Yahoo Search Marketing Content Match Delivers Untargeted Traffic

By | November 6, 2005

UPDATE: This review is now outdated. I am leaving it here for informational purposes only. For the most up-to-date information and recommendations, please join my free newsletter.

Edition #6 – 11/06/2005

I’ve been trying to decide whether I should even post this information, because I hate to bite one of the hands that feeds me (ie. search engine PPC). As you may know, I’ve previously posted a couple entries about “search engine corruption” which I disclaimed as being largely speculation. This time, however, it’s personal…and I have evidence.

The point of this entry is not to bash Yahoo though. I do feel that they should credit me for the untargeted traffic they charged me for, but the purpose of sharing this with you is simply to shed some light on an imperfect system which is still evolving, and may require customer input such as mine to keep it moving in the right direction. I’ll just share the facts with you. It it my hope that Yahoo will resolve this issue with me and this story will have a happy ending for everyone.

I’ll start with my recent email to their customer service department:

I’ve noticed as my number of Content Match clicks have increased dramatically over the last two months, my conversions on the site have gone down exponentially to the point it was no longer worth it to run the campaign. I looked at my server logs, and I found that the majority of Yahoo Content Match traffic is coming from ads and pop-ups on UNTARGETED SITES. Most of this untargeted traffic was sent through and, which I see are utilized to serve pop-ups on your partner sites like ESPN. Looking at my referrer logs for 07/01/05 through 11/05/05 I found the following referrer URL’s involved in untargeted traffic from your service:

// (long list of URL’s) //

And many more!

I thought the point of Content Match was to put my ads on sites with RELATED CONTENT. I guess that’s not the case? I’m just wondering why I’ve been charged thousands of dollars to put debt-related ads in front of people who were looking for NFL scores? That is obviously not what I wanted to do. If that’s the way it is supposed to work, then I think it should be more clearly mentioned that by using Content Match, there’s a possibility that the majority of your advertising budget might be used to serve your ad on untargeted sites.

In general I have been happy with Yahoo Search Marketing, which is why I’ve only disabled the one campaign and I plan to continue to use your service. However in this case I feel this use of my advertising budget was not justified, and the cost of those clicks should be credited to my account for future use.

Thank you for your attention in this matter.

Regards, Eric

Here’s the reply from Yahoo. There’s no privacy notice or anything at the bottom of their emails, so I’ll assume its OK for me to share it here:

Hello Eric,

Thank you for contacting Yahoo! Search Marketing. I would be happy to assist you.

Although ESPN is one of our Content Match affiliates, please note that the purpose of Content Match is only to display your listing on a page in which one of our affiliate partners has posted content that relates to the keyword your listing is bidding on.

Although you may find that your web server logs reflect some unusual clicks that our systems are unable to block from occurring, all clicks your listings receive are evaluated for validity before you are charged for them, and only qualified clicks appear in your reports and billed to your account. Therefore, you may find that the activity you are referring to does not represent traffic for which you are being billed via your account with Yahoo! Search Marketing.

If, after reviewing your web server logs and your reports you feel that you have been charged for unqualified clicks, we would be happy to investigate the issue further. In order to do so, we request that you send us your web server logs for the time frame in question and any additional information you have that indicates that you have been charged for unqualified traffic. In the meantime, you may wish to turn Content Match off for your account, as you are free to do so with no effect on your Sponsored Search advertising for that account.

I hope this has been helpful information. Please do not hesitate to contact us if we can be of any further assistance.


Aaron Green
Customer Solutions
Yahoo! Search Marketing

OK, no problem with the reply. About what I expected. They obviously don’t want to launch a full blown investigation unless they need to, and who can blame them for that? And at least the reply was friendly. So here’s my response:


Thank you for your help. Per your request, I have attached further evidence for your review. To quote yourself:

“the purpose of Content Match is only to display your listing on a page in which one of our affiliate partners has posted content that relates to the keyword your listing is bidding on”

After reading this response, I am quite certain that I was charged for unqualified traffic. For example, between 07/01/05 and 11/05/05 I was charged $3311.78 for 12,736 Content Match clicks for the keyword ‘debt relief’. The low click through ratio (12736 clicks from over 245 MILLION impressions) shows that it was poorly targeted, and my investigation proves that those clicks originated from sites which did not contain those keywords and were not related to debt relief.

