Review: Microsoft pubCenter

Although a latecomer to the contextual marketing landscape, Microsoft pubCenter was launched in the summer of 2008 to a very small group of web publishers to help advertisers in the Microsoft adCenter program (previously known as MSN adCenter). Like Google AdSense and Yahoo! Publisher Network, publishers or webmasters are paid revenues based on ads that are served on their websites, and on which their users click. Still in Beta mode, the program is offered to US webmasters only with appropriate tax ID numbers.

Interestingly, as early as 2005, MSN announced that they would be soliciting publishers for the program. They even said the new name would be ContentAds. But by 2007, the program remained solely a way to advertise on Microsoft properties only and not an outside network, thereby avoiding the need for website publishers. They did align themselves with large-scale publishers such as Facebook and Digg and served sponsored links, but nothing for the rest of the web community.

Early beta-testers indicated that payouts were well above the two competitors’ programs. They also stated that the ads were very focused and targeted, but that had to be expected because Microsoft was quite particular about the types of ads it accepted. Thus, there was a smaller group of advertisers meaning that the ads would specifically match the content for which it was served. In some instances, the ads were aesthetically more pleasing as advertisers were permitted to use background images instead of just colors. Again, this led to higher click-thrus.

By April 2009, Microsoft pubCenter was opened up to all approved US webmasters. But quickly after launching the full-scale program, publishers from the original select group indicated that their revenues dropped significantly. Various posts on relevant forums showed the same level of anger and indignation because revenues had dropped anywhere from fifty to ninety percent. Apparently, the downward trend was indicative only of pubCenter and not the other programs, Further, click-thrus and impressions remained the same, if not increasing in some instances, so basically there was no valid traffic reason for the decrease in revenue. Needless to say, many of the original webmasters just left the program and returned to AdSense.

For many reasons, however, webmasters eagerly welcomed Microsoft pubCenter. Support questions were answered quickly, and webmasters had more freedom in how the ads appeared on the site. Microsoft even permitted publishers to serve their ads on the same page as Google’s ads, although, it is not clear that Google allows the same behavior, making this rather a mute point in many cases since most webmasters would not risk losing their AdSense account and revenue.

Webmasters who have been accepted into the program state that it normally takes about ten business days to be accepted or declined. Once approved, ads can be blocked according to keyword or URL (website address). Also, more relevant ads can be served by adding specific keywords in the publisher interface. This means that ads are not only targeted by the keywords on the web page alone.

Payments are made monthly by check or EFT as long as the account has accrued a minimum of fifty US dollars.

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