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March 16, 2005

MSN announces new paid search service pilot

By Charlene Li

MSN will announce its highly anticipated new paid search service, called adCenter, at its MSN Summit Wednesday in Redmond. The service will be piloted for six months only in Singapore and France. Here’s the press release.

A key component of the service is the ability to look at audience profiles for specific keywords. *Update: I took down the screenshots as they had some confidential information in them. I'm working to get some new ones from MSN as I think they give a good idea of how the new ad platform will work.* In the first screenshot, you can see gender, age group, and lifestyle segment for a specific keyword. This allows an advertiser to target their ad more finely to that audience. It does NOT mean that advertisers will be able to target their ads only to men between the ages of 26-40 – that type of functionality is still far, far in the distance.

Reporting is also pretty robust. In the second screenshot, you can see the audience profile for people who clicked on all of the keywords in a specific campaign.

A couple of things to note (a fuller analysis of this announcement will be available on the Forrester site in the morning – I’ll provide an update to the URL when it becomes available).

-         MSN will continue to use the Yahoo Overture Search Advertising platform (it was easier when it was just “Overture” for the foreseeable future. Clearly, MSN’s intent is to keep all of the search advertising for itself, but for the time being, they are playing the role of a good partner.

-         This sets the stage for what I call “targeted search”. There’s no reason why search should be any different from other types of advertising, where you can target creative based on your audience knowledge.

-         Marketers will spend more on search because of this, primarily because they’ll be able to better optimize their ads against key audience segments. We recently surveyed several search marketers and they said that the ability to target search ads would have a large impact on their search spending.

So the big question becomes, what will Yahoo! and Google do? Clearly, Yahoo! has the audience data to move in the same direction and I wouldn’t be surprised if they did so at pretty much the same time MSN moves into major markets like the US and UK. Meanwhile, Google doesn’t come close to having the user data that portals like MSN, Yahoo! and AOL do. I don’t expect Google to suddenly start asking for user registrations – instead they will quietly start adding cookies to users’ browsers to provide clickstream data for behavioral targeting.

All in all, the entry of MSN provides much needed competition – it seemed like Google and Yahoo were constantly innovating on the user search experience while search advertising was standing still (OK, I’ll allow that geographic and contextual ads have been innovative, but nothing as potentially game-changing as targeted search).

And it appears that marketers agree. I’ve been speaking with several marketers and agencies over the past few months that have had the opportunity to preview the new service and there is wide-eyed excitement at the prospect of having rich audience intelligence at their disposal. I think the reality is that it will take a while for the promise to be met, especially since true targeted search – where you can selective buy access to specific audiences -- is still a while off.

WSJ has a write-up here. And Danny Sullivan has a detailed write-up on the features here.

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Listed below are links to weblogs that reference MSN announces new paid search service pilot:

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Comments

Udayan Bose

I am an avid follower of your observations and comments. Do check out my views on the MSN PPC engine launch on my blog: http://bidoptima.typepad.com/

mike

Charlene, Andy still has a few images live: http://www.searchenginelowdown.com/images/msnadcenter2_1-large.gif.

Michael Kremin

The ability to link the demographic and personal data to search ads is certainly what we marketers are looking for. One caveat is how reliable is the profile data from MSN registrants? I know many users do not complete the profile and others provide fictional data for privacy protection. For example, neither Yahoo nor MSN verify the age one specifies in the profile.

Ojor

Good time for publisher more option to choose.

The comments to this entry are closed.