Upon review of my server logs, I see that there were 19,539 total visits to my site during that same time period. Out of those visits, there are three referral sources that I am concerned about: 5,596 4,066 639

There were also 6,141 referrals of unknown origin, which likely account for a percentage of the 12,000+ unqualified clicks from Content Match.

You can also see this data on the attached screenshot urchin1.JPG is a URL that is used to display ads on Yahoo partner sites. As you can see from the status bar at the bottom of attached screenshot jackpot1.JPG, one of the sites that serves ads on is On this screenshot, is displaying debt-related Content Match ads on a page which does not contain the word debt or even any related content anywhere. I have many other examples from the site of various unrelated ads being shown on their entry pages, and even on the games themselves.

A screenshot (trafficmp1.JPG) of the #1 referring URL for the time period ( shows that my ad was displayed in the same format as the ads seen in jackpot1.JPG.

In addition to the 5,596 referrals from, there were 4,066 served by themselves. I have searched their site and did not find the keyword ‘debt relief’ anywhere. In fact, the screenshot jackpot2.JPG proves that the term debt relief does not even appear anywhere on the site, as indexed by Yahoo (your own company).

There were also 639 referrals from the ESPN site, which is obviously not debt-related. I have attached two screenshots of debt-related Content Match ads being displayed on totally unrelated pages of the ESPN site. Screenshot espn1.JPG shows the ads displayed on a NFL scores page, and screenshot espn2.JPG shows those ads displayed on a box score page, which is even more unrelated because visitors to that page are only looking for the live scores of one particular football game. Apparently my ad was added to the mix of ads on the ESPN site at some point.

Lastly, the server log of referrals for the time period in question (07/01/05 – 11/05/05) is attached (referrals.txt).

There are seven attachments to this message, so please let know if they all come through, and please let me know if you need any additional information.

Thanks, Eric

Anyway, I guess this is something that you all might want to be aware of when using a “content match” type of campaign with any advertising channel. I’ll let you know how it turns out!

6 thoughts on “Yahoo Search Marketing Content Match Delivers Untargeted Traffic

  1. Rhen

    Hey man great blog. I was just contemplating advertising with them, I know how sloppy they are with catching up with Google. Even MSN AdCenter has done a better job in like 20 times LESS time, so naturally I felt their content network wouldn’t be good.

  2. sheikh pervez

    Great piece of information, it really helps.
    One more thing
    the free credit link has expired now

    Sheikh Pervez

  3. kevin

    WOW, great piece of work. I wish I had the time and ability to analyze my site’s traffic. I was taken over $9,000 by with similar circumstances. The only proof I got was from another person’s complaint and the fact the average visitor site time was less than .02 seconds. Ask claimed they did not charge for visits under a specific time but they sure debited my account. When Overture was the main player in the ad space, I was averaging over 6.5% conversion, CPA of under $2.00 and actually made money. My average sale is $25.00 and my current CPA with Yahoo and Google/adwords is $16.00. I lose money with PPC and have made NO CHANGES from what I’ve done the past few years. All I can do is scratch my head. I cannot figure out what to do. I’m looking for an attorney to go after Ask and I wish I could figure out how to optimize my ppc’s. I just launched a test with adwords Broad match/Phrase/Exact match. I’m hoping to GOD the Phrase works much better and I’ll use my 120 keyword phrase template for my ads… God Bless you for your work. Good job.

  4. Chris

    I’ve just a printed off a list of sites our ads through content match where appearing on when Yahoo decided to turn our campaigns content match on. None of them are relevant to what we are trading at all, and ti has cost a lot of money.

    Thanks Yahoo.


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