Friday, June 22, 2007

The ad war from a user perspective

The ad war between Google, Microsoft and Yahoo is on. This is a summary of what you have probably read in the press:

  • Yahoo Search Marketing (formerly Overture) has only been losing market share for a couple of years and struggles to deploy its new advertising platform, code-named Panama.
  • Microsoft’s advertising strategy has always been confused until recently. They have now decided to go into the advertising space and they want to make it big. See how much they have spent to recently acquire aQuantive. See the pace of upgrades made to AdCenter. See also Microsoft’s track record of turning a late arrival in a competitive market into a great success: Internet Explorer, Windows Mobile, Xbox.
  • Google is the leader with a consistent strategy and a great advertising platform, which not only includes AdWords and its important counterpart AdSense, but also free services like Blogger or Gmail where advertising is leveraged. Finally they have two critical complementary tools which give them a competitive edge, Google Analytics and Google Checkout.

It is difficult to measure how much the advertising platform weighs in the success or failure of its owner. I like to believe that it is a large part of it. I am a user of Yahoo Search Marketing, Microsoft AdCenter and Google’s suite including AdWords, AdSense, Analytics, and Blogger and I report here my experience:

  • Yahoo Search Marketing’s platform is simply a pain to use. Registering is overly complicated with issues regarding restrictions on billing address and currency in relation to the target market. Note that only Yahoo proposes a service fee to help you get started. Vocabulary is confusing but it has been corrected in the new platform. And the worst design issue is certainly the concept of binding an account to a national market, which remains in the new platform. In other words, if you advertise in the US and in 5 European countries, you need 6 different accounts and there is no way you can get a single view of your advertising spend with Yahoo. In my opinion, there is urgency for Yahoo to correct this if they want to survive in the advertising space.
  • Microsoft AdCenter is fairly new and gets improved regularly. It is certainly more rigid than Google. For example, an Ad has a culture which is a combination of language and country. Accordingly, if you want the same Ad to be displayed in the US and in the UK, you need to duplicate it. Google is better in this respect but I think AdCenter is deemed do a reasonable Job after a few revisions. The challenge for Microsoft is to build synergies with other tools in a reasonable time: they definitely need the equivalent of Google AdSense and Google Analytics and they also need to offer users who contribute content on their platform, including Live Spaces , the ability to generate revenue using their AdSense equivalent.
  • Google is I think two years ahead of the competition and their recent acquisition of DoubleClick has given them more comfort against Microsoft. I have very few complaints against their platform apart from the inability to change from credit card to bank account, the inability to get a bank account automatically debited and the incompatibility of AdSense with SSL. Google Analytics is absolutely a must have and I can’t wait for Google checkout to be available in continental Europe.

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