AOL opens up more ad space

A partnership with ad network Sprinks will place text promo links on AOL properties including Netscape and CompuServe pages--moving AOL beyond Web search ads.

America Online is buddying up with marketing network Sprinks to place ad text links on its Web outlets, a move to broaden a style of advertising popularized by search engines.

On Monday, AOL Time Warner's interactive unit announced it is partnering with Sprinks to put sponsored advertising links from the agency's customers in relevant Web pages and services. The links will appear on Netscape and CompuServe sites and in AOL's instant messaging service.

Under the deal, AOL may also incorporate Sprinks' commercial text links into e-mail newsletters. Financial details were not disclosed.

"Advertisers are always looking for the most targeted placement, while consumers are constantly seeking information to help them make informed decisions about products and services," Joel Davidson, executive vice president of AOL Web Properties, said in a statement. "This agreement with Sprinks offers us an effective way to present highly relevant advertising to improve our user experience across these three important AOL brands."

For AOL, the partnership allows it to take the sponsored ad listings that work so well in search results and put them on general Web pages.

AOL already has a deal with niche leader Google to place "pay per click" ads--where customers pay to have their ads linked with specific search query terms--on its search result pages. Now it is broadening the effort to Netscape, CompuServe and AOL Instant Messenger with Sprinks, which specializes in "content-targeted ad links" that use the content of a Web page as the trigger for a promo to appear.

For Primedia-owned Sprinks, the deal could give it a bigger slice of a Web advertising business dominated by Overture Services and Google. It also opens up an area of the market--content-targeted ad links--where both Overture and Google are eager to expand .

Google, for example, introduced a content-targeted program earlier this year, with technology that analyzes the content of a Web page in order to deliver a relevant ad to the page. It already has deals with several publishers, including Knight Ridder Digital, to deliver such promos.

In contrast to Google's technology-based technique, Sprinks' service works by putting Web pages into categories, such as "health." Marketers bid for relevant keywords or categories, then Sprinks distributes ad links from those companies to relevant pages on partner Web sites. The New York-based company distributes its ads to partners such as Yahoo, Forbes, iVillage and CNET Networks, publisher of News.com. It has about 15,000 advertisers in its network.

Sprinks' promo links will appear on AOL Instant Messenger's opening page--IM Today--and not in users' conversation boxes. Lance Podell, general manager of Sprinks, said the deal gives the company a foot in the door at AOL, so it can prove its value and perhaps win other AOL business.

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