Quigo Scores ESPN for Sponsored Text Network

Sports aficionados catching the latest scores and scandals on ESPN are often served contextually-irrelevant sponsored links hawking hair loss treatments and bankruptcy law services. That could change this fall when the site switches from Yahoo’s sponsored link service to Quigo’s as part of an exclusive multi-year agreement with the six-year old sponsored link network.

“It’s a custom opportunity for us,” explained Tim Dolman, VP strategy and business development at ESPN New Media. “We’ve had a lot of people say they’d like to target us directly, and not be part of a huge sports buy or a huge men’s buy.” Quigo enables advertisers to bid on particular sites and site sections, as well as setting specific prices for specific sites.

Under the deal, ESPN will feature the Quigo text link ads across its site, which was ranked the number one sports site for the week ending August 24, according to HitWise. Advertisers will be able to bid on the text links by site, site section, keyword or topic through Quigo’s platform, or purchase the pay-per-click ads directly from ESPN. The sports publisher will most likely include three to five text ads per page, according to Dolman.

Quigo sponsored text ads will also replace those in ESPN’s site search results pages currently provided by Yahoo. For now, according to ESPN Spokesperson Paul Melvin, ESPN’s Web search results listings will continue to display Yahoo-served sponsored links. ESPN’s relationship with Yahoo, however, is subject to change. Dolman noted that the sports site is “in the process of securing Web search.” In a later conversation with ClickZ News, Melvin added, “We’re talking with [Yahoo] and others…to determine what the future of Web search will be on ESPN.com.”

“This doubles the size of the [Quigo] network overall,” said the firm’s chief revenue officer, Henry Vogel. He noted the network currently serves about four billion monthly impressions and expects to hit the 10 billion mark by the beginning of next year, following anticipated publisher additions. Nielsen/Netratings pegged ESPN as the seventh most visited online entertainment destination in February, and comScore Networks pegged the site as the 34th most visited Web property in July, attracting over 17 million unique visitors.

While other sponsored link networks like Google AdWords include a salmagundi of small sites from across the Web’s long tail, Quigo focuses on branded publisher sites such as ABC News, Golf Digest, FoxNews, USAToday, TheKnot and local and regional newspaper sites published by Cox Newspapers, The McClatchy Company and others. The system factors in bid prices along with an ad’s click-through potential to determine the most appropriate ad to serve.

On ESPN, for instance, advertisers will be able to bid on the entire site, or through “mini-auctions” on “‘key traffic chokepoints like the homepage or the NFL section front,” according to Vogel.

Google, too, allows AdWords advertisers to target sponsored links to particular sites, site sections and sub-sections. The firm also measures advertisers’ keyword quality scores by gauging CTR, ad text and landing page relevance in addition to other factors.

Vogel argued Quigo’s AdSonar system offers publishers greater potential to monetize advertiser relationships as opposed to so-called blind networks that provide little control for publishers over the ads that end up on their sites. “[Publishers] get tremendous insight around where advertisers want to spend their money,” he suggested. “Now they have the opportunity to cross-sell or up-sell those advertisers.”

Dolman agreed that the system could interest formerly display ad-only advertisers in the sponsored links platform, and vice versa. “We can maximize the opportunity for individual advertisers to come in that have specific interests in sports and our audience,” he said.

Elsewhere in the sponsored link world, Google has begun testing mobile search ads in the U.S., U.K. and Germany.

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