Old Net Hands Launch New Ad Networks

Can automated ad targeting overtake the array of targeting approaches employed by the multitude of ad networks online? Former AltaVista CEO Jim Barnett is banking on it with the launch today of Turn, an automated ad network that takes search advertising and optimization technologies and turns them on their heads.

Separately, Marchex launched a new ad network consisting of ads on its 200,00-plus direct navigation Web sites.

Rather than pre-determining which ads will be targeted to which user segments, Barnett’s Turn network waits until a user arrives on a page in the network, and considers a variety of factors before serving the ad it deems most appropriate for that user.

“This debate about what’s the best [targeting] method is nonsensical and is going to disappear,” said Barnett, who believes today’s ad network field is cluttered and confusing for advertisers. Successful ad networks, he told ClickZ News, will begin integrating all types of ad targeting in the future instead of offering specific types of targeting in a more a la carte fashion, as many do today.

Advertisers using the network bid the amount they’d like to pay per action. In the case of travel search site SideStep, which has been testing display ads in the Turn network for about two months, an action is simply driving a user to the site to conduct searches for airfare, hotels and vacation packages.

“‘From a marketer’s perspective the CPA [Cost Per Action] pricing component is very attractive,” said Rob Solomon, CEO of travel search site SideStep, which has been testing display ads in the Turn network for about two months. ‘I like the fact that you’re paying for the transactions that really matter to your business.”

Solomon likens Turn’s ad targeting technology to that of Yahoo or Google, adding SideStep spends “millions” on those sites, and he hopes “to spend millions of dollars on the [Turn] platform as it scales up.” Turn’s Barnett heads up SideStep’s board of directors.

The Turn network currently includes about 30 small and medium-sized publishers representing about 200 domains, in addition to social content sections of large sites, according to Barnett, who said the network will ramp up its site roster in January. The network attracts a monthly audience of over 11 million unique users, he continued.

Using the network’s self-service campaign management system, advertisers upload all campaign elements, including display ad creative or text ad copy. The system then analyzes those campaign elements and components of related campaigns.

When a call for an ad comes in, the system searches its database for the most appropriate ad to serve that user based on over 60 variables such as publisher page content, past ad performance, information from user profile pages, and if the advertiser chooses, keywords. It then serves up either a display ad or a set of four text ads. Full reporting on impressions, clicks and actions is provided.

Advertisers have the ability to exclude publisher sites, but are not made aware of which sites their ads may appear on. The network will offer behavioral targeting in the future, according to Barnett.

“Site targeting is really a brand advertising phenomenon,” said Barnett, noting the network is aimed mainly at advertisers with direct response goals.

Marchex’s new ad network is a different beast. The company has created a back-end bidding platform for cost-per-click advertising across its vast network of so-called direct navigation sites. Sites are divvied up and sold according to keyword or category. Domains in the network include Debts.com InsuranceInformation.com, VideoCamera.com and NapaValleyWine.com. The company has attempted to create mini-portals on generic URLs like these and other, zip code-based domains by offering targeted content.

The company previously distributed ads to the sites through Yahoo’s Publisher Network, and will continue to syndicate ads from Yahoo to backfill inventory it doesn’t sell directly.

Zach Rodgers contributed reporting to this story.

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