Microsoft to Beta Test Content Ads

Microsoft  next week will begin beta testing a new advertising offering for its online properties – keyword ads on content pages.

Prosaically named Content Ads, the new addition, which goes into public beta test for U.S. advertisers on August 29, is an enhancement to Microsoft’s adCenter advertising platform. Content Ads will provide just what it sounds like – context-sensitive, text-only ads on content pages.

The new adCenter Content Ads offering will let advertisers bid on keywords for ad placement on MSN and other Microsoft network sites – and eventually sites of other Microsoft partners, according to company statements. Microsoft is playing catch up with Google which has used text-only ads to drive the lion’s share of its revenue.

“Microsoft Content Ads allows you to place content-targeted ads on the Microsoft network …. [where] you can access the valued MSN audience on high-quality Microsoft content network pages [including] MSN Tech & Gadgets, Money, Real Estate, and Windows Marketplace,” David Jakubowski, general manager of adCenter, said in a posting on Microsoft’s adCenter blog this week.

“Until now, this premium inventory has been available directly only through the MSN sales team and has commanded premium pricing. Today, we are making it available to everyone at a price you will decide,” Jakubowski’s post continued.

Content Ads is just one small part of Microsoft’s overarching plans to move to a more advertising-driven revenue model over the next few years, Matt Rosoff, analyst at researcher Directions on Microsoft, told

“It will allow advertisers to buy contextual, text-based ads on Microsoft’s sites and those of select partners,” Rosoff said.

Behind the concept of Content Ads is the ability for advertisers to bid on keywords to place ads on content pages – not just on search pages as has been the case so far. As with adCenter’s Search Ads, advertisers will pay per click for traffic from their ads.

“Imagine, for example, that you are trying to attract outdoorsy folks who are researching hiking gear before making a purchase. Wouldn’t it be great if your ad appeared at the top of the pages where sports stories appear on MSN?” said a Microsoft statement.

How successful Content Ads will be remains to be seen. For now, it is packaged primarily for businesses that can’t afford the expense of large banner ad campaigns. For instance, the initial cost to set up an account is only five dollars.

“This is a way for Microsoft to sell to smaller advertisers,” Rosoff added.

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