MSN Says “Carpe Diem” to adCenter Advertisers

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I promised myself I wouldn’t turn this blog into an “MSN bashing” blog. But last week’s boneheaded move and the resultant fallout just can’t be left un-blogged.

On Monday, April 30, MSN adCenter advertisers were greeted with the news that MSN had changed the Terms & Conditions for adCenter, as follows:

“We’re writing to notify you that your Microsoft adCenter Terms and Conditions are updated. The changes take effect on April 30, 2007. Some of the key adjustments to your Terms and Conditions include: Microsoft may use matching criteria other than keyword searches to display your advertisements. Microsoft may display your advertisements on its network of advertising channels operated by the Microsoft network of participating websites and other distribution outlets. The payment and reporting terms in your adCenter agreement have been clarified to describe your rights. To review the new Terms and Conditions online, follow these steps: Sign into adCenter: Click the Advertiser Terms and Conditions link on the footer of the page. Review the document. If you do not consent to these revised Terms and Conditions, you may cancel your adCenter program relationship with Microsoft at any time through our Microsoft adCenter support team. Your continued use of the Microsoft adCenter program will be deemed your consent to the new Microsoft adCenter Terms and Conditions. Please contact our adCenter support team if you have any additional questions. Thank you for using Microsoft adCenter. Sincerely, The Microsoft adCenter Team.”

I saw this, and didn’t think much of it. I figured it was written to cover the Content Network which had come out of beta and to the masses over the previous weekend. We’d opted out of content weeks ago, so I went on my merry way.

However, some advertisers on the forums were concerned. My friend Discovery started a thread at Search Engine Watch questioning MSN’s line of thinking, and others began to chime in.
The very next day, I was reading one of my Google Alerts. This one happened to be about The Source Magazine, which is folding. We used to carry The Source, and it was a big seller for us, so I was curious what was up. I saw that the page had IntelliTXT ads on it. One of the highlighted words was “magazine.” Hovering over it, I saw that the ad was for Live Search, and the search was: magazine.

Let me stop here and say that “magazine” is one of our top 5 PPC keywords. I was now beyond curious. Continuing on…

So, I clicked on the IntelliTXT ad, and was taken to, yes, a Live Search page for the keyword “magazine,” and there was our ad. OK, now my curiosity has flipped to anger. I immediately went and checked my stats for that keyword. Not surprisingly, clicks were way up – and conversions were not. I went and posted in the thread at SEW that MSN was now in the garbitrage business.

That’s when all hell broke loose. By Friday, it was all over the blogosphere, and Kevin Newcomb from SEW had contacted me wanting more info for his blog post. PPC bloggers came out in force, decrying this latest faux pas by MSN.

My intention was not to slam MSN. I found out about the IntelliTXT campaign by accident. And I didn’t get too worried until I checked my stats. Once I saw the damage, I had to say something.

Incidentally, those stats are pretty damning. Clicks on the keyword “magazine” for last week (4/29 through 5/5) were more than double what they were the previous week; yet conversions were the same from week to week. So essentially, conversion on that term was cut in half by this. Other keywords were affected too, although not on the same scale. None of them saw an increase in conversions. Things seem to have settled down this week, but it’s still early. I’m still not happy about all this. MSN calls it a “promotional campaign,” which I guess it is, in a way – but it’s a campaign financed by MSN’s advertisers, who are stuck with it under the new “like it or lump it” T&Cs.

I’ll close with this summary of links to some of the blogosphere coverage of this debacle that weren’t mentioned earlier. If you know of others, post them in the comments so I don’t forget anyone.

Search Engine Roundtable
John K’s Got Ads? blog
and the best one of all so far, this Search Engine Watch post by Tony Wright of Dexterity Media. Rock on, Tony.

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