3 Key Differences Between adCenter & AdWords

Following the Search Alliance transition at the end of October, MSN adCenter’s market share nearly tripled, increasing from 11.2 percent to 28 percent, as the number of Yahoo impressions being served through the platform gradually increased.

As a result of the increase in reach, most marketers who had been treating adCenter as an afterthought — or ignoring it altogether — have placed greater emphasis on ensuring their PPC campaigns are in good order on this platform.

While adCenter looks and feels more like Google’s AdWords than the Yahoo platform, there are several important differences to keep in mind.

Whether you’re new to AdCenter or just looking to more effectively manage your search campaigns following the Search Alliance, there are three key differences when managing paid search campaigns in the new, consolidated marketplace.

1. Match Types

Due to Google’s ubiquity in PPC, most paid search marketers are familiar with Google’s match types. Broad, phrase, and exact match types exist both in AdWords and adCenter (an improvement over Yahoo’s advanced and standard match types), though there is an important distinction between the two engines.

Google’s modified broad match type, which according to Google, “lets you create keywords which have greater reach than phrase match, and more control than broad match,” has proven successful for many advertisers by reducing unqualified impressions and traffic, resulting in improved click-through and conversion rates.

Modified broad match also allows advertisers to generate greater impressions and clicks compared to phrase or exact match keywords without the need for continually evaluating search query reports and implementing negative keywords. Unfortunately, no comparable match type exists in adCenter.

Marketers using Google exclusively with a heavy focus on modified broad match keywords may be unable to generate the balance between reach and qualification that modified broad match delivers.

Depending on campaign goals, marketers should either focus on phrase and exact match (knowing that impressions and traffic may be limited), or utilize broad match with a strong set of negative keywords to ensure they’re driving the most qualified traffic possible.

2. Negative Keywords

Another important differentiator between Google’s and MSN’s platforms is the treatment of negative keywords and match types. Google AdWords offers broad, phrase, and exact negative match types, which allow for an enormous amount of flexibility in directing searches to trigger an ad from the appropriate ad group. In adCenter, however, all negative keywords are effectively set to phrase match.

Because Google’s negative exact match type keywords won’t transfer over as such in adCenter, use caution when importing AdWords negative keywords to a newly created adCenter campaign.

These negative exact keywords will be considered phrase match negatives and will potentially block some keywords from generating any traffic at all. If you’re encountering issues with particular keywords or ad groups generating little or no traffic, give your negative keywords a thorough look and ensure they’re behaving as intended.

Further, MSN differs from Yahoo and Google in that negative keywords always work at the lowest level first, meaning that keyword-level negatives will take precedence over ad group- or campaign-level negatives. To minimize cross-engine confusion, focus on ad group and campaign-level negative keywords unless negative keywords truly need to be applied at the keyword-level.

3. Ads

Both AdWords and adCenter have the capability for dynamic keyword insertion (DKI), though there is an important difference in how each platform treats capitalization.

In AdWords, the format {KeyWord:} (note the capital KW) indicates a desire to capitalize a searcher’s query when it’s inserted into an ad. For example, a search matching to the keyword “cruise deals” would appear as “Cruise Deals” when inserted into an ad.

AdCenter lacks this functionality, offering only the ability to insert keywords as they appear. For example, “cruise deals” would appear as “cruise deals” — which may not provide the desired appearance.

As a workaround, adCenter suggests using a {param} value to format ads as desired. {Param} values are specified at the keyword level, and when {param} is inserted into an ad, the text contained within that value for the matched keyword will appear as formatted.

The keyword “cruise deals” with a {param1} value of “Cruise Deals” will then appear with proper formatting when this variable is inserted into an ad. An easy way of implementing this for a large number of keywords is to use the “=PROPER” formula in Excel to format the first letter of each word in a keyword.


While increased focus on adCenter presents an initial challenge as marketers work to master the platform, the consolidation has also freed up time and resources that were formerly split across three unique platforms. Marketers who are mindful of the important differences between the two platforms will be best positioned to effectively leverage adCenter to deliver positive results.

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