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Google Teams With Ad Networks

Google has signed distribution deals with two ad networks, Burst Media and Fastclick, for its newly released content-targeted ad offering.

Just three weeks after unveiling the content-targeted ads, which serve paid listings on content pages, Google has signed deals with the two ad networks representing a total of 24,000 sites. The deals promise to help Google get a head start on rival Overture Services, which plans to release a similar offering sometime this year.

With content-targeted advertising, paid search firms hope to expand on the success of paid listings by posting them on non-search pages, particularly on content sites. Google uses its algorithmic search technology to scan content pages and determine relevant listings to serve. For example, a visitor to a sports page reading about the Boston Bruins game might see paid listings to the side for buying Bruins tickets or paraphernalia.

The deals promise Google distribution on thousands of middle-and lower-tier sites, such as Burst's FantasyCars.com and Fastclick's Webtoolcentral.com. Burst boasts 2,000 sites in its network, Fastclick 12,000. But the larger content sites remain the big catches, since they control the majority of spending on online advertising.

"Our members and customers are very excited to carry their business," said Jarvis Coffin, Burst Media's chief executive.

Yahoo!, which took in $140 million from its paid search partnership with Overture last year, and the other big portals, will remain the focus for distribution deals. While Yahoo! currently uses Google for algorithmic search, its acquisition of Inktomi has fueled speculation that it will dump Google as a partner.

At its analyst day this past January, Yahoo! said it planned to extend paid listings throughout the portal. Search executive Jeff Weiner said the company could easily serve up paid listings in its vertical areas, such as real estate.

When it unveiled the content-targeted AdWords program, Google announced a smattering of sites that would use the service, including HowStuffWorks.com, San Jose Mercury News, and Knight-Ridder Digital's properties.

Knight-Ridder Digital publishes the Web sites for dozens of newspapers, including San Jose Mercury News, Detroit Free Press, Miami Herald, and Philadelphia Inquirer.

Contextual ads are expected to build on the success of paid search, which in the past year has become the hottest sector of the interactive marketing industry. Since entering the paid search business a year ago, Google has quickly established itself as an equal of the industry's former heavyweight, Overture. Analysts now estimate the two companies about split the paid listings traffic in the United States.

With paid search's success, keyword advertising has moved off the search page. For example, Overture has partnered with controversial adware supplier Gator for a test to serve up pop-under ads of paid listings to visitors of search sites.

Moving paid listings off the search page has a number of potential drawbacks. One is that putting paid listings on content pages could decrease their effectiveness, since readers have not come to the page to search.

Another, pointed to recently by a Knight-Ridder sales executive, is that content-page paid listings could conflict with an exclusive ad sale. For example, Knight-Ridder might have an exclusive deal with an airline on a site's travel pages. However, the content-targeted ads could serve up another airline's keyword pitch.

Coffin said there was no reason a content-targeted listing could not be just as effective as one on a search page.

"We'll see how well it works for them," he said. "I'm hopeful it will work well."