Microsoft will move a step closer to its stated goal of providing small businesses with an all-inclusive search engine marketing service July 17 when it adds the Ask Sponsored Listings from the Ask.com search engine to its Microsoft Office Live AdManager service.
The move will see the Ask Sponsored Listings join MSN and Live Search as distribution sources for Office Live customer search ads, meaning customers will be able to manage their search advertising campaigns on two of the top five search engines using a single service.
Ask Sponsored Listings is an automated open-auction system that allows search marketers to purchase, manage and optimize pay-per-click and contextual advertising campaigns on Ask.com and its publisher network, while Microsofts AdManager enables small businesses to buy and manage search engine-based keyword advertising directly from the Office Live platform.
The move is another step by Microsoft toward delivering on its overall Office Live vision of an affordable one-stop-shop to address the basic IT and sales and marketing needs of small businesses, Baris Cetinok, the director of product management and marketing for Office Live, told eWEEK.
“We are making keyword advertising simpler for very small businesses by creating a single user interface for those businesses to create and manage their campaigns. We are bringing keyword advertising to the millions of small business who may be intimidated by what is required to set this up under our AdCenter offering or those from other providers,” he said.
The Office Live AdManager offering differentiates itself from others in that it is specifically targeted at small businesses, mostly with 10 or less employees, helps them design their campaigns, understand what bidding they need to do and what budget will be sufficient, Cetinok said. They can then, also, see how effective those campaigns have been across multiple search engines, he said.
With regard to its growth strategy, Cetinok said Microsoft will “partner, build or acquire companies that help our small business customers market themselves and sell their products in as many places as possible and that make sense.”
The addition of Ask.com, which is one of the top five search engines, to the lineup is significant as the Ask Sponsored Listings search advertising network reaches close to 60 million monthly unique users, he said.
Ask.com has also been very active in innovating around search and how it markets its services to customers and consumers, and has a large network that it is empowering with IAC, Cetinok said.
“They are playing a great and unique role in how they have been carving out a marketplace for themselves and how they have been innovating. We are very excited to partner with them,” he said.
Carving Out Markets
According to James Speer, general manager of Search Marketing at New York-based IAC Advertising Solutions, the integration with Office Live will “make it easy for marketers to extend their pay-per-click ad campaigns to Ask.com and our syndication network.”
In related search engine news, ComScore released June search share data July 16 that showed that Microsoft has gained ground against Google and Yahoo. As Microsoft Watch reports, Microsoft was the only search provider to gain market share from May to June. Three of the top five search vendors—Google, Time Warner and Yahoo—together lost 2.9 percent market share, with Microsoft apparently snatching share from them, gaining 2.9 percent month over month.
While Microsoft is talking to other search engines and advertising networks that are a good fit as places for its customers to place their ads, there is nothing specific to announce on that front at this time, Cetinok said.
“This is a journey and our vision is not going to be delivered with all the proof-points on Day One. Additional search engines and business listings will be added to this tool over time,” he said.
Search marketing has emerged as a $15.8 billion global industry and experts predict it will grow to $44.5 billion over the next five years, he said.
A report by investment bank and institutional securities firm Piper Jaffray, titled “The User Revolution: The New Advertising Ecosystem and the Rise of the Internet as a Mass Medium,” found that search is the second most commonly used application on the Web, with some 550 million searches taking place every day in the United States alone.
Local search, which accounted for some 15 percent of total online ad spending, is also growing as more businesses look to target their ads to a specific region. “Local search results are very important to small businesses, so Ask.com and Microsoft are complementary partners in this regard,” Cetinok said.
Search ads are text-based ads displayed on a search results page that look very similar to search results displayed in the main body of the page, but are labeled as advertisements. Advertisers are charged only when their ads are clicked. AdManager facilitates this pay-per-click advertising process for small businesses.
While Microsoft, based in Redmond, Wash., has “formidable” competitors in the search ad space, “We are currently uniquely positioned to be a true one-stop-shop providing all of these services to small businesses under a single umbrella,” Cetinok said.
Cetinok said Office Live would be taking a similar one-stop-shop approach with its upcoming Commerce solution, which would allow customer products to be listed for sale on other marketplaces like eBay.