At an annual gathering of its most important advertisers last week, MSN officially announced during it will enter the paid search arena with a full-blown self-service paid listing program similar to those run by Yahoo and Google. The program will be tested in France and Singapore within the next six months. A date for a worldwide rollout hasn’t been set.
I and others have long expected MSN would establish its own program, something that seemed inevitable once Yahoo announced it would purchase Overture in 2003. The move meant Overture — which had been providing paid listings to both Yahoo and MSN — effectively lost its “neutrality” and really couldn’t continue to be a long-term partner for MSN.
In addition, MSN had already decided at that point to build its own crawling technology to produce editorial listings. Developing a paid listings capability seemed almost a requirement, given competitors Google and Yahoo have their own programs.
Wider Rollout Date Not Set
How about launches of the currently nameless beyond France and Singapore? MSN isn’t saying when that will happen. Given the six-month horizon we have, don’t expect more launches until the end of the year, earliest. MSN doesn’t need to rush. Its paid-listings deal with Yahoo runs through June 2006.
MSN’s program is set to operate on a broad match basis, similar to Google’s. Advertisers will also be able to target specific words and phrases, in addition to having exclusion options.
Beyond Google’s and Yahoo’s programs, the new MSN program will offer features such as dayparting, geotargeting, and demographic targeting based on age group or lifestyle.
Until the new program rolls out, MSN will continue its long-standing Featured Sites in the U.S., where advertisers spending at least $75,000 per month can get top placement for terms they want to target, above any results provided by Yahoo
Effects on Yahoo and Google
What’s all this mean for Yahoo? Obviously, that company is set to eventually lose the chunk of income it receives from providing paid listings to MSN. Yet despite some analyst quotes I’ve seen, Yahoo won’t somehow lose advertisers. Neither will Google.
Advertisers won’t flock to MSN and forsake the other two. They’ll stick with Google and Yahoo Both have non-duplicated page views.
Instead, MSN will exist as a third program most everyone will feel it’s essential to enroll in. That was certainly the case when I asked a room of about 400 people at Search Engine Strategies New York earlier this month. Virtually everyone said they’d sign up. And virtually everyone said they’d stay with Google and Yahoo, too.
One analyst has asked if MSN might be sued by Yahoo over paid listings. Yahoo has patents involving paid listings and won a settlement with Google over them last year. I asked MSN, which had no comment on the issue.
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