Turn to target ads automatically

After two years of laboring away in secret, advertising network Turn launches tomorrow saying it can target online ads with unprecedented precision.

Run by Jim Barnett, former chief executive of search engine AltaVista and, later, a top executive at Overture, San Mateo-based Turn has raised $18 million from Norwest Venture Partners, Trident Capital and Shasta Ventures. We were briefed on the company last week.

It calls itself the first “automatic” targeting advertising network.

Google, of course, is the gorilla in this market — it looks at the content of pages, and matches them with relevant ads in its Adsense network. Turn is betting, though, that it can do better by providing more hand-holding to advertisers.

Until now, many ad networks have forced advertisers to sort though hundreds or thousands Web sites to determine which ones are appropriate for their advertising. But Turn is the latest to help them do more precise matching. Competitor Adbrite, for example, is a network that hasn’t let advertisers do much automatic filtering of sites. (However, Adbrite today announced upgrades including an assessment of a publishing site’s user demograpics — by assigning a site’s users a probable age and gender based on their recent Web activity within Adbrite’s network of sites. Adbrite supplements this with race and income estimates it can make by assessing where IP addresses are located geographically, and matching those addresses with U.S census information.)

Turn is offering similar matching abilities, assessing the types of users trafficking a site, if that information is available, but Turn says it also tracks 60 other variables relevant to the ad being run. An advertiser specifies the goals they want to meet, and Turn takes care of the rest.

Let’s say a Motorola makes the following choices: It will pay 75 cents to an online publisher every time a reader clicks on a Motorola advertisement, and $2.50 for every time a reader subscribers to its newsletter, and $30 every time someone buys a Motorola phone. Turn lets advertisers specify this via a Turn dashboard, and Turn takes care of the rest by matching these choices against Web sites in its network.

So if VentureBeat went to Turn seeking advertising, Turn would analyze VentureBeat’s homepage, its secondary pages, its user profiles (if VentureBeat has collected such info) and then look through its database of ads and select the most relevant. It might look for ads related to venture capital, finance and start-up services, for example. It would look for banner and skyscraper ads (which VentureBeat runs). It also assesses the past performance of ads on the VentureBeat pages.

Turn already has 1,000 advertisers signed up, and more than five million ads in its system.

Turn will take 25 percent of the advertising revenue and give publishers 75 percent, though it might take less of a cut on bigger sites.

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