Overture, Knight Ridder Ink Search Pact

Overture Services announced on Monday that it struck a one-year exclusive deal with Knight Ridder Digital to provide both algorithmic and paid search services. The agreement also calls for the companies to work on deploying Overture’s contextual text-link advertising.

Knight Ridder Digital, which encompasses 32 Web sites for newspapers like the Philadelphia Inquirer and San Jose Mercury News, will use Overture’s algorithmic search, which it acquired when it bought FAST’s Web search. The Web search results page will also include up to seven paid search results from Overture’s network of 95,000 advertisers. Searches for back articles will include up to four paid listings.

The agreement is a show of strength for its partner network in the aftermath of its agreement to be acquired by Yahoo!. When it inked the $1.63 billion deal two weeks ago, Yahoo! said it was committed to maintaining good relationships with Overture’s distribution partners. At the same time, Yahoo! executives stressed that the distribution network was not needed to make the deal work.

Last week, Overture announced a full-service search agreement with Canadian portal Sympatico, displacing Google.

Knight Ridder Digital is not the first news Web site to sign up with Overture. The company already provides paid listings for three CNN Web sites.

In addition to search, the Knight Ridder Digital pact calls for the two companies to implement Overture’s recently unveiled Content Match contextual advertising. Unlike paid search, Content Match serves relevant text listings on content pages. For example, a page carrying a story about the previous night’s baseball game might display links to ticket sellers and sports merchandisers.

Amy Dalton, a Knight Ridder Digital spokeswoman, said the implementation was still in the planning stages, but the companies expected it to be up and running in a few months.

Overture believes the market for such advertising could be worth $2 billion in five years.

Knight Ridder Digital’s Web sites have carried Google’s AdSense contextual advertising links for months. However, the Knight Ridder deal was actually a regular CPM ad buy that Google used to get quick distribution for its fledgling contextual-ad program. The Content Match agreement between Overture and Google is non-exclusive. Dalton said Google ads might still appear on Knight Ridder Digital sites, but not on results pages featuring Overture links.

The ability to offer an array of search services to partners was the major rationale behind Overture’s buying spree earlier this year. The company nabbed two search engines, FAST and Alta Vista, in an attempt to diversify its offerings beyond just paid search and compete head on with Google.

In addition to Web search, Overture has undertaken an ambitious product development plan that produced Content Match a month ago.

Content Match, though arriving four months after Google rolled out its own offering, has distribution through MSN, Edmunds.com, and the Away Network.

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