RealTime IT News

Ask Jeeves Moving to Network Model

As proponents of banner advertising try to cope with still-sluggish spending, search engine keyword ads gains another supporter.

Emeryville, Calif.-based Ask Jeeves on Monday debuted its DirectHit Network, aimed at allowing affiliated publishers to host keyword-based advertising products on their sites.

Based on technology acquired when Ask Jeeves snapped up DirectHit.com two years ago, the DirectHit Network offers advertisers inventory that will appear across a network of sites -- affiliates that host Ask Jeeves' search engine.

It's a similar proposition to that of Pasadena, Calif.-based GoTo.com, which started life as a "destination" search engine, but later began marketing itself as a B2B play, offering affiliates an "in" to its pay-for-performance search engine placement network.

But in addition to GoTo-style paid links (through a partnership with the search engine), Ask Jeeves also will offer keyword-targeted text ads, interstitials and banners across its network.

Currently, Ask Jeeves has about 55 affiliates, including MSN, Salon.com, Gay.com, Brittanica.com and others.

The news comes as plays like GoTo.com are receiving attention for the relative strength of an advertising proposition centered on search-engine keywords. While GoTo.com is seeing increased revenues, ad-supported content plays and networks like Engage and 24/7 Media are seeing slowed sales amid weak online advertising spending.

"With the changing dynamics of the online ad space, we've rolled out what we're calling the DirectHit Network," said Josh Stylman, vice president of syndication and partnerships at Ask Jeeves. "The benefit for a network partner is they can still have our search, which is very powerful and has very relevant responses. At the same time, we're providing an incremental source of revenue ... being that we both share in the upside revenues in this type of deal."

In addition to the softness in the banner market, proponents of keyword-based advertising maintain that it provides for greater relevancy than, say, run-of-channel banners.

Keyword advertising's comparative strength recently has found other fans as well. In February, 24/7 Media and competitor L90 both rolled out similar propositions, eager to expand their non-banner offerings. And like the other newcomers to the field, Ask Jeeves is positioning its new products -- and their targeting and measurability -- against standalone banner offerings.

"The key point of differentiation between the DirectHit Network and existing ad networks is we're not simply aggregating Web sites," Stylman said. "Rather, we're powering the underlying technology and search that provides the mechanism for very strong targetability."

As a result, Ask Jeeves already offers CPA, CPC and hybrid deals to advertisers for most of its inventory, and said it would do so on the new DirectHit Network.

"We're very open to very flexible pricing structures, because we know we can target so well," Stylman said. "We're open to pay for performance deals and hybrid deals, since the results are so measurable."

"We're already in the search business and the ad sales business, but this is a great way for us to capitalize on existing resources and really extend our reach for advertisers," he added.