Google, Weather.com Ink Content-Ad Deal

Google and Weather.com announced on Wednesday a deal that puts the search giant’s contextual advertising links on Weather.com searches.

The multiyear agreement adds Weather.com to AdSense, Google’s fledgling contextual advertising program that serves paid listings on content pages. For example, a Weather.com user searching for weather condition in New York relating to driving will receive three text links for car rentals in Manhattan. Weather.com offers nine separate options for customizing weather forecasts, with conditions relating to everything from golf to gardening. Google will also provide Web search on the site, including paid search listings from its AdWords program.

“In the end, I think the real crux of this is you want to make the ads as contextually relevant as possible,” said Sandeep Sawhney, director of business development at Weather.com. “It seems to us that this accomplishes that.”

The exact length and financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Contextual advertising tries to take the robust success of paid search and apply it to content sites. Google uses its algorithmic search technology to scan content pages, identifying their subject matter, and then matching it up with keyword listings from its trove of 100,000 advertisers.

The Weather.com deal is similar to a partnerships Google has signed with AOL-owned MapQuest and Switchboard. Mapquest returns listings using Google’s AdWords, matching up the city searched with one of six category keywords like hotels and real estate. Switchboard, an online directory, uses AdSense to match paid listing with local content.

The Weather.com deal is a big win for Google, which rolled out AdSense in March. Rival Overture Services, which recently agreed to be acquired by Yahoo, started a competing service in late June called Content Match. Overture also plans to debut a local search product in the next year.

Since its launch, Google has built AdSense into a formidable presence in the emerging market for contextual paid listings. The program features a self-service option that allows smallish Web sites to sign up to carry AdSense listings. In addition, Google has signed distribution deals with Lycos Europe to put paid listings on the sites of users of its Tripod Web site-publishing tool and ad networks Burst Media and FastClick.

Those deals have been complemented by CPM ad buys on properties like Knight Ridder Digital’s newspaper sites and washingtonpost.com.

Now, Google has begun to add higher traffic sites to the AdSense network. Last week’s deal with Switchboard.com added a site that drew 5.4 million users in June, according to Nielsen//NetRatings. Weather.com had 19.4 million unique visitors in June.

Google faces its biggest challenge in the contextual advertising market from Overture, which last week agreed to be acquired by Yahoo. When the merger was announced, Yahoo executives said Content Match listings would be deeply embedded in Yahoo’s vast network. Overture also has distribution deals with the Away Network, Edmunds.com, and MSN. However, many industry analysts have questioned whether its relationship with MSN will survive in the aftermath of its marriage to Yahoo.

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