Microsoft and Ask have joined together in a partnership to offer small business owners using Microsoft Office Live keyword advertising access to not only Microsoft's own MSN and Live Search vehicles, but Ask Sponsored Listings from the Ask.com search engine as well.
The Ask listings will be included as part of an Office Live adManager beta search advertising service, which is a management system to allow small businesses to purchase and manage search engine-based keyword advertising, according to Michael Schultz, U.S. business and marketing lead for Microsoft Office Live.
"This is one of the first times you've had search engines joining together to meet the needs for small businesses," said Schultz. "What's significant about Ask.com getting together with Microsoft Office Live, is we're actually making it simple and easy for small business to understand and take advantage of search marketing. To be able to do things like contextual targeting opens up another avenue to allow small businesses to get their message out."
Office Live users will be able to view and manage their keyword advertising accounts directly from an adManager interface within the product that will give them the option of purchasing ads on MSN, Live Search or Ask Sponsored Listings, he said. The Ask system allows marketers to purchase and manage pay-per-click and contextual advertising campaigns on Ask.com and its publisher network.
Although the deal between Ask and Microsoft comes 15 months after former Ask CEO Steve Berkowitz left the company to head MSN for Microsoft, the partnership was already being set in motion at that time and wasn't affected by his move.
Schultz also played down the importance of two separate search firms joining together to combine their services, saying "it's not a question about bringing in competition, it's about bringing in value. The Live and MSN properties are going to be able to stand on their own. All we're doing is bringing in additional capabilities."
However, some industry experts believe that despite the two well known companies of Microsoft and Ask joining together, their combined resources will still pale in comparison to the market share and reach of Google and Yahoo and the greater amount of advertising inventory they control.
"A partnership with Ask is a small deal. It does nothing to threaten Google or Yahoo," said Andrew Goodman, principal, Page Zero Media, a paid search marketing firm. Goodman said that giving small businesses access to both companies' networks will only "address 15 percent of searches, so you're still going to have to go use Google and Yahoo."
"The spend on ads ultimately derives from the overall search market share," Goodman added. "No distribution strategy for people wanting to spend ad dollars will increase your advertising inventory; you need inventory."
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