MSN Keywords: Paid Search’s Answer to Everything?

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T-minus one month and counting until MSN unveils their eagerly anticipated Paid Search platform, MSN Keywords. There’s been a buzz in the industry for the past few months over just what this will mean to the Search industry, and how this will impact the budgets and the strategies implemented by many Search Marketers.

Let’s review the predicted advantages of MSN’s new program:

  • Geographic Targeting — Targeting by DMA or Country. Now whether this will be based on IP (a la Google) or physical address (like Yahoo) is still up in the air. However, with the profiling capabilities that MSN has cultivated through Messenger, Hotmail and a variety of other channels, speculation has it that this will be a hybrid type of geo-targeting model that capitalizes on IP as well as refined location based on each unique user.
  • Dayparting — Allows your ads to be displayed only during a specific time period of the day. Currently, no other system has this capability built into their platform. The only way to target by time on other systems is by manually starting and pausing campaigns. This new feature will allow an even greater automated control over the display of ads, which should reduce monitoring time on our end.
  • Age/Gender — The best for last…I like to group these together because traditionally we target by age and gender, combined. The collection of profile data from all MSN and Microsoft products and services has created a wealth of age and gender data that is by far the main advantage of this new platform—and every Search Marketer’s dream. For a long time we have been asked by advertisers whether there is a specific way to target key audiences based on these two demographic categories. And until now, there has not been a quick and easy way to execute this type of ad targeting through Search (short of painstakingly mining logs and performing qualitative analysis through Claritas, and then data-combining search behaviors and patterns exhibited by each target audience). But now, low and behold, through the vast power of Microsoft, if you want your ad for laundry detergent to be displayed to women between the ages of 25-34, voila! Greater control on ad delivery, less waste, higher click to conversion results all leading to a higher return on campaign investment.

What about future enhancement? While no firm plans yet in place, a contextual advertising program will probably be next in line to be launched through adCenter. Given the breadth and depth of MSN’s channels, this would seem like the logical next step to expand delivery into the content portion of their site, as well as to other channels of distribution underneath the MSN umbrella or affiliations.

One key point to keep in mind is that with MSN, Paid ranking is determined not only by cost per click (CPC), but also by click through rate and user profiles. As with Google, maintaining ad integrity and boosting relevancy as it relates to searcher query is ideal to ensure that your ads are visible and perform at their peak.

As for the competition: No one can doubt the power of Google, and with a current penetration rate of 61% (according to Nielsen//NetRatings July 2005 data) I’m sure the launch of MSN will only be a blip on their radar. (And let’s face it: they’re busy buying print ads.)

But what about Yahoo? Their current contract with MSN is set to expire in June 2006—therefore a complete switch-over isn’t likely to happen right away. However, when the testing phase does begin, as an advertiser, if you have not made the appropriate plans to be a part of the switch, you will absolutely see a decrease in the amount of traffic coming through the Yahoo system. MSN is planning on shifting 25% of traffic through to their adCenter while the remaining 75% will go to Yahoo. As time progresses, and as more and more traffic is siphoned off from Yahoo, this could mean a drastic reduction in site traffic if a migration and budget plan for MSN has not been implemented. So be prepared.

Looks like we’re off to a good start with MSN…

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