Microsoft Gets Serious

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Microsoft unveiled its advertising platform in Singapore and France last week, and MSN plans to offer a beta of the paid search service in the United States this month.

The unveiling will place Microsoft and its proprietary search service, MSN, in direct competition with other search advertising giants, Google and Yahoo. The move can be seen as a direct response to the threat posed by Google, which in addition to its dominating the search advertising arena, has shown signs of expanding its interests on the Web by offering free software products and an endless debut of "Tools."

Regardless of the current motivations, it was inevitable that Microsoft would introduce a search-advertising platform, specifically to support its MSN search service. Seeing the rising popularity of search engine advertising, and, more importantly, the potential for enormous profits as highlighted by Google's and Yahoo's success, Microsoft no doubt realized that substantial attention should be dedicated to MSN as compared to the importance given its Windows operating system especially when MSN search advertising could help further disseminate its software over the Internet.

The new advertising system promises a number of very exciting features. For one, it will allow advertisers to target their keyword ads by location, age, gender and even time of day allowing for more specific targeting than that currently offered by the Google and Yahoo advertising services. The Audience Profiler feature will allow advertisers to take a look at a profile of customers most likely to use their key terms. And the Site Analyzer actually suggests key terms to advertisers based on the content of their site rather than through just keyword associations.

For the most part, advertisers are looking forward to the U.S. debut of the MSN search advertising service. And why wouldn't they? MSN might only rank as the third largest search engine (by number of searches), but by the same token, it is the third largest search engine, with 15 percent of the market share right behind Yahoo with 30 percent and Google with nearly 37 percent.

To have another outlet, especially one with 15 percent of the market, opening up for business means that there will be more competition for marketing dollars, hence better advertising tools, and, overall, more choices for advertisers to decide where to best spend their money.

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