MSN to launch its own paid listings service for search

Microsoft is taking the battle for search engine dominance deep into the heart of enemy territory with the launch of its own paid listings programme. Despite its contract with Yahoo! Search Marketing Solutions (formerly Overture), running until 2006, Microsoft has apparently decided it needed to road test its own service now.

At the Sixth Annual MSN Strategic Account Summit it has announced the MSN adCenter which is based, like MSN Search, on Microsoft’s own technology. The new service will be piloted in Singapore and France over the next six months to garner customer feedback.

As with Google’s AdWords and Yahoo!’s Overture, Microsoft’s adCenter will provide tools for organisations to plan, execute, monitor and alter their online campaigns.

Microsoft says that it will provide keyword buyers with in-depth audience intelligence including geographic location, gender, age group, lifestyle segment and time of day although how it plans to collect demographic information like age group and gender from searchers is unclear unless it is to be restricted to MSN’s premium customers. By using in-vogue behavioural targeting techniques, Microsoft says that advertisers should be able to develop more targeted advertising with a resultant higher click-to-buy conversion rate.

While the product remains in beta testing Microsoft says that MSN remains committed to working with Yahoo! Search Marketing Solutions – at least until the contract runs out. When Microsoft launched its own search engine at the beginning of February it said that it had no plans to replace the Overture sponsored listings for its own service, although it was obvious that it would eventually do so.

Contextual advertising is the fastest growing advertising medium on the internet and has become a huge money spinner both for Google and Yahoo! The price for premium keywords has risen steeply over the past few months as more and more companies recognise the potential of ads matched to keyword searches. The entry of MSN as a third player will take some of the heat out of the market although it looks as though a full launch won’t happen until next year.

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