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New Ad Options From Ask Jeeves

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Ask Jeeves has been busy developing new ways to monetize its two search services over the past few weeks, and here's a guide to some of the new ad offerings available.

"Branded Response" are image-oriented ads that appear within the main search results at the Ask.com site. To see an example, try a search for "new cars." You'll see an ad from Autoweb.com within the results. In the ad is a "helpful fact" about doing research about cars before buying, along with a link to information on doing this at the Autoweb.com site.

The ad also makes prominent use of the word "sponsored," so that, plus its distinct image, helps set it apart from the editorial content on the page. Being within the search results, it should also prove more effective to advertisers than ordinary banner ads.

In fact, I think one of the weaknesses with banner ads in general is someone reading an article or looking for information doesn't necessarily want to be distracted by what a banner offers. For example, if I'm reading a news story, seeing an ad about Cisco products is generally wasted on me (except for the important aspect of building Cisco's brand). However, anyone doing a search does want to depart somewhere. A targeted banner or image-style ad such as those Ask Jeeves is experimenting with might be a perfect vehicle to get my attention and capture it.

"Interstitials" are also available at Ask.com. These are ads that open in separate browser windows. I absolutely hate interstitials and find them intrusive. They also seem to make no sense from advertising perspective, at least when targeting searcher. Since they pop up before I've even conducted a search, there's no way they're going to be targeted toward my current interest.

To avoid problems, Ask Jeeves says that no users should see more than two interstitials per month, when visiting the Ask.com site. The ads also load behind your active browser window, rather than in front, to minimize intrusion. Interstitials are also sold on the Direct Hit Ad Network, described below. Those may appear more often than at Ask.com, since it's really up to the partner sites to set their own policies on them.

Ask Jeeves is also relaunching the paid placement program that is run through its Direct Hit site, targeting it toward large advertisers and abandoning the self-serve bidding model it initially debuted early last year, which was aimed at small and medium-sized advertisers.

Follow the bouncing ball with me, so you'll understand how the same advertising program has gone through three different names. The program started out at the beginning of 2000 as the Direct Hit Text Sponsorship Network, and it allowed users to purchase sponsored links that appeared alongside the regular search results at the Direct Hit site and on the results Direct Hit provided to partners such as MSN Search.

By the middle of the year, the program became the Ask Jeeves Text Sponsorship Network. This roughly coincided with the appearance of the text ads on the Ask.com site itself, in addition to being on the Direct Hit results.

By the end of the year, the program began experimenting with selling placements to major advertisers, which caused problems for smaller advertisers who suddenly found themselves priced out of the terms they specifically wanted. The "In Search Of Relevant Paid Links As Ask Jeeves" article below touches more on this.

Now the program is called DirectLinx. These ads may appear on the DirectHit.com site -- a decision on that is still being made. They will definitely appear on the Ask.com site and on Direct Hit results pages licensed to partners. However, instead of three ads being displayed, as in the past, now there are only two. In addition, the self-serve program is being phased out. If you want DirectLinx ads, you'll need to purchase them through the Ask Jeeves advertising department.

It makes sense for Ask Jeeves to kill off its self-serve paid links program, given its recent partnership with GoTo. Paid links from GoTo now appear at the top of Direct Hit results pages. They are also available to those who choose the GoTo option at the bottom of results at Ask.com. Given this, Ask Jeeves saw no reason to duplicate what's available from GoTo, especially when its program didn't seem to work as well for the self-serve audience.

"We just didn't think it was in anyone's best interest to have a second rate product to what GoTo is offering, so we figured, if we can't beat them, join them," said Josh Stylman, vice president of syndication and partnerships for Ask Jeeves.

If you still have an active self-serve account with Ask Jeeves, the company will be explaining what's happening to phase these out later this week, it says.

You may also have seen some headlines about a new "Direct Hit Ad Network." This is separate from the DirectLinx program. It's mainly a relaunch of the program of distributing Direct Hit's actual results themselves.

When Direct Hit launched in 1998, it quickly went into the market of either powering results for other people or offering its results as a supplement to a search service's regular listings. It remained in this business after Ask Jeeves acquired it in early 2000 but really didn't push to gather new partners to carry Direct Hit results.

The Direct Hit Ad Network is a return to trying to distribute Direct Hit listings, coupled with the incentive that sites that do so can earn money off ad revenues that Ask Jeeves sells on these pages. That's an important point. In the past, search deals like these have often been done on an ad revenue sharing deal -- but it was the host site that had to sell the ads. This change puts the onus on Ask Jeeves to do the selling, in the tightening ad market.

What ads appear on these pages? Regular banner ads, text ads sold through the DirectLinx network, links from GoTo and interstitials are all offered. And who carries Direct Hit results with these ads? Partners include places like MSN Search, Brittanica.com, Gay.com, Snowball.com and Salon.com.

To recap, the days of cheap self-serve style ads on Direct Hit and Ask.com pages are gone, at least through Ask Jeeves itself. Instead, you'll need to purchase ads via GoTo. However, advertisers who want to appear on Direct Hit pages and only Direct Hit pages at its various partners can purchase a range of advertising options on the network, including DirectLinx text ads.

Ask Jeeves
http://www.ask.com/

Direct Hit
http://www.directhit.com/

Ask Jeeves Advertising Information
http://www.ask.com/docs/advertise/Advertising.asp

More information about the various advertising options offered by Ask Jeeves can be found here.

Advertising: A Cry for Usability
ClickZ, April 23, 2001
http://clickz.com/article/cz.3792.html

Making ads more usable benefits advertisers, those with advertising inventory and consumers. A look at what doesn't work, such as interstitials, and what does work, such as sponsored search results.

Study: Web ads build brand and drive sales
Media Life Magazine, March 26, 2001
http://www.medialifemagazine.com/news2001/mar01/mar26/3_wed/news1wednesday.html

Online ads needn't be all about clickthrough. They can be used to build brand-awareness. That's something Ask Jeeves hopes to sell

In Search Of Relevant Paid Links As Ask Jeeves
The Search Engine Update, December 4, 2000
http://searchenginewatch.com/subscribers/articles/0012-askjeeves.html

Describes earlier problems some advertisers were having with the Ask Jeeves paid links program.

Password Finder
http://searchenginewatch.com/about/finder.html


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