Formerly known as MSN adCenter, the Microsoft adCenter is an online advertising network that uses Bing and Yahoo Search! to distribute ads . With state of the art tools and customized audience research capabilities, it is a direct competitor to Google AdWords. This is because not only do you have the classic pay per click advertising model made famous by Google, but Microsoft has also developed its own analytical tools that help an advertiser target potential customers, track ad performance, and much more.
So far, according to a study done earlier this year, adCenter ads converts clicks to customers at a rate that is 57% higher than Google and 48% higher than Yahoo! Search Marketing. Further, according to Nielsen//NetRatings, Microsoft supports 94 million visitors a month, which is a highly qualified audience, with 81% making online purchases in the past six months.
One of the major complaints advertisers have with pay-per-click programs is the inability to choose to whom they are advertising, resulting in unqualified traffic. This will make all the difference in being able to make the sale or not. With tools available like demographic predictions, Microsoft hopes to be able to bring more targeted ads overall than either of the other competing engines can. Can they succeed?
Microsoft’s adCenter information page states, “For instance, if you sell running shoes, you want an audience who is interested in running shoes to see your ad and take action, which may result in the audience clicking on your search ad, visiting your web site, and buying a pair of running shoes. Conversely, you would not want someone who is interested in buying horseshoes to see your ad and take a similar course of action because that likely not result in a sale, but the click on your ad by this person would still cost you.”
There have been multiple complaints however; some have said that the Microsoft’s adCenter bids on keywords can reach much higher levels than Google’s, without seeing much improvement upon ranking in the sponsored listings. Further, Microsoft utilizes about 5 results per search engine results page (SERP) on the right hand side, with one or two results at the top, compared to Google’s 8 ads on the side, and up to 3 ads at the top. Customers are complaining that it is too difficult to reach a top position for their ad, which doesn’t do them much good if they cannot save money over Google’s program.
Others have abandoned the program due to lack of relevant contextual advertising that Microsoft’s press releases claimed was far superior to AdWords. There have been many updates and upgrades since the beta program went live after Microsoft’s contractual obligations with Overture/Yahoo! Search Marketing ended in June, and results have improved much more overall. But there may still be many more bugs.
When doing a search in Microsoft for “discount apple desktop pcs” there is an ad for Alienware and one for plasma TVs, which hold little relevance for me in regards to my search. Another search with keywords “natural herbal supplements” show two almost identical ads, one for dealtime.com and one for shopping.com, that are titled “Save Time and Money”. The sad part is that so far, I had only done searches on four keyword phrases, and two out of the four searches provided multiple irrelevant results in advertising. That doesn’t look so great for Microsoft so far.
What about click fraud? According to several reports, click fraud was absolutely no better for adCenter than for Google, even with the rumored addition of DeepMetrix, which is a web analytics firm that competes with WebTrends and other firms.
It only takes five minutes to activate an account, then it is very similar to what Google’s AdWords program has to offer. Fortunately, the analytics part of the Microsoft program is extremely simple to use, and in some people’s opinion, far easier to track with conversion tools than Google’s.