MSN Advertisers Report High ROI, Less Traffic

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Various advertisers and search agencies continue to report an equal or higher return on investment on paid search campaigns that run on MSN's adCenter versus Google and Yahoo.

Search marketing firm Did-it.com, New York, found that campaigns on MSN.com converted the best during March, scoring at 100 percent, followed by Overture at 97 percent and Google at 91 percent.

After a year of testing, MSN officially launched its paid search ad program in May 2006. Starting with about 2,000 advertisers in May 2005, about 10,000 now use adCenter, said David Jakubowski, general manager of Microsoft adCenter.

"We're really happy to have a third major player," said Peter Hershberg, managing partner of search marketing firm Reprise Media, New York. "It has really benefited our clients' campaigns."

However, Mr. Hershberg and others said it was difficult to compare results of marketers' campaigns on MSN versus Google and Yahoo because MSN has less traffic than the two major engines.

Typically, ROI and conversion rates on pay-per-click ads on MSN are at least on par with Google and Yahoo.

"The ROI we're seeing on the MSN network is as good as what we're getting on Google and Yahoo, [but] from a quality standpoint, we're seeing good-quality traffic on MSN," said Robert Murray, president of iProspect, Watertown, MA.

Sherman Hsieh, president/CEO of Gate58, an online marketing firm in Foster City, CA, said that campaign performances are "on par" across MSN, Google and Yahoo. Gate58 assists technology companies and other firms with their online campaigns.

MSN typically outperforms Google and Yahoo on business-to-consumer campaigns, but Google often performs better on business-to-business efforts, said Samir Patel, president of search marketing and technology firm SearchForce, San Mateo, CA.

AdCenter advertisers still wish to see more traffic on MSN.

"It looks like adCenter traffic hasn't increased that significantly," Mr. Hsieh said. "About 5 percent of my traffic is through MSN."

Traffic on MSN is about 5 percent to 10 percent of that on Google and Yahoo, Mr. Patel estimated.

Though MSN's query volume has grown, Mr. Jakubowski said, he assured advertisers that MSN has more plans to ramp up volume.

"The one thing we've been really impressed with is their due diligence," Mr. Hershberg said. "It is really a matter of time before they start to make a much bigger impact on the marketplace."

Because traffic on MSN is less than on other engines, advertisers' keyword cost is also less. On average, keywords have cost Gate58 30 percent less on MSN than on Google and Yahoo.

And adCenter provides differentiating factors, such as letting advertisers target potential customers by hours of the day, days of the week and specific demographic groups. For example, Mr. Jakubowski said that a cosmetics company found success in choosing more specific keywords for a female audience, instead of more general terms that would resonate more with men.

"MSN allows you to more succinctly tailor your target," Mr. Hsieh said.

"The richness of the demographic and psychographic data you get from MSN is much better [than Google]," Mr. Murray said. While adCenter bases its demographic data on "millions" of people who signed up for MSN Passport, Google bases its data on comScore online data that are less comprehensive, he said.

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