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MSN To Launch Its Own Paid Listings Program

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The longer version of this story for Search Engine Watch members goes into more depth on how the program was developed, why France and Singapore are pilot countries, more details on the program's features, ad targeting capabilities and how targeting is done, how the program makes automated ad management even more important and the challenges in rolling the program out in the US market. Click here to learn more about becoming a member.

MSN is officially announcing today during a annual gathering of its most important advertisers that it will enter the paid search arena with a full-blown self-service paid listing program similar to those run by Yahoo and Google. It will be tested in France and Singapore within the next six months. The date for a worldwide rollout has not been set.

It's been long expected by myself and others that MSN would establish its own program, something that's seemed inevitable once Yahoo announced it would purchase Overture in mid-2003. The move meant Overture -- which had been providing paid listings to both Yahoo and MSN -- effectively lost its "neutrality" and really couldn't continue to be a long-term partner for MSN.

In addition, MSN had already decided at that point in 2003 to build its own crawling technology to produce editorial listings. Developing a paid listings capability to go along with this seemed almost a requirement, given that its competitors Google and Yahoo had their own. My Yahoo To Buy Overture article from 2003 looks at this more.

Wider Rollout Date Not Set

How about launches of the program -- which currently has no name -- beyond France and Singapore? MSN isn't saying when that will happen. Given the six month horizon we already have, I'd say don't expect this until the end of the year, at the earliest. MSN has no need to rush. Its deal with Yahoo for paid listings runs through June 2006.

Similar to Google, the program is set to operate on a broad match basis, but advertisers will also be able to target specific words and phrases, plus have exclusion options.

Beyond both Google and Yahoo, the new MSN program will offer features such as dayparting, geotargeting and demographic targeting of ads based on age group or lifestyle.

Until the new program rolls out, MSN is continuing with its long-standing Featured Sites in the US, where advertisers spending at least $75,000 per month can get top placement for terms they want to target, above any of the results provided by Yahoo.

Impact On Yahoo & Google

What's all this mean for Yahoo? Obviously, it's set to eventually lose a chunk of income it gains by providing paid listings to MSN. However, despite some analyst quotes I've seen, it's not going to somehow lose advertisers themselves. Neither is Google.

Advertisers are not going to flock to MSN and abandon the other two, because the only way on the sizeable networks the other two operate is to stay with them. They have non-duplicated pages views.

Instead, MSN is going to be the new third program most everyone will likely feel it's essential to enroll in. That was certainly the case when I asked a room of about 400 people at SES New York earlier this month what they'd do if MSN launched its own program, as was rumored during the show to be coming. Virtually everyone said they'd sign up. And virtually everyone said they'd stay with the other two, as well.

Finally, might MSN find itself getting sued by Yahoo over paid listings, one analyst has asked. Yahoo has patents involving paid listings and won a settlement with Google over them last year. I asked MSN, and they had no comment on the issue.

Want to discuss the new MSN program? Join the talk in our Search Engine Watch Forums thread, New Search Ads Program Coming From MSN.

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