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Overture unveils ad-tracking system

The search company unveils new software that's designed to be a marketer's clearinghouse for assessing the effectiveness of online advertising.

Overture Services has unveiled new software that's designed to be a marketer's clearinghouse for tracking the effectiveness of online advertising.

The Yahoo-owned commercial search provider on Thursday introduced the "marketing console," Web-based software that lets advertisers measure the performance of their online marketing campaigns, including paid search, online ad banners and e-mail promotions that are delivered by third parties.

Previously, Overture only allowed its nearly 90,000 advertisers to track how well consumers responded to their paid-search campaigns within its partner distribution network, which includes Yahoo and MSN.

The company will sell monthly subscriptions to the service. The system will cost marketers about $150 a month to track up to 40,000 ads in various channels, or about $250 a month for more than 100,000 different types of ads.

The product, which has been in development for months, marks something of a new direction for Overture in the Internet marketing industry. The marketing console casts the company in the role of a Web analytics provider, helping it appeal to small businesses that want to analyze how their Web marketing translates into online sales.

Industry watchers say that it provides a needed service because until now, marketers have had few economical tools to monitor their various campaigns' success from one hub.

"This shows the industry is maturing," said Barbara Coll, president of the trade group Search Engine Marketing Professionals Organization (SEMPO). "We need to prove that the return on investment is high for Internet marketing in order for companies to continue to spend more money of their budget in this area."

Coll cautioned, however, that advertisers may have some ambivalence about Overture, given that it both sells paid-search listings and allows advertisers to monitor campaigns with rivals in paid search, Web advertising and e-mail marketing. That could be a conflict of interest, she said.

Overture, acquired by Yahoo in October for about $1.7 billion, is considered a pioneer in sponsored search for having allowed marketers to bid for placement in Web search results related to keyword queries.

It collects fees from marketers each time a Web surfer clicks on the listings. Its system has proved profitable for a number of Web portals and publishers, helping to revive the online advertising industry in the last year.

With its marketing console, Overture is delving into the world of Web analytics, which is the process of making sense of data that's compiled from Web cookies and other information-gathering techniques.

Overture bought Keylime Software in January to build a system to help marketers manage and track bids for their sponsored search campaigns. Overture's marketing console is based in part on Keylime technology.