Associating Search Ads with Links Instead of Keywords

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Imagine that someone types in a query at a search engine, and a page from your web site shows up in the results. In addition to a link to your page, there’s an animation in the sidebar that shows off the services that you offered.

Two puppies, a barrel, and a basket of food, Library of Congress LC-USZC4-3218

Under a new advertising program, you’ve subscribed to the links from your pages, and can show images, animation, audio, java applets, links to resources, reviews or ratings, and other advertisements when your pages appear in search results. If you include a link in your ad, you might also be charged for click-throughs in addition to the subscription fee.

Or, if you were the owner of a bed and breakfast, you could have your ads show up whenever the results of a search included both the web pages of the town where you are located and a specific travel site.

A newly granted patent for Yahoo explores the ability of advertisers to show ads in search results that aren’t based upon keywords, but rather on certain links showing up in search results.

Delivering items based on links to resources associated with search results
Invented by Pasha Sadri, Eckart Walther, Thai Tran
Assigned to Yahoo
US Patent 7,359,893
Granted April 15, 2008
Filed March 31, 2004


Techniques are described for delivering search results pages to the users of a search engine, where one or more search result listings on the search results pages include one or more items that are associated with links to resources that satisfy a related search and that satisfy a specified condition.

The items that are delivered with the search results may be associated with a party that is different than the party that controls the resource to which the link is associated, and may be delivered such that any item that is displayed based on the item’s association with a link to a resource is displayed in a frame of display that is different than a frame of the display in which the link to which the item is associated is displayed.

There are a number of variations described in the patent, but the following example provides a good overview of some of the possibilities:

Suppose an owner of a “bed & breakfast” establishment in Napa, Calif. wants an advertisement in a specified form (i.e., an item) to be displayed with search results of a particular context that are returned in response to client web searches.

For example, the owner may want an advertisement displayed that includes the URL to a web page from which a reservation can be made to the establishment. The context with which the owner wants to associate the advertisement is defined through specification of some conditions.

For example, the owner defines the context to consist of search results that include particular links to resources, such as one or more Napa Valley sites, one or more travel sites, and one or more bed and breakfast related sites.

Hence, the owner may associate the following URLs to the advertisement item and register the association with the search engine provider:,, and

Further, the owner associates a condition with the resource links-item association. For example, the condition may specify that if any two of the foregoing three resource links are included in the top ten links that are identified as a set of links to resources that satisfy a search, then deliver the specified advertisement with the search results of any such search.

One question that came to my mind immediately while reading this patent is what do you do when your competitors subscribe to your link so that their ads show up when your pages appear in search results?

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15 thoughts on “Associating Search Ads with Links Instead of Keywords”

  1. This sounds like a very powerful addition to the advertising possibilities. Thanks for alerting us to this, Bill. Re your last question on competitors buying ads when your own links appear in the SERPs, that’s just the way competitive market places function. Hopefully your snippet encourages them to go for your organic entry rather than the ad.

  2. This is an interesting article, and the patent seems like a logical extension of Overture’s crowning creation – and I’m certainly interested to see where it goes, and pay for placements. However, what I can’t figure out is, what on earth does that picture have to do with this article?

  3. I see a lot of potential problems arising from this. Hopefully it is technology they will further explore rather than implement.

  4. Interesting new way of advirtising:) It seems like a good way to promote your services but the question you ask is quite intriguing. Maybe Yahoo will think of something to solve this.

  5. Hi Rob,

    It is an interesting idea, but I don’t know how well it might work out in actual practice if Yahoo decides that it is worth implementing. I have a suspicion that many might not like their competitors subscribing to their links.

  6. Hi SEO Ranter,

    I was wondering if anyone might mention the picture. I was searching for an image that might be appropriate to this post, and not having much luck, when I ran across this image that I liked from the 1850s. It isn’t very relevant to the post at all…

    I suspect that if Yahoo implements the method described above, that many of the ads that we see may not be very relevant to searchers queries. These ads, whether text based, or banners, animations, applets, or whatever, or going to be based upon links and not queries.

