The Content Context Contest

Shortly before Yahoo announced it would acquire Overture, the latter company unveiled its contextual ads program, Content Match. The long-awaited program places paid Overture listings on Web pages, rather than within search results.

Earlier this year, Overture told investors and advertisers it intended to expand into contextual advertising. Overture’s archrival, Google, beat it to the punch, unveiling its own Content-Targeted Advertising program first. Then last month, the Google AdSense program expanded the number of sites able to carry Google’s contextual ads.

Overture is unperturbed Google has gained the lead in locking up distribution partners. Overture says it wants to carefully review Web pages that carry its ads to ensure they are properly targeted.

“It’s not going to be one of those cases where we’ll be on hundreds of partners,” said Bill Demas, senior vice president and general manager of Overture’s partner business and solutions group. “We’re putting an incredible emphasis [on] human review. Obviously, we are very pleased to announce some of our partners right out of the starting gate, and we will announce a whole slew more in four to six weeks.”

MSN is currently probably Overture’s most important contextual partner (this could change if the planned Yahoo acquisition becomes final). The portal site is set to carry up to three paid listings per page. Other partners include Edmunds.com, the MyFamily Network, the Away Network, and Advertising.com. Overture is also testing placement within Yahoo, including Yahoo’s autos and real estate areas, Demas said.

In Google’s system, ads are placed on pages automatically, based on what Google believes the page to be about. Overture’s system also uses automation to help determine what keywords a page is relevant to. Many pages in the Overture network will also be reviewed by human editors to ensure the technology has assigned keywords correctly, Demas said.

Overture hopes by adding humans into the mix, it will avoid problems. Some advertisers fear situations could arise in which ads might be contextually relevant as far as the page is concerned but damaging to the brand. Travel ads might appear next to articles about airplane crashes, or ads for clothes dryers might be placed next to a story about a child dying in a dryer. Demas says Overture has heard about such problems, though the company did not provide more specifics of when and where.

Even without the specifics, there’s no doubt Google’s fully automated system can lead to some targeting mistakes, as outlined in my column last month about the expansion of Google’s program. But that’s generally a problem for the sites hosting the ads rather than for advertisers. A poorly targeted ad isn’t likely to attract a click thus extracting some coin from the advertiser’s pocketbook.

In contrast, the real problem is if a perfectly targeted ad attracts the clicks but doesn’t result in conversions. A Web surfer may not actually be looking to purchase something, as is often the case when a someone sees an ad in response to a search request.

In other words, those in “search mode” are more likely to buy than those in “surf mode.” Because of concerns over this, Google has allowed advertisers to opt out of its contextual program. Overture is doing the same.

“While we think the program will do very well, we recognize it is different than in search, so we give advertisers the opportunity to opt out,” said Demas.

As for Overture’s technology, the company said it is using systems developed in-house and in conjunction with an outside vendor’s work. It declined to name that vendor but promised more details would be forthcoming.

The contextual ads program will be offered to Overture advertisers in all of its markets internationally, except in the U.K. and Italy. Plans are to bring those markets online in the near future, Demas promises.

Meet Danny at Search Engine Strategies in San Jose, August 18-21.

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