Few Microsoft watchers would count 'adCenter' as important to Microsoft as Windows, Office, Visual Studio and Xbox. But much of Microsoft's software-services future is dependent on the success of its online-advertising platform, which Microsoft plans to beef up over the next 12 to 18 months.
Company officials shared with customers and other interested parties via a Webcast on August 2 its plans for the next few releases of adCenter. This fall, officials said, Microsoft will start this fall its invitation-only U.S. pilot for ContentAds, its contextual-ad system. And by mid-2007, Microsoft plans to integrate the Deep Metrix analytics technology that it acquired this year into the base adCenter product.
Microsoft launched adCenter, its platform for companies that create and deliver online advertising, in the U.S. in June 2006. As Microsoft expands its product mix to include more services – free, ad-supported and subscription-based -- adCenter will become an increasingly important piece of back-end technology.
Microsoft plans to make a big splash with adCenter at the Search Engine Strategies conference in San Jose the week of August 6, according to company officials.
Just before the start of the conference, on August 5, Microsoft plans to push out an upgraded version of adCenter that adds Firefox 1.5 support. According to company officials, the August 5 update of adCenter also will increase the number of keywords that advertisers can cut and paste to 200; allow advertisers to filter performance data more granularly via time; improve the reporting functionality on the back and front ends, thus improving platform performance; and make improvements to the price-estimation component of the system.
July was "a little rocky" when it came to adCenter's performance, acknowledged product manager Natala Menezes, during the Wednesday Webcast. Microsoft had trouble providing the ability for customers to make changes to their ad/keyword lists in a timely fashion. And ad approvals got stuck in a "pending state," she admitted.
Microsoft fixed those problems, she said, with changes now taking about two hours to go live.
After it delivers the August 5 update, Microsoft plans to deliver over the next several months other features that customers have requested, officials said. Among these are the ability to do "power postings," or bulk manipulations; deliver reports in a more timely fashion; make new orders and changes to orders live within five minutes; allow users to make changes at the account level; and make the adCenter platform easier to use, in general.
Microsoft is redesigning the adCenter user interface, and will introduce those changes gradually over the next two quarters, Menezes said. The new interface will look and feel more like Windows Live.com, she said. It also will include general navigational improvements, as well as improvements to negative keyword selection, she said.
Additionally, Microsoft is planning to launch the pilot of its contextual-ad system, known as ContentAds, this fall for U.S. advertisers, Menezes said. With the initial release, ads will be shown only on Microsoft-owned properties, such as Xbox Live, Microsoft.com and the like. The pilot also will support only text ads, with image support coming in later releases, officials said.
On the analytics front, Microsoft is working to incorporate the Deep Metrix technology it acquired in May 2006 into the base adCenter product. The goal is to add Deep Metrix's analytics – statistics on page views, referrals, conversions, paid search, etc. – into adCenter by late spring or early summer 2007, officials said. Microsoft plans to make the Deep Metrix analytics available to advertisers for no additional charge, Menezes said.
In the longer term, Microsoft will continue to offer to interested parties some of its experimental online-advertising technologies via its adCenter Labs site. Microsoft is using adCenter Labs, or adLabs, as a way to test new paid search, contextual advertising, behavioral targeting and other emerging technologies to its adCenter customers. Microsoft plans to roll into future adCenter releases its more popular adLabs technologies.
The bottom line for advertisers, adCenter officials acknowledged is more volume, which means more traffic and more sales. Officials told Webcast attendees to expect Microsoft to integrate Live.com search into some of Microsoft's more popular platforms, including Xbox Live and Office Live, in the near term, to help grow the company's query share.