    Will it make a difference if ads that are displayed aren’t good matches for the searches that they are shown upon, or will advertisers be best served by doing a thoughtful analysis to see where links actually appear in search results, and for what kinds of queries?

    It might not be good if an advertiser “subscribed” to a particular link for a long period of time only to find that the search results that link was showing up for wasn’t very related to what they were trying to advertise. And what happens when the owner of that link decides to remove the page, or change its content?

  7. Hi Barry,

    It’s good to see a new approach to advertising proposed like this. I’ve been thinking a little about that competitive landscape, and what businesses might do if their competitors subscribed to their links. Some interesting scenerios show up. I would assume that by using “links” instead of “domains” that the patent anticipates people bidding on pages other than just the home page of a site – including pages that describe individual products and services.

  8. Hi seo pixy,

    It might be a good way to advertise the services that you offer. I wonder if we will see it released as an advertising option.

    Would you consider advertising in such a manner? How would you feel if your competitors subscribed to your link, so that they showed up in ads everytime your page appeared in search results?

    I can see some potential abuses that might arise out of this method of advertising. For instance, ads aimed less at finding good advertising opportunities, and more at attacking the owners of a link that has been subscribed to.

  9. This is outside-the-box thinking but without actually talking to people outside the box. Idea on surface is pretty cool.

    But think about this –
    I am selling IPod products and then 10 companies come along with same services, all showing up right next to me instead of having to make the effort to get ranked etc.

    If I need to be 10% of Amazon’s size (i know inventory/technology etc), I can associate myself with Amazon brand and products, show up next to them and get residual traffic by offering 2% less of what amazon is offering.

    Advertisers and big brand companies will threaten to pull the advertising dollars and here goes the patented idea into drain.

    Its a cool idea but they haven’t talked to companies who they expect to piggy back 🙂

    Thanks for keeping us up to date.

  10. Bill, I think you and I both know full well that the real goal of this patent is to protect the ability for Yahoo to offer exactly the ‘what if…’ scenario. Of course companies will bid on competitor URLs just as they bid on competitor names now. Yahoo know this, and that’s the entire commercial appeal of wanting to do this. If Yahoo were purely an Advertising Agency we wouldn’t even have a doubt.

    The wording and examples are simply putting a positive spin on the real motivation.

  11. Hi Ammon,

    Good to see you. The “what if” scenerio is the definite money maker, without a doubt. And I think it would be very effective in a competitive marketplace, like Barry mentions above. I think that a lot of advertisers would be very interested in showing ads through a system like this.

    What I find really interesting is the potential for advertising to be used to make personal and political statements, which may or may not be an unintended consequence that moves away from the commercial. Don’t like something that a government agency is doing, run an ad that shows up everytime their site appears in search results. For instance, the President urges the passing of a bill that harms the environment, an environmental group can run an ad mentioning the potential problems, with a link to their page explaining more.

  12. Hi Rajat,

    This is definitely a change that could have a very big impact if it is adopted. Would larger corporations that have built up strong brands feel threatened? I’m not sure.

  13. It has huge potential good uses. But somehow people rarely seem to be quite as innovative at exploiting the positive as they are the negative. I have no doubt whatsoever that dating, adult sites, gambling sites, and pharmacueticals will be among the first to decide which sites you might visit that make you a prime target.

    Looking up any sport? You can bet the Online Bookmakers will be eager to let you know that you can bet on the games. Looking up dietary information, or a calorie chart? Bet some pharma affiliate has some pills that make losing weight impossibly easy.

  14. Ammon,

    If this process of subscribing to links does come out as an advertising method, I hope that the potential good uses are the ones that we see.

    I wonder how much discussion over this process has been had at Yahoo over the kind of negative exploitation you describe.

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