Business-to-business online ad network launches

ThomasB2B.com has launched a new online advertising network which is modeled after general-purpose ones from the likes of Yahoo's Overture and Google but which differs in two key aspects: first, it is focused exclusively on the business-to-business market; and second, it matches ads with search queries and content through predefined categories, not keywords.

As in the case of the Overture and Google ad networks, ThomasB2B.com advertisers build text-based ads with links to their Web sites. These ads, in turn, run on Web sites that participate in the ad network. Whenever a Web surfer visits an ad network Web site and conducts a search or calls up a page, ads that are contextually related to the topic of the search or the page are served up.

Following the Overture and Google models, a ThomasB2B advertiser decides how much it is going to pay each time someone clicks on its ad to go to its Web site, a model known as pay-per-click. This amount of money in turn determines which position that ad occupies when it runs, in relation to other ads. The more an advertiser pays, the higher the ad runs, a method commonly known as bid-for-position. Minimum bids are US$0.25 per click.

However, by focusing only on the business-to-business market -- in other words, on companies looking to sell their products and services to other companies -- the ThomasB2B.com network has a narrower focus than the Google and Overture networks.

What ThomasB2B.com may miss in amplitude of scope, it hopes to make up for in the depth it expects to gain in the business-to-business segment, said Dan Savage, ThomasB2B.com's president and chief executive officer.

"We believe we're entering the era of specialized online advertising networks," Savage said. This development is comparable to the emergence of trade magazines, which cater to advertisers that find little value in marketing themselves through general-interest magazines, he said. "It's the beginning of a growing field."

More significantly, ThomasB2B.com has devised a taxonomy for matching ads with searches and content that eschews the common keyword approach, where for example ads about baseball would be served in pages and searches containing related keywords such as "bats," "world series" and "gloves."

Instead, ThomasB2B.com has its advertisers tie their ads to predefined business categories, which the company believes eliminates a common problem with the keyword method, in which a keyword's multiple definitions could result in an ad for, say, a baseball glove appearing in a page about winter gloves. "The problem with keywords is that words can mean many things," Savage said.

With the ThomasB2B.com category-based approach, an advertiser can be very granular and specific about the context of its ad. For example, ThomasB2B.com has over 100 categories for paper, including tissue paper, blueprinting paper or cigarette paper. There are about 10,000 categories in the ThomasB2B.com ad network.

ThomasB2B.com has a sophisticated query processor that takes natural-language search queries from affiliates and comes up with a category match, Savage said. The system to match ads to content on pages is still in development, he said.

Currently, ThomasB2B.com has signed about 10 sites for its network, but expects that number to grow to about 200 by the end of this year, Savage said.

At the ThomasB2B.com site (http://www.thomasb2b.com), corporate buyers can search for suppliers of products and services in seven different languages and find business directory listings on companies from 29 countries. These listings come from one of its owners: Thomas Publishing's Thomas Global Register Directory. The other partner in the ThomasB2B.com joint venture is FindWhat.com.

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