Search-based advertising, in which short text ads are displayed alongside search results in major search engines such as Google, are one of the biggest revenue generators anywhere on the Internet. They're also a great way for small businesses to deliver targeted ads to potential customers who are already searching for products. We've talked in the past about Google's AdWords system, and while it is unquestionably the biggest, it's not the only game in town. Among others, Microsoft provides a very similar service for advertising on Bing, the third biggest search site (and rapidly closing in on Yahoo for #2).
Much like AdWords, Bing's network (which they call Microsoft adCenter), lets advertisers automatically bid for placement of their ads when users search for various terms. The quality of the ad and the value that other advertisers place on the keywords determines which ads are shown. The system is so similar to AdWords that there is actually an importer built in to transfer your existing ad campaigns from Yahoo or Google. The website also indicates that you'll soon have access to the Yahoo search network through adCenter, but that doesn't seem to be available right now. Regardless, given the similarities, if you currently have an ad campaign through Google Adwords, there is no reason to not have a campaign on Bing's network as well . . . unless you happen to be a Mac or Linux user, in which case you're basically out of luck.
adCenter is a Windows-only website
You read that right, despite running entirely though a web browser, Bing's adCenter is only compatible with Windows (also restricted to only Internet Explorer and Firefox, even in Windows). To make matters worse, I only saw that "Non Compatible Browsers" popup after slogging through a surprisingly unresponsive signup form (available here) and being prompted to upgrade Silverlight. After the Silverlight install, it took me a bit to navigate back to the adCenter site, to find out my browser (Mac Chrome) wasn't supported. The "System Requirements" link informed me that it wasn't just Chrome that was unsupported, it was all Mac browsers. I stubbornly tried out Firefox and Safari with similar results. I don't happen to have a virtualized copy of Windows around any more, but apparently, even that is unsupported.
Knowing that plenty of sites claim a much more narrow compatibility than they actually support, I clicked through the warning and tried to access the site in all three browsers, with mixed results. In Chrome, the page locked up immediately; in Firefox, the page gave a "loading: 100%" message indefinitely; in Safari, the page at least loaded, but 5 of the 6 panels just showed error messages. The Safari page also had a link for a "Simple" view that did load without any problems, but as soon as I clicked away from it to import an ad campaign, I ended up on another Silverlight page that wouldn't load. From poking around, it looks like you might be able to use a Mac to check in occasionally on an existing campaign, but for anything else, it looks like a Windows machine is needed.
What I could glean from the broken pages
From what I could gather of the layout of the adCenter site in Safari, it looks to provide very similar functionality to Google AdWords. There are options for creating ads, finding new opportunities, and a variety of report options for tracking the performance of your campaigns. One of the features I was excited to see was an option to import an existing account from AdWords or Yahoo, letting you easily extend a campaign onto Bing. Unfortuantely, much like the rest of the site, I couldn't get the import to work on my Mac.
Despite all the trouble I've had so far, I do plan to set up a campaign through adCenter (once I find my way to a Windows machine). AdWords is currently our main source of leads at Less Annoying Software, and while it has been working well, Bing represents more than 10% of the search traffic (and growing). For cases where we are limited by search volume on Google, expanding to other search sites is important, and Bing almost certainly has a different demographic from Google (though it's unclear which would be "better" for any given business). As such, I'll have a more complete review of adCenter in the near future.
AdWords certainly has it's own faults (such as not letting you target ads by browser), so I was hopeful that Bing's network would fill in some of those gaps. So far, however, I'd settle for just being able to load the website.