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As it ends its Bing Cashback program, Microsoft is offering more ways for advertisers to connect with shoppers through search engine marketing.
As Microsoft Corp. approaches the point where its Bing search engine takes over for Yahoo Search later this year, it's positioning itself to become a stronger competitor to search market leader Google Inc.
Enter Bing Shopping, the new e-commerce portal that, like Google Product Search, offers online retailers free clicks on listings adorned with product images. The move follows the end of the once-popular Bing Cashback program, under which consumers who made a purchase after clicking a Bing search ad were refunded part of the purchase price.
Bing also will offer online merchants that feed data to Bing Shopping paid listings that will provide them greater exposure, again following in Google's footsteps, search marketing experts say.
"Microsoft will follow Google's lead and have a free offering for merchants as well as an ever-expanding array of ad units and offerings that will get higher visibility than the free listings," says Kevin Lee, CEO of search marketing firm Didit. "The free advertising products get the relationship started and the paid ad products are the ones that will get the visibility over time."
A spokeswoman for Microsoft confirms that Bing Shopping is offering a product feed service for merchants at no cost, which enables their product listings and images to appear in search results as free placements. The Bing Shopping site, at Bing.com/Shopping, provides space for sponsored ads across the top and right side of web pages, similar to the general search results pages on Bing.com, but on both sites all listings that show product images are free listings, she adds. The company has declined to comment on whether it plans to introduce paid versions of product image ads.
Other search marketing experts agree with Lee that Bing is likely to introduce paid ad options that display product images along with other product details.
"Many of the same best practices with data feed submission to Google Product Search are necessary for merchants to succeed on Bing Shopping, such as submitting clear, descriptive data and mapping all necessary search attributes into the appropriate categories," says Rick Backus, co-founder of CPC Strategy, a firm that helps retailers feed data to online shopping portals. "Bing's data on search clicks will be part of its overall algorithm that ranks product search results, giving popular retailers an advantage."
Scot Wingo, CEO of ChannelAdvisor Corp., which helps connect retailers to shopping engines and portals, says he expects Microsoft to expand the number of product attributes it lets merchants send to Bing, a step that would enable it to better compete with Google Product Search and broaden the amount of product content that will appear in free as well as paid search results. m