When it comes to competing with Google in the search and online advertising markets, Microsoft hasn’t exactly had an easy go of it. Few companies have.

But that doesn’t mean it’s throwing in the towel. Yesterday, it continued its efforts by opening up a public beta of its pubCenter publisher network, which Microsoft hopes will be a viable AdSense competitor.

According to LiveSide.net, “pubCenter is actively seeking publishers to join and test contextual ads on
their sites.
” The new public beta is limited to US publishers and based on the signup form wording, Microsoft still has selection criteria.

Microsoft pitches the pubCenter beta offer as a way to:

  • Place ads on your web site—realizing revenue potential with relevant ads
    targeted to your audience.
  • Customize ads to the look and feel of your web site.
  • Gain access to one of the largest advertising networks, delivering
    high-quality ads.
  • Monitor performance with a variety of tracking features.

On the newly-open pubCenter blog, Microsoft’s Kevin McCabe expresses confidence that pubCenter is on the right track but also sets realistic expectations about where it’s at today:

Microsoft pubCenter is still a beta and the performance and functionality will
sometimes be uneven as you should expect in a beta. By the time we launch, we
plan to offer an excellent, compelling alternative in this competitive field.

Obviously the eventual success or failure of pubCenter in competing with AdSense (and other contextual ad networks) will come down to how pubCenter performs for publishers. This is one market where brands mean very little in my opinion; it’s all about the money. If Microsoft can deliver advertisers and competitive eCPMs, it will have no problem finding publishers who are willing to give it a look. If it can’t, publishers will continue to use AdSense, which, although not perfect, is usually one of the more reliable low-touch monetization paths for publishers, especially smaller ones.

As pubCenter’s public beta evolves, it will be interesting to see what beta testers whisper about their results. LiveSide.net, which broke news of the public beta, writes “While we can’t comment on reporting and performance, we are quite happy with
pubCenter, and encourage you to give it a try on your sites
“. If other beta testers concur, pubCenter might be worth a look for eligible publishers.

Photo credit: Robert Scoble via Flickr.