October 1, 2010, 10:41 AM

It's on

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Those feature-rich search results, however, were for Microsoft’s own Bing Travel portal and Bing Shopping comparison shopping site. The travel portal search listing gives searchers the option to compare travel deals from other travel sites, including Travelocity.com and Priceline.com. A Microsoft spokeswoman declined to say if Microsoft plans to expand use of these ad formats.

While working on new ways to present ads, Microsoft and Yahoo are also cooperating on a new set of tools for managing paid search and optimizing sites for natural search, in some cases playing catch-up to Google.

Microsoft has introduced a new Bing toolbox that addresses common demands Microsoft has heard from search engine optimization managers, including the ability to download data on how often their sites are crawled by the new Bingbot site crawler, the company says.

“Bing Webmaster Tools provide you a simplified, more intuitive experience focused on three key areas: crawl, index and traffic,” says Anthony Garcia, senior product manager, Bing Webmaster Tools. Among the new tools:

— Index Explorer, which lets e-commerce managers browse through the Bing index in order to verify which web pages have been included in the index.

— Submit URLs so that particular web pages are indexed by Bing.

— Crawl Issues, which lets site operators view details on page redirects, malware, and other problems that may have blocked indexing by Bing.

— Block URLs, which lets site operators prevent specific URLs—such as web pages with terminated product offers that cannot be immediately removed from a web site—from appearing in Bing search results.

In addition, the new tools use Microsoft’s Silverlight 4 rich media technology platform to produce charts for analyzing up to six months of crawling, indexing and traffic as a base for learning how to better optimize a site for natural search.

Tracking revenue

For paid-search campaigns, Microsoft adCenter promises to release soon a “significantly enhanced conversion analytics product” that will feature revenue tracking, an ad performance report, and the ability to better target consumers by seeing how well keyword strategies reach particular consumer segments.

“Revenue tracking is, hands-down, the most important feature Bing is adding to their platform,” says Tazic of Abt. “This is an area where Bing appears to have lagged behind Google and Yahoo. Revenue tracking is essential to effectively monitoring our paid search programs, and without this information, we sometimes feel like we’re shooting in the dark.

“For example, we hold our search marketing agency, Rise Interactive, to a specific 10% cost per revenue metric over time—what we call our efficiency goal. We know for certain that we are hitting our efficiency goal in Google, but we have only been able to guess what our efficiency is in Bing. As Bing becomes a much larger percentage of our overall cost and revenue, the revenue side of the ratio becomes much more important for our campaign management strategies.” Abt defines its 10% metric as a maximum of $1 in search spend per $10 in search-generated revenue.

Microsoft is also introducing a new desktop adCenter tool that will analyze performance statistics to show, for example, which search queries caused a marketer’s paid search ads to appear.

When negatives are good

And the new Microsoft Advertising Intelligence tool, which replaces a feature called adCenter Add-in, provides keyword research and management features, including compiling volume, cost history, and geographic and demographic data related to search queries. “Leverage actual historic monthly query and content data to optimize keyword campaigns based on what potential customers are actually doing, and spend more on what works and less on what doesn’t,” Microsoft says.

Microsoft also says it’s expanding its system for managing negative keywords to include several thousand keywords at the campaign and ad group levels, a strategy marketers find crucial to keeping their ads in front of the most interested consumers while not wasting money on those looking for unrelated products.

Vaicik says Power Equipment Direct uses thousands of negative keywords for the term “generator,” as power generators are one of its main product lines. There are many phrases that may include that term, such as “lottery generators,” or power generators of a brand Power Equipment Direct doesn’t carry, and it needs the flexibility to prevent its ads from showing up in queries for these unrelated terms.

Converting searchers

Beyond the improved tools and now a critical mass of searchers with its position on Yahoo sites, Bing has one other big thing going for it: Shoppers who search on Bing seem more inclined to buy than those who use Google, according to some reports.

Abt found, for example, that Bing produced conversion rates of 1.49% in July and 1.24% in August, compared to 1.13% and 1.06% for Google, he says. “Bing consistently has a higher conversion rate than Google,” says Tazic.

Other reports are mixed, but show that Bing is definitely a strong contender. Ad network Chitika found in a study earlier this year that Bing’s conversion rate was 1.67%, compared to Google’s 1.09%. A survey of 102 e-retailers earlier this year by Internet Retailer, however, found that 69.4% reported higher conversion rates with Google, compared to 14.3% who said they got higher rates with Yahoo, and 11.2%, Bing. At Power Equipment Direct, Hoch says analysis of his three top web sites found Bing produced the highest conversion rates on two, while Google won out on the third.

Those statistics suggest Bing has the potential to be a serious contender for the eyeballs of consumers and search marketing dollars of retailers. But the preliminary sparring is coming to an end. Soon it will be time for Bing to show it can go toe to toe with the champ.

paul@verticalwebmedia.com

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