Microsoft AdCenter vs Google AdWords

microsoft adcenter.gifI have been using Google Adwords since I launched PerfectTablePlan over 2 years ago. I started using Yahoo Overture (as it was then called) at about the same time, but gave up on it due to the lousy user interface and the poor return on investment. Always on the lookout for new ways to promote my product I recently decided to investigate the new-kid-on-the-block: Microsoft AdCenter.

My first impression is that Microsoft have copied Google Adwords. Badly. All the standard Adwords stuff is there: campaigns, adgroups, exact/phrase/broad match, negative keywords etc, they haven’t even bothered to change the terminology in most cases, but it feels clunky compared to Adwords. Wherever they have made a departure from the Adwords model it appears to be a change for the worse.

  • Negative keywords appear to be associated with phrases, not adgroups or campaigns. I might have 100 negative keywords and I don’t want to record them separately for every phrase!
  • You have to choose a single language for a campaign and you can’t change it. English-UK and English-US are counted as separate languages, so I have set up a UK+English-UK language campaign and a USA+English-US language campaign. Presumably people in the UK with their computer set to English-US won’t see my ads at all, but I can’t be bothered to set up another whole campaign just for them.
  • It confusingly mixes together campaign and adgroup properties in the interface.
  • The user interface is quite monochrome and poorly laid out compared to Adwords.
  • Everything has to be approved before it goes live. It took over 12 hours in my case (with Adwords it would be live in minutes).
  • It is set up so that you can’t store the password in the browser (in FireFox anyway) and times out quickly. Continually re-typing the password gets old quickly.
  • I tried opening AdCenter in 2 browsers so I could compare campaigns. It didn’t handle this well.
  • The minimum bid is £0.05. This automatically makes a whole swathe of keywords uneconomic for me.

But it gets worse. They rejected some of my phrases due to ‘Landing page content not relevant‘. One of the phrases was “seating plan” with a landing page The easiest way to create seating plans. How much more relevant can I make it? This sort of arbitrary interference was one of the things that made Overture so frustrating.

The number of impressions are much lower than Google, but there are also fewer advertisers, so my ads rank higher. Overall AdCenter clicks are currently running at about 10% of what I get through AdWords[1]. It is too early to say how conversion rates compare. But if the profit is only 10% of what I get through Adwords it might not be worth the effort to maintain.

It would be great to have a real contender to Adwords to keep Google on their toes. I’m not a Microsoft-hater and I really wanted to like AdCenter, but my first experiences are not favourable. To be fair, it is early days for AdCenter and I am still learning the ropes. I’ll let it run for a while before I make any decision about pulling the plug.

Microsoft have a reputation for bringing out a lousy version 1.0 and then continually improving it until it crushes all opposition, so it would be unwise to write them off this early in the game. But I think they have got a long way to go before they catch up with where Adwords is now.

[1] I have a lot less phrases in AdCentre than Adwords, but I do have all the most important phrases.

6 thoughts on “Microsoft AdCenter vs Google AdWords

  1. Nick Hebb

    Good article, Andy. I just started looking at my AdCenter campaign again too. Two quick ideas:

    – For the keywords, it allows you to import an Excel files, so adding per-phrase negative keywords can be done quickly with cell formulas (assuming you have a copy of Excel).

    – Also, there is a FireFox add-in “Always Remember Password” that lets you save the passwords for sites like this:

    The biggest problem with AdCenter, though, is the low number of impressions. You just can’t get around that.

  2. Andy Brice Post author


    I had a quick play with the Excel import, but couldn’t get it to work.

    FF has a built-in option to remember passwords. In my experience it works on pretty much every site except AdCenter. I sometimes wonder if MS deliberately sets up their sites to try to break FF. :0(

    I saw on the AISIP forum that AdCenter might start using criteria other than key phrases to display ads. That might increase the pitiful impressions while decreasing the conversion rate – which would probably be worse for us.

  3. Nick Hebb

    Did you download the Excel template? Also, I just noticed that they have a bulk edit feature that allows you to set negative keywords and apply to all your phrases.

    As for the FF password thingy, websites can instruct the browser not to save the password info as an added security measure. My bank’s website does this. The add-on lets you override the website’s instructions and save the password in FF’s password registry anyway. Yet another reason I love FireFox.

  4. Andy Brice Post author

    I should also mention that the conversion stats are highly suspect. One of my kewords has had 8 clicks and AdCentre claims 9 conversions. My cookie tracking shows otherwise.

  5. Colin Joyce

    Any update to how adcenter is working for you? We have a client that is itching to do more than adwords, and I keep telling them there’s no real alternative… has it gotten better?

  6. Andy Brice Post author


    Not really.

    Last month I got <5% as many conversion through adcentre as adwords. They were 30% cheaper per conversion, but for that few its hardly worth the effort.

    Note I don’t have as many phrases in adcentre. It was just too painful to add as many as I have in adwords, but I did add the main earners.

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