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Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Overture Content Match: Incremental Change at Best

Overture has announced a program called Content Match that will place advertisers' keyword-targeted ads next to closely-matching content pages ("such as articles"). The program is being piloted on MSN, and advertisers are automatically opted in.

Content matching really isn't new for Overture. They've been doing this for some time, particularly with their partner Yahoo. (Our colleague Ed Kohler noticed his own ad coming up rather curiously near some search results on Yahoo's Launch.com music service.)

The most promising aspect of Content Match is a sign that Overture is going to let advertisers opt out of forms of traffic they don't want - functionality in which they've shown nary a glimmer of interest in the past. Here's what they say:

"Turning Content Match On and Off

"You can turn Content Match "On" or "Off" at any time on your Account Summary page.

"When an advertiser turns off Content Match, the next highest bidder on a specific keyword will move into the higher display position, but will not pay a higher click charge.
Turning off Content Match will not affect your traditional paid search listings.
You can turn Content Match back on at any time and start getting more traffic. "

Here's the problem: when you go to that part of the Overture interface, the indicator that Content Match is "on" is not currently being displayed. Thus there is no way to turn it off. Maybe that feature will be up tomorrow, but it seems irresponsible to roll out a new feature without the opt-out already in place.

One can't help but be curious why Google and Overture are making so much noise about content-targeted or contextual advertising when their bread and butter is search? Recall that Google announced earlier this week a content targeting partnership with Mapquest, a wholly-owned subsidiary of AOL (a company Google already has a major partnership with to serve search results and Google AdWords).

We know that many advertisers want more traffic from their existing accounts, but the focus on this sideline seems exaggerated of late. My hypothesis is that these dueling announcements are more for the benefit of distribution partners or potential partners (especially the big portals) than they are for the benefit of advertisers. It's a case of "look at what we can do... look, we can match ads to content and help you drive revenue" and "oh yeah, well we can do that too... look at us!"

As always, advertisers are advised to investigate ROI tracking technologies that are sophisticated enough to distinguish between content matching and regular PPC traffic. Don't take any claims about traffic quality at face value: track your conversions.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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