When we launched Topix in 2004 Google AdSense was a God-send. Here we were, 5 guys in crap office space above a trophy shop, launching a news aggregator with 200,000+ pages/ topics - how on earth were we going to monetize these pages? Turns out this was easy - we flipped a switch, Google spidered the site, matched ads to the content and voila, we we're pulling in revenue from day one on almost all our pages.
Eventually we worked with Google to program the ads on the site ourselves via access to the xml feed of their ads - and this lifted performance tremendously. From time to time others would approach us to be our ad partner, but it never made sense to do so.
Fast forward to 2005. We sold the site to the 3 newspaper companies (Knight Ridder, Tribune and Gannett). Together we we going to cut a single deal with an ad partner for contextual ads across all of the properties of all 3 sites. Time to get serious.
So, we headed down to LA and get the full dog and pony show from Yahoo on the Publisher's network. During that meeting they proceeded to tell us that their plan was to manually match the ads to our site. Excuse me? At that point we had 400k+ pages on Topix alone. How was that going to work? And btw, isn't Yahoo supposed to be a technology company?
On top of that, we actually ran some tests with Yahoo ads. We got the xml feed of their ads and automatically programmed the ads on each of our pages exactly the same way we were doing with Google. Even copied the AdSense ad unit pixel for pixel.
Guess what? Yahoo ads performed at 20% of what Adsense did. I don't know if it was the lack of coverage, the quality of the advertiser, or maybe even the "Ads by Google" delivers a more trusted experience which leads to more clicks. Whatever, doesn't matter. Google trounced Yahoo with respect to performance.
I can't imagine our experience with the Y! publishers network was unique. That's why i was surprised that anyone would choose it over Google. Which is a shame - given the opaqueness of Adsense, some competition would be a good thing for publishers. Here's hoping Microsoft does something interesting with respect to contextual ads.