsistent, though we do our best to be otherwise.

That is, when your listing is reviewed by a person, and not a program.

Another source of inconsistency is a little thing which editors aren’t supposed to talk about called “E2.” These are listings that are deemed “low risk” and processed automatically. Low risk listings meet the following criteria: they are low-volume, they do not contain any brand names (at least none that are in the database), possible drug or medical terms, gambling, or adult. Sometimes a listing can be flagged because there is a word in the description that the system can’t interpret according to context… like “bet” and then it will be routed to an editor.

You see, the volume of listings has increased so rapidly that there is no way for editors to keep up with them all… so E2 processes many of them. And, being a program, it has limited capacity for interpretation. What’s more, when things get really busy and the editors are all working overtime, the E2 program might get tweaked to be less sensitive, and allow more terms through.

But call me biased (OK, yes, I admit it) I prefer this system, even with its flaws, to Google’s… Because I know when my listing is submitted that it’s either online or not. If it’s declined, I can make a change and resubmit. With Google, I may have a listing live for months, only to one day get an e-mail saying that the ad has been shut off because of a guideline violation… You get a higher quality ad, most of the time, when it’s been proofed by an editor before it goes live. (Some of the ads on Google are such a mess, I’d be embarrassed to use them to represent my business.)

So if you get something declined and don’t understand why, maybe it went through E2. Maybe it went to an editor who was tired. Most likely, on the other hand, it simply didn’t meet the requirements. Keep in mind, most of them are there to improve your click through and ROI – because doing so is in Yahoo’s best interest. You getting traffic is what makes them money. You making money is what keeps them making money. The better you know the guidelines, the better you can make your ads work for you.


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