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Overture to upgrade analytics software

The commercial search provider aims to create a tool that could eventually be used to track the success of Web ad campaigns on rival services, including Google.

Tech Industry
Overture Services is polishing up its tool for tracking the success of ad campaigns, a product that could eventually be used to evaluate the success of advertising on competing services, including Google.

The Pasadena, Calif.-based company plans to release an upgrade for its Keylime Web analytics software at an industry conference, Search Engine Strategies, in San Jose later this month, a representative told CNET News.com on Friday. At that time, Overture will announce that 20 search engine marketing specialists, yet to be named, will resell the technology.

Overture said later this year, it will launch a completely new system for advertisers to track multiple campaigns on any platform, which would include rival Google. That service will be rebranded and introduced in the fourth quarter of 2003.

"What is coming will be a big thing for advertisers. They will be able to manage their search campaigns, wherever they are," said Al Duncan, an Overture spokesman.

Web analytics is the process of making sense of data that's compiled from cookies and other information-gathering techniques. The latest Keylime software is built to help marketers manage and track bids for their sponsored search campaigns. The updated tool promises to connect the dots for advertisers by showing them how pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns relate to online sales, or return on investment.

The Keylime upgrade is set to launch close to the time that Yahoo's $1.63 billion buyout of Overture is expected to be final. It will also be a full realization of Overture's acquisition of Keylime Software. In January, the company bought Keylime of Carlsbad, Calif., for about $9.5 million in cash and its assumed debt with the aim of introducing deep analysis and management tools for paid search.

Overture auctions off search-result placement to advertisers. When Web surfers visit sites that host Overture results and click on the links, advertisers pay the company a price per click. The company in turn shares that revenue with its distribution partners, which include Yahoo and Microsoft's MSN. Improving its ability to analyze the results of such ads could help Overture attract more advertisers and possibly bump up rates.

Advertisers are increasingly drawn to buying ad links to product-related keywords in search engines, because they can be sharply targeted to consumers' interests.

But managing paid search campaigns can be convoluted, with companies having claims to multiple keywords in multiple search engines, including Google, FindWhat, LookSmart and Overture. What's more, businesses bid for placement in keyword listings so that each term has a different price that adjusts to demand. The time and resources it takes advertisers and agencies to manage bids and understand what's working and what's not can be enormous, those businesses say.

As a result, many companies are aiming to help advertisers understand the process and to tap a booming market. Paid search is expected to revive online advertising this year, with more than $1.6 billion in sales in 2003, according to Jupiter Research.

DoubleClick, a leader in Web advertising technology and analytics, built features into its Dart For Advertisers technology in order to allow marketers to more easily manage and report on paid search campaigns. But some say the tool is too expensive for small advertisers.

Other products such as Go Toast help ad agencies manage PPC campaigns, but some customers say they do not go far enough. Agencies use such technology to set parameters for bidding costs on search services, but they say they are still looking for tools that would integrate reporting across multiple sites.

Overture's system is expected to do that. With its dominance in the market, it could affect smaller players.

"They're going to try to squeeze out the third-party providers," said Greg Boser, president of search engine marketing company WebGuerrilla.

He said that key to the success of any future product would be the ability to track campaigns on Overture, Google, FindWhat and other search engines with ease, in one centralized location.

But Google, for example, does not allow any third party to export data from its campaigns. Most marketers have to cut and paste metrics, and it is difficult to compare how well campaigns work on one system in comparison with another. It remains to be seen how well it would work without Google's cooperation, Boser said.

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