Pinterest Rolls Out Search Ads

Original Article by Mike Shields for The Wall Street Journal

Pinterest is making a big push into a market that has proven enormously successful for Google: search advertising.

The company has been testing search ads for a few months with a handful of partners. Now Pinterest says it plans to open up this new product to a wider swath of marketers.

Pinterest reaches 150 million unique monthly users, with more than half of those users falling outside the U.S. A big reason people visit the site is to search for products or ideas, everything from big life moments to what they might cook for dinner that night, explained Jon Kaplan, Pinterest’s global head of partnerships.

In fact, people conduct 2 billion searches on Pinterest a month, accounting for about half of the site’s activity, Mr. Kaplan said.

Until now, advertisers could run ads using keywords, like “furniture,” but these ads would run throughout the site alongside relevant content. Now, the ads will appear right after people type in searches.

Like search ads on Google, the new Pinterest ads will be sold via a digital auction on a cost-per-click basis. However, instead of Google’s mostly text-based ads, Pinterest’s search ads will primarily feature images.

The effort could be a needed catalyst for Pinterest, which ad executives say has struggled to define itself. Advertisers have been urging Pinterest to move faster when it comes to rolling out new ad products, and many have long hoped for more competition in a marketplace that is dominated by Google.

Starting out, Pinterest said it plans to sell the ads directly, though down the road thousands of advertisers will be able to purchase these ads using a self-serve digital interface, much like Google.

To help accelerate the rollout, Pinterest is partnering with Kenshoo, which operates ad buying software used by many search advertisers, to enable retailers to deliver feeds that can be used to create streams of product-specific search ads in real time.

Mr. Kaplan noted that 97% of Pinterest’s search queries don’t mention a specific brand. For test partners, the new search ads have yielded “new demand” from people who may not know exactly what products they want, he said.

Thus, the hope is that the new offering should open up Pinterest to a whole new set of advertisers and specialty search agencies—the likes of which spend lots of money on Google search ads, as well as ads on Microsoft’s Bing.

“We think we have something that is differentiated,” Mr. Kaplan said. “We see this as a very big new opportunity.”

Will Margiloff, chief executive at the marketing technology firm IgnitionOne, works with many search advertisers, but has yet do much business with Pinterest. He agreed that Pinterest has an “opportunity to own retail visual search”– if they eventually open up search ad buying to enough automated digital ad buying platforms.

“You’re talking about tens of billions in [marketer spending] if you make the right integrations,” he said.

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