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Microsoft Adds More Tools for Search Marketers

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Microsoft has played "third fiddle" to both Google and Yahoo in the search marketing game. A trio of announcements made today at Search Engine Strategies Chicago could foretell the beginnings of a change in the search world order. Microsoft today launched the adCenter Add-in for Excel and adExcellence accreditation program for search advertisers, and a new Webmaster Center for organic search optimizers.

As a late starter, Microsoft is facing the tasks of serving up relevant results and winning over users to its search engine, both necessary first steps before advertisers will consider it as a viable option.

While advertisers have complained of the lack of traffic, and even the lack of relevancy in search results, one place where Microsoft has emerged strongly is the area of advertiser tools.

The adCenter platform offers advanced targeting, including geotargeting, dayparting, and demographic targeting. Where it excels is in the research tools it offers in its adCenter Labs site, which launched last year. Tools in AdLabs give a glimpse into more data than advertisers can get elsewhere, including demographic prediction, commercial intent, and search funnel analysis. While these tools are currently in demo mode, they are expected to come out of the labs and into production eventually.

Tools for Search Advertisers

One tool that will come out of adCenter Labs and into production next month is the adCenter Add-in for Excel 2007. The add-in lets users conduct keyword research and plan keyword strategy from within an Excel spreadsheet, using attributes like relevance, historical cost information and projected volume. It's designed to help advertisers understand keyword popularity and trends, and gain insight on demographic and localization information of actual queries.

"It's designed to help our advertisers become more knowledgeable about their customer base," Colborn said. "As a search engine, we have a lot of data on a keyword. The goal here is to work with our advertisers to provide a toolset they can use to access that data in an easy-to-use fashion."

Many advertisers are already using Excel to work with keyword data from third-party sources, so it only made sense for Microsoft to create a tool that allows them to work with data directly in Excel, he said.

"Anything they do using Microsoft products is very smart, and can put Google in its place," said Frank Watson, SEM director for Forex Capital Markets. "adCenter has been simple to use, and offers demographic tools no one else is offering. The more tools they offer, the more they'll get advertisers comfortable with what they're doing."

The first use is finding related keywords. After that, the tool can find key performance indicators (KPIs) for individual keywords for the past 24 months, including impression volume, click-through rate (CTR), average cost-per-click (CPC), and age/gender/geographic data. With this, advertisers can determine the effects of seasonality on a keyword, and forecast the possible outcomes for a keyword.

Unlike third-party tools, Microsoft has access to data by keyword and position, so an advertiser can find the average CPC for position 5, for example.

"The amount of information is more in-depth on our network than any other tool can provide," Colborn said. "It's going to generate a lot of excitement in the marketplace. It will open their eyes to the amount of information available, but in a simple way. This follows the path that adCenter created – knowing just a little more."

The tool accesses data from Microsoft's Keyword Services Platform (KSP), a set of services that Microsoft or third-party developers can use through APIs to build Web applications to analyze keywords. Many of the tools in adCenter Labs are built using the KSP.

The adCenter Add-in for Excel 2007 will be available on January 8 to select beta customers. Users interested in joining the beta can stop by Microsoft's booth at SES Chicago, or contact their adCenter rep.

Microsoft's adExcellence program provides agencies and advertisers with the opportunity to become certified adCenter experts. Similar to the Google Advertising Professionals or Yahoo Ambassador program, adExcellence is intended to recognize advertisers and agencies that have reached a certain level of proficiency with the adCenter platform.

"A lot of folks who use adCenter are well-versed in the product, and we want to recognize them. We also want to help educate folks on how to use some of the advanced features," Colborn said.

The program includes more than 20 free training modules and an annual fee-based examination (less than $100 for an agency or advertiser for one year, says Colborn). Accredited members will be listed in a membership directory and will get a logo to use on their web sites and marketing materials, allowing them to demonstrate to their customers and prospects that they are fully trained and proficient in adCenter.

Microsoft Webmaster Center

Microsoft unveiled its Webmaster Center at the Searchification event in September, and is spreading the word to more site owners this week at SES Chicago. Early reviews of Webmaster Center find it adequate as a starting point, but Google's Webmaster Tools are still far ahead in capability. Still, it's a good start, providing information on how Live Search crawls and indexes site pages; sitemap creation and submission; statistics about Web sites currently indexed by Live Search; consolidated content submission guidelines; and new content and community resources.

By providing better tools, Microsoft hopes to overcome its third-place onus, and make it worthwhile for advertisers to use its services. According to Watson, they may be on the right track. "The reason people use Google is that they have the traffic. Microsoft has smaller traffic, but if it can make it more fine-tuned, advertisers will embrace it," Watson said. "If they can provide limited traffic with a lot of information, people will come give it a look."

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