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Microsoft Job Pitches Hint at Paid Search Ambitions

Recent job postings apparently from a Microsoft recruiter point strongly to the development of an MSN paid search program.

Kenexa, a Wayne, PA, employment recruiter, last month posted job vacancies on MarketingSherpa.com, Monster.com and HotJobs.com, seeking paid search specialists for Microsoft. A Kenexa recruiter confirmed yesterday that he is recruiting for jobs at MSN for pay-per-click account executives, marketing analysts and marketing specialists.

Andy Beal, vice president at Morrisville, NC-based search engine marketing firm WebSourced, first posted the MSN job listings on his blog, Search Engine Lowdown, after he was contacted by a Kenexa recruiter.

An MSN representative declined to confirm that Microsoft uses Kenexa to recruit employees.

“Search is a long-term investment for Microsoft and MSN,” she said in an e-mailed statement. “We continue to grow our expertise and talent pool. However, I do not have anything else to share at this time.”

The job postings are based in Redmond, WA, home to Microsoft's campus, New York City and Mountain View, CA. The Kenexa recruiter said in his e-mail pitch that Microsoft's new search initiative would be “launched in the near future in locations across the United States.”

The choice of Mountain View, Google's home base, is a sign of the increasingly fierce rivalry between Microsoft and Google. In November, Google opened an engineering office in Kirkland, WA, less than five miles from Redmond. Ten engineers work in Google's Kirkland office, and it is hiring more, according to a Google spokeswoman. Google also has an ad sales office in Seattle.

Google executives often downplay the threat Microsoft poses, but Microsoft officials have bluntly said the company aims to overtake Google in the increasingly lucrative search business.

The MSN Search job descriptions clearly suggest a bid-based, cost-per-click paid search platform resembling Google's AdWords and Overture's Precision Match. They seek employees with experience writing text ad copy, building keyword lists and doing ROI analysis. The description for search marketing specialists begins, “Do you have pay-for-performance (P4P) experience and want to be part of the next revolution in online advertising?”

Many search industry analysts consider it a foregone conclusion that MSN will develop its own paid search program to rival Google and Yahoo's Overture Services. For now, MSN has confined its search ambitions to building a Web search engine and debuting a test version of it in November.

MSN's deployment of a performance-based search ad platform likely would endanger its agreement with Overture. MSN in November signed a one-year extension of its paid search distribution deal with Overture through June 2006. Under that agreement, MSN is permitted to run its own pay-per-click listings. It already sells “featured listings” on its search pages, but those are sold on an impression basis, not performance.

Search marketers have welcomed a third major paid search provider. Despite a proliferation of alternative paid search programs, Google and Overture paid listings run on nearly 98 percent of the search market, recent comScore figures indicate. MSN Search accounts for about 15 percent of Web searches.

Microsoft is also thought to be able to use its software prowess by providing tools that make it easy to manage campaigns. One MSN Search job description hints that Microsoft already has developed a bid-management tool called Moonshot.

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