MSNBC.com Taps WebRelevance to Target Ads

MSNBC.com will soon begin using WebRelevance’s contextual advertising technology to better target ad offers from MSN Shopping, the companies said on Tuesday.

With the deal, MSNBC.com, part owned by Microsoft , will use WebRelevance’s RelevanceServer platform to match offers from MSN Shopping with the content on MSNBC.com. RelevanceServer operates similarly to contextual advertising products from Google and Overture, scanning a page for its meaning and then choosing an ad that fits.

“It will allow us to create more relevant advertisements that are more contextually matched to the stories”, said Charles Tillinghast, senior director of business development and sales at MSNBC.com.

Tillinghast said MSNBC.com would implement the technology before the end of the year.

When in action, it should yield more relevant offers. For example, a visitor to a story about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s potential entry into the California recall vote currently receives a pitch from MSN Shopping for clothing. With RelevanceServer, the ad would be tied into tied to the page content, offering perhaps a “Terminator” DVD.

The deal with WebRelevance is MSNBC.com’s second foray into contextual advertising this month. The portal signed on three weeks ago with Sprinks to implement its targeted sponsored listings on the site. Unlike other contextual ad products, Sprinks does not rely on searching a page for its context, instead mapping a site’s pages to its own taxonomy of over 1,000 categories.

MSNBC.com marks the first partnership for WebRelevance, a Seattle-based startup founded a year ago by former Verity executives. The company hopes to tap into the growth of contextual advertising, from search listings to sophisticated audience targeting.

The company’s technology can be used to pull ads from a number of ad partners, allowing publishers to offer contextual ads from a pool of advertisers.

“The key difference with what we’re doing and others are doing is that the media site controls the advertisers,” said Bill Reller, WebRelevance’s chief executive. “We help them select the most appropriate ad.”

Tillinghast said MSNBC.com might expand the ads to include partners depending on how well the implementation works.

WebRelevance also sells to advertisers and affiliate sites, giving them a chance to serve relevant ads based on a page’s content. Its technology works with third-party ad servers.

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