Yahoo! Adding ‘Today’ Ads to Emails

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UPDATE: We’ve found a solution for hiding ‘Today’ news ads in your emails.

Recently I’ve noticed that a handful of emails sent to my Yahoo! account had a small ad tacked onto the bottom:

Yahoo! TODAY ad in Apple Mail

Today, Litmus user Chris asked if we had any additional information on these finicky ads, so I did some investigative work with the team here to see what we could turn up. Here’s what we’ve found so far:

  • The ads only appear when reading messages sent to Yahoo via an IMAP connection. This means that only emails sent to a Yahoo account set up on a smartphone, Thunderbird, Apple Mail, or other email client that supports IMAP are affected.
  • I could not trigger the ads when viewing my Yahoo mail directly through the Yahoo interface in my web browser, nor when viewing the Yahoo website directly in Safari on my iPhone.
  • Even when viewing the same email simultaneously in a web browser and on my phone, the ad will only appear in the mobile environment.
  • While there are some trends in regards to what type of environment the ads will appear in, the ads don’t seem to be connected to (or triggered by) the content of the emails. All senders and content types are subject to receiving these ads.
  • Almost always, the content of the ad has zero correlation to the content of the email. All of the ads I saw linked back to news stories on the finance, shine, news and sports subdomains at Yahoo.
  • The privacy policy link located in small text on the bottom of each ad loads Yahoo’s policy on web beacons.
  • Some ads contain a search bar under the news and privacy policy links. As expected, any search terms entered here are sent to Yahoo’s search engine.

A quick browse around the internet turns up evidence that other users have also experienced the sudden appearance of these ads, including Yahoo! Plus users (who pay an annual fee in exchange for an enhanced feature set, including the removal of ads).

How intrusive are the ads?

The ads are a bit more intrusive than many senders would like, given that they are located in what appears to be the body of the message. In some cases, the ads are for news items that could be seen as controversial or in poor taste, especially in the context of the email content.

For fixed-width emails, the ad usually appears to be force left-justified after the end of the email content:

Fixed Width Yahoo! Ad on iPhone

For fluid-width emails, the ad looks almost seamless with the email content, though still appears after the footer:

Fluid Yahoo! Ad on iPhone

Why is Yahoo doing this?

Why would Yahoo target these ads to smartphone and IMAP users? While it’s impossible to say for sure, my guess is with the intention of driving traffic back to their site. Since the ads only appear in environments that are outside of the Yahoo ecosystem, the ads were likely built with the goal of bringing users back to the family of Yahoo sites.

How do the ads work?

Since the ads appear in different contexts with slightly different content, we assumed the ads are using some type of conditional script or tag to control display. After routing my Yahoo mail through to my Apple Mail inbox via IMAP, I was able to view the source for a few of these messages. It looks like Yahoo is using a combination of their Web Analytics product, javascript, and an <XHTML-STRIPONREPLY> tag to control the appearance of the ad. I also noticed the use of the conditional <![if !IEMobile]> comment,  which is typically used to target Windows Phone devices.

You can also view the entirety of the source code for the ad.

Help us find a fix!

We’re experimenting with ways to both trigger and override/hide these ads. If you’ve had any luck removing or controlling ‘Today’ ads in messages sent to Yahoo or have any tips, leave them in the comments below!