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Business & Strategy

How Yahoo's RSS Advertising works

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This blog post is over 18 years old. It's possible that the information you read below isn't current and the links no longer work.

Here’s a look at how Yahoo’s RSS ads work and a comparison to the ad insertion techniques of some of the other players — Google, Pheedo, and FeedBurner. Feedster wasn’t able to get me a publisher account in time for this article.

Disclaimer, I was a founder of Pheedo and although I no longer work there, I still own stock.

If you’ve got a Yahoo Publisher Network beta account, then you’ve got access to Yahoo’s RSS ad server under your “Ad Setup” tab. The setup is nearly identical to Google’s implementation of RSS advertising, so I’ll make some comparisons as I describe Yahoo’s service. Yahoo asks you to select your publishing platform, giving you a choice of Wordpress or Movable Type and then generates some HTML that you insert into your feed items. Like Google, the HTML code is a link and an image, both with query strings containing embedded MT or WP tags. The query strings assign a unique ID to image and link and tells Yahoo your item permalink URL so it can be used contextual matching. The only real difference between Yahoo and Google is what they use for a unique ID; Google uses the entry date and time and Yahoo uses the numeric entry ID.

Both Google and Yahoo (as well as Pheedo and FeedBurner) serve text ads typeset as an image. The user has an image file delivered to their reader, but that image contains only text and looks to the end user like a simple text ad. The reason for delivering text ads as images is to be able to rotate ads. Without using an image, once a bit of text is inserted into a feed, there’s no way to change it without changing the feed’s source.

With Yahoo, the entire ad unit links to the advertiser site, but Google uses image maps to link a portion of the ad to the advertiser and a portion to Google. With either company, if you can’t handle cookies, clicks on ads fail. This is because Yahoo and Google change the ad each time you load it and track which ad you saw through a cookie. Don’t have cookies? Then they don’t know which ad you just saw and redirect your click to a non-advertiser page (Yahoo sends you to their Publisher Network signup page). This is a bigger problem than you might expect. Many desktop readers send clicks to an external browser. What this means is that when the ad server delivers the “you saw this ad” cookie to the feed reader, that cookie isn’t available to the external browser. When I see an ad in NetNewsWire and click it, Firefox opens up. Firefox doesn’t know about the cookies NNW has seen, so I get the error page instead of the advertiser page.

Pheedo has solved the problem with readers that don’t accept cookies by having a default ad that rotates very infrequently. Users not accepting cookies see this default ad and clicks without cookies go to that advertiser. But they’re still susceptible to the external browser problem. In a way they have a larger problem, since the ad server thinks that cookies are accepted and serves an ad, but then can’t find the cookie on the click and charges the click to the default advertiser.

Google, Pheedo, and Feedburner all serve text-based ads exclusively, but I’ve seen a couple of graphic ads on Yahoo — mainly as the default ad that gets shown if you aren’t accepting cookies.

Although Google and Yahoo only offer ad code for a limited number of blogging platforms, anyone can easily look at the sample ad code and deduce a recipe for plugging it into alternate content management systems. All you need to do is stuff a unique ID and the URL of your entry into the proper places in their code.

Both Yahoo and Google insert an ad inside every RSS item you publish. Adding their RSS ad code to your feed will mean that every item will contain advertising and that some items you’ve previously published will re-appear in your reader’s feed readers.

Pheedo and Feedburner each require that they host your feed in order to insert advertising. They monitor your feed for changes and then republish your feed content with advertising added. Each also offers feed analytics alongside their advertising services, providing information about feed reach, item popularity, and your feed readership in addition to the standard advertising reports. Each of their ad servers inserts ads in a similar manner to that of Google and Yahoo, only in an automated way. This means that if they chose to, they would be able to offer their publishers the same sort of copy and paste ad insertion as Google and Yahoo. Doing so would hamper their ability to provide you with feed analytics services, however.


November 17, 2005 7:57 AM

adding some ads like google adsense on the webpage is ok, but insert those things in an Rss feed is abusolutly annoying.this is especially true when you booked heaps of RSS feeds

This discussion has been closed.

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