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Overture's Content Match Takes On Google's Contextual Ads

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Overture finally unveiled its contextual ads program, called Content Match, officially this week. The program places Overture's paid listings on web pages, rather than within search results.

Earlier this year, Overture told investors and advertisers that it intended to expand into contextual ads. However, Overture-competitor Google unveiled 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 that Google has gained a lead in locking up distribution partners, saying that it wants to carefully review web pages that carry 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 with 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 probably Overture's most important contextual partner, with the portal site 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, such as in 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 for. However, many pages will also be reviewed by a human editor, to ensure the technology has assigned keywords correctly, Demas said.

Overture hopes that by adding humans into the mix, it will avoid problems such as travel ads perhaps appearing on articles about airplane crashes or ads for clothes dryers appearing on a story about a child dying in a dryer. Both are examples of problems Demas said Overture has heard about, though the company did not provide more specifics of when and where.

Even without the specifics, there's no doubt that Google's fully-automated system can lead to some targeting mistakes, as outlined in my article last month about the expansion of Google's program. But that's generally a problem for the sites hosting the ads, rather than advertisers. This is because a poorly targeted ad isn't likely to attract a click and thus hit the advertiser's pocketbook.

In contrast, the real problem is if a perfectly targeted ad does attract a click but does not result in a conversion, because a web surfer may not actually be looking to purchase something, as is more likely the case when when someone sees an ad in response to a search request.

In other words, those in "search mode" are more likely to 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 also 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 also from working with an outside vendor. It declined to name the vendor but added that in about a week or so, it would release more details.

The contextual ads program is being offered to Overture advertisers in all of its markets internationally except in the United Kingdom and Italy. Plans are to bring those markets online in the near future, Demas said.

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