Ask Jeeves Bows New Sponsored Listings

Ask Jeeves throws its hat into the paid search ring with a new auction-based, pay-per-click sponsored listings product.

The search engine, now a part of IAC/InterActiveCorp, is replacing its Premier Listings product, previously sold on a pre-determined cost per click (CPC) rate, with the new offering. Sponsored listings will appear in the top three positions above Google AdWords ads, which it will continue to distribute at least through its current contract ending in 2007. They will be sold on a CPC basis, with advertisers bidding on keywords.

“Advertisers let us know that they didn’t want a differentiated search offering — they want to be able to tap into our audience with familiar tools,” said James Speer, VP of marketing and products for IAC Advertising Solutions.

The ads will appear on search results on the Ask Jeeves site, as well as on its syndication network, which includes several IAC properties. Advertisers will be able to set daily and monthly budget caps to ensure ad impressions for a campaign are distributed evenly through the desired timeframe.

At launch, the listings are integrated with Atlas’ one point bid management tool through its API. Speer said the company is currently in talks with other vendors to integrate with their tools as well.

As with Google’s AdWords program, the placement of results will be based not only on the advertiser’s bid, but with clickthrough rate factored in to reward relevant sites with a lower CPC while retaining high placement. Google has begun using what it calls “quality score,” which includes additional factors like historical keyword performance, past ad performance, and relevance of the ad text. So far, Yahoo continues to rank its results solely by bid price, a method that’s easier for advertisers to manage and budget, but that may not produce the most relevant search results.

Ask Jeeves has also decided to remove the Branded Response unit from the Ask.com site on September 1, but it will continue to be available on sites in its network. Speer said there had been some confusion between the ads and the new “smart answer” feature, which Ask Jeeves uses to spotlight information like product listings or local search results.

Some advertisers may be disappointed with Ask Jeeves’ decision to remove the unit from its listings. The unit, which incorporates a graphic alongside text, has been popular with brand advertisers seeking a CPM-based ad alternative.

“There are so few places these days to add pictures to your text link search ad. It was a nice addition in an overall search marketing mix, and they typically performed well for most advertisers, particularly big brands,” said Dana Todd, executive VP of SiteLab.

Todd said even though adding another search marketing option will add to overall workload, it’s still be worth experimenting with to determine how it will perform for her clients’ campaigns.

The system is immediately available to existing Ask Jeeves advertisers, with general availability slated for August 15. Sponsored Listings on Ask.co.uk are expected to launch within the next 12 months.

IAC completed its acquisition of Ask Jeeves in mid-July. Today, it revealed the combined ad sales group, integrating IAC Partner Marketing with AJinteractive to form IAC Advertising Solutions. Paul Gardi, former head of AJinteractive, was named executive VP and general manager of the group, which will focus on selling IAC’s search, media and performance advertising.

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