MSN’s Expanded Overture Ads

MSN Search rolled out a new format for showing paid listings. It hopes the change will allow it to carry more sponsored results while still keeping overall relevancy high.

MSN receives its paid listings from Overture. They’ve historically been shown in the “Sponsored Sites” section of MSN search results. Unlike some of Overture’s other partners, MSN Search has been selective about the listings it will carry.

MSN never explained exactly how it filters the paid listings it accepts. Many have observed ads for low-volume queries are often the ones that fail to appear.

Now, MSN is embracing all the ads Overture has to offer. Overture advertisers need not worry whether their ad will appear on MSN. If they’re in the top listings for a query at Overture, then they should show up for the same query in the “Sponsored Sites” areas of MSN Search’s results.

“Areas” is the operative word here. MSN Search now contains two separate areas labeled “Sponsored Sites.” Both contain Overture listings, rather than just the single section it had before.

Generally, you’ll still find the traditional implementation: a section of results in the main column of the search results called “Sponsored Sites” that contains three Overture paid listings. Along the right-hand side of the screen is a new box, also labeled “Sponsored Sites.” This contains five additional listings from Overture.

The new box isn’t just a way to cram more paid listings on a page. MSN also uses the box as an area to which it may demote paid listings that don’t perform well when they appear in the traditional, main column setting.

Let’s say for a search on “used cars,” MSN Search shows three paid listings in the traditional area. One of these listings fails to attract clicks in the percentile typically expected for a listing in that position. As a penalty for its failure to perform, the listing might be “demoted” into the “Sponsored Sites” box. Meanwhile, a listing from the “Sponsored Sites” box would be bumped up into the main column area.

The theory is by doing this, MSN will help ensure the relevancy of the paid listings it carries. User clicks should help the most relevant paid listings appear in the important main column. It’s somewhat akin to the system Google uses. A high clickthrough on an ad can help ensure it maintains a prominent placement.

“It is incredibly important to maintain the balance of relevant results for users, while servicing advertiser needs,” said MSN Product Manager Karen Redetzki. “The addition of the right column offers more relevant results to benefit both advertisers and consumers. Consumers decide by what they click on where a paid link gets placed on the page.”

This column was adopted from ClickZ’s sister site, SearchEngineWatch.com. A longer, more detailed versionof this column is available to paid Search Engine Watch members.

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