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Microsoft Moves Beyond Clicks With 'Engagement' Measurement

The new method is intended to augment click-based metrics, which don't tell online marketers very much about their customers and are susceptible to manipulation.

Microsoft on Monday introduced an online ad performance metric to better gauge how consumers respond to marketing messages.

The company calls the new measurement technique Engagement Mapping. It is intended to augment click-based metrics, which don't tell online marketers very much about their customers and are susceptible to manipulation.

Microsoft said that on March 1, it will begin beta testing Engagement ROI, engagement measurement reporting based on its Engagement Mapping technique. The reporting technology will be added to the company's Atlas Media Console, an ad campaign management system that Microsoft acquired through its purchase of aQuantive.

The beta test will include a number of Microsoft's national advertising partners, such as Agencia Click + UNICA, Best Western International, BKV, Citi Cards, GSD&M Idea City, Ingenuity Media of The Martin Agency, Initiative, McKinney, MEC Interaction, Mindshare Interaction, Monster Worldwide, Neo@Ogilvy, Sprint, and World Vision.

"The 'last ad clicked' is an outdated and flawed approach because it essentially ignores all prior interactions the consumer has with a marketer's message," said Brian McAndrews, senior VP of the advertiser and publisher solutions division at Microsoft, in a statement. "Our Engagement Mapping approach conveys how each ad exposure -- whether display, rich media or search, seen multiple times on multiple sites and across many channels -- influenced an eventual purchase. We believe it represents a quantum leap for advertisers and publishers who are seeking to maximize their online spends."

In kicking Google's golden goose -- the outdated, flawed, but nonetheless profitable pay-per-click ad model -- Microsoft risks tripping itself up as it chases online ad revenue. But the temptation to do damage to its vexing rival appears to be too great to resist.

That's not to say Microsoft is wrong in its dismissal of clicks; click fraud is real issue.

Fraudulent clicks represent a subset of invalid clicks, a category of clicks not billed to advertisers for a variety of reasons. Fictitious clicks -- which can result from using an Internet browser's "Back" button and loading an ad twice -- represent an example of clicks deemed to be invalid but not fraudulent. Google has long maintained that its systems adequately detect invalid clicks and that click fraud isn't a significant problem.

Last month, Click Forensics said that the overall industry average click fraud rate reached 16.6% in the fourth quarter of 2007, up from 14.2% during the fourth quarter of 2006. Google has repeatedly dismissed Click Forensics' statistics as inaccurate. Uncertainty about who is right may lead some advertisers to look for technology that can resolve the issue.

In announcing its new Engagement Mapping technique, Microsoft hopes to capitalize on its recent advertising acquisitions and to lay claim to technological leadership in the online ad industry. And if that doesn't work, it may be able to fall back on Yahoo's technology, assuming its bid to buy Yahoo goes through.

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