Microsoft sees Powerset-powered search ad revolution

Natural language processing could let advertisers bid for search ad placement based on broad concepts, not just a gaggle of keywords.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
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SAN JOSE, Calif.--Microsoft bought search start-up Powerset with the expectation that its natural-language processing technology would give a better understanding of search queries and the content of Web pages. But wait--there's more.

Microsoft acquired search start-up Powerset for its natural-language processing technology.
Microsoft acquired search start-up Powerset for its natural-language processing technology. Powerset

The company also believes Powerset's technology could help advertisers find placement on Web search results, said Scott Prevost, Powerset's general manager and product director, in a meeting here with reporters in conjunction with the Search Engine Strategies conference.

Today, advertisers bid to have their ads shown on search results pages depending on specific keywords that users type into search engines. That can be an onerous process, given how many keywords are involved with a particular segment. Using natural language processing could lead to an entirely different mechanism for linking ads to search results, though, Prevost said.

"If people aren't bidding on keywords, and are bidding on concepts, it could completely change the ball game," Prevost said.