Yahoo Goes Native With In-Stream Home Page Ads

Also adding IAB billboard unit to desktop home page

Since Yahoo launched its home page redesign in February, the new stream-centric layout—outfitted with an all-too-standard 300 x 250 pixel banner on one side and even more miniscule unit on the other—has been pretty ho-hum for advertisers. That traditional approach stood in stark contrast to the native advertising movement that has publishers such as BuzzFeed and Tumblr running ads within article feeds. Now Yahoo is getting in on the act.

Within the next week, Yahoo will begin to place ads, called Yahoo Stream Ads, within its the content stream on its desktop, tablet and mobile home pages. “Clearly there’s a big movement toward native advertising. This is, I’d say, the first meaningful native advertising product we’re going to be introducing at scale,” said Yahoo vp of products Mike Kerns, who added that the native unit will make its way to Yahoo’s recently revamped mobile app “soon.”

The Yahoo Stream Ads will mirror the format of unpaid stream content—and closely resemble the Sharethrough Sponsored Story units—by displaying a thumbnail image, hyperlinked headline and text. Like many native units, Stream Ads advertisers can link to whatever Web page they’d like, be it a Facebook Page, Tumblr post or company blog, and Yahoo will denote the content as sponsored and include an AdChoices icon and specific coloring to highlight the difference from organic posts, Kerns said.

Yahoo developed the ad product only within the last two months, and is taking a startup-style approach to its roll-out. Kerns called it a “v1 [version one] foundational product” that will evolve as the user-centric product does. For example, Yahoo is “already doing experiments right now in the stream around video content,” so it’s “safe to assume” that video content could eventually run as a Stream Ad,” he said.

Similarly, as advertiser demand increases, so too will the complexity of how the ads are bought and sold. Yahoo began reaching out to advertisers within the last 72 hours “in a high touch way” leading up to tonight’s launch at the company’s Digital Content NewFronts presentation, and “all of our sales force will be reaching out to their clients tomorrow to begin the formal roll-out,” Kerns said. Yahoo did run “confidential pilots” ahead of the launch, but Kerns declined to say whether those tests were strictly internal or involved advertisers and/or agencies.

For now Yahoo isn’t introducing any new ways for marketers to target Stream Ads, such as by what other content appears in a user’s stream, and advertisers won’t be able to target the ads by device or specify certain creative to only run on certain devices. Instead they’ll purchase the ads through a self-serve platform on a cost-per-click basis, and Yahoo will handle the targeting according to its existing parameters. Initially the ads will only be capped on an advertiser basis “so an appropriate diversity of advertisers for each user is shown,” but Yahoo is “running all kinds of experiments at what frequency should ads be there at all,” said Kerns.

Even as Yahoo dips its toes into new-fangled display ads, the portal isn’t ignoring more traditional formats. Starting tomorrow, the desktop version of will feature an IAB-standardized billboard unit that brands can pack with rich media content, such as video. The banner will run atop the home page, pushing down the main content container but keeping the left-rail navigation column intact, and Yahoo “would like to roll it out more broadly across [Yahoo category home pages] as those experiences evolve,” said Kerns.

Yahoo has yet to talk to buyers about the ad product, but that pitch will go something like this. One advertiser per day will be able to purchase, or sponsor, the billboard directly from Yahoo. That pitch will likely also tell advertisers how Yahoo is pricing the ad—whether at a guaranteed fixed rate or per impression—though Kerns said pricing “is not something we’re talking about [publicly].”