Whats Next for Microsofts adCenter?

Microsoft's online advertising platform is at the crux of its growing stable of services. After an admittedly "rocky" July with adCenter, Microsoft is working to improve the performance and roll out its contextual-ad pilot this fall. (Micro

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Few Microsoft watchers would count adCenter as important to Microsoft as Windows, Office, Visual Studio and Xbox.

But much of Microsofts 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 Aug. 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 Aug. 5, Microsoft plans to push out an upgraded version of adCenter that adds Firefox 1.5 support.

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According to company officials, the Aug. 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 adCenters 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.

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