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Yahoo Starts AdSense Alternative

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NEW YORK Yahoo said it would begin testing its new contextual advertising network designed to compete with Google's AdSense.

The Yahoo Publisher Network will invite 2,000 small Web sites and blogs to participate in the test. Like AdSense, YPN places contextually relevant cost-per-click text ads on Web pages. Until now, Yahoo has kept its contextual listing ad program, Content Match, on major Web sites such as ESPN.com and CNN.com.

The network will compete with Google and start-up networks like AdBrite to attract small publishers. Google is by far the largest network, showing its ads on large sites like NYTimes.com and thousands of small sites and blogs.

Yahoo hopes to appeal to small publishers by giving them more hands-on service than Google, such as a service by phone, and access to Yahoo publishing services, such as a button for visitors to add sites' Really Simple Syndication feeds to the users' My Yahoo page. Yahoo is also dabbling in allowing publishers to influence which ads are shown on their sites. Web sites can choose from a list of 23 categories and 135 sub-categories ads they believe their audience will find useful. In this way, a blog about finance that would usually receive all financial ads based on context could request Yahoo show travel ads for cruises.

Yahoo executives said such self-directed targeting would be helpful for sites like blogs that cover many different topics, making it difficult for search algorithms to pick up a specific context.

"There are a number of sites where it is difficult to understand the content on the page and serve up relevant ads," noted Will Johnson, general manager of the YPN.

Yahoo said it would determine whether to show the publisher-defined ads or contextual ads based on editorial judgment and the click-through rate for the listings.

The new targeting method is one of a few methods Yahoo is exploring for text listings. It is engaged in a small test with Revenue Science, a behavioral targeting company, to display text ads based on prior Web behavior.

Yahoo advertisers can choose to opt out of the Content Match network. A Yahoo rep said a "significant percentage" of its over 100,000 search advertisers have chosen to have their ads also run through Content Match.