A Microsoft executive urged attendees to "help me help you" by using its search engine to help build awareness and promised continued innovation to gain market share.

Microsoft is churning out new tools to help advertisers run Internet search-marketing campaigns — and they’re getting a positive response from professionals in the field. But the fact remains Microsoft’s business prospects quickly bump into the low ceiling of its 9 percent share of the U.S. search market.

“We find that all of our clients care about where the lion’s share of traffic is,” said Bruce Clay, a veteran search-marketing consultant, who was exhibiting at the Search Marketing Expo in Seattle on Tuesday. “They care about Google. They think about Yahoo. And they’re wait-and-see on MSN.”

Kevin Johnson, the president of Microsoft’s Platforms and Services Division, which includes the company’s search and advertising efforts, told conference attendees about the company’s efforts to build awareness of its search engine and increase market share.

Exhibit A is the deal it announced Monday to push Live Search on Hewlett-Packard consumer PCs sold in North America beginning next year. Johnson said the company needs to do many more such distribution deals.

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He also acknowledged, again, that the company has to clear up its online branding — the product is Live Search, though many refer to it as MSN — particularly in comparison to the synonymous-with-search brand of dominant market leader Google.

Johnson asked the audience to tell him other things they want Microsoft to do.

Some of the 1,200 search-marketing professionals attending the conference asked for under-the-covers tweaks and improvements to adCenter, Microsoft’s three-year-old platform for managing search-marketing campaigns.

The company is working on just that. On Tuesday, it announced a test version of a tool that allows marketers to manage their campaigns — tracking keywords, bids and performance — in an offline, desktop client.

But search volume remains the main concern for marketers. Johnson and other Microsoft executives know this.

“It is about scale economics,” he said. “The more inventory you get in that ad platform, the better [it] is able to deliver yield for publishers [and] return on investment for advertisers.”

It’s a major reason they tried to acquire Yahoo — the No. 2 U.S. search engine — and are working on a deal reportedly including some form of search partnership. Johnson provided no updates.

“You can all help me help you,” Johnson told the audience of professionals who run Internet search-advertising campaigns. “The more that you utilize Live Search, evangelize to others, the more I will help make sure that we continue to innovate and market and get it out there.”

Clay, who runs Internet consultancy Bruce Clay Inc., said it’s critical for Microsoft to win the community at this conference.

“If the [search-engine marketers] don’t talk to their clients about Microsoft being important, the clients won’t think Microsoft is important,” he said.

Clay said he is developing programs around Microsoft’s search and advertising efforts, even though the demand isn’t there yet from his clients.

“I think that Microsoft is too substantial of a player to ignore,” he said. “I think that ultimately this Yahoo thing is not done. … Even if they don’t buy Yahoo, the message was we are a player and we’re taking it seriously yet again.”

Benjamin J. Romano: 206-464-2149 or bromano@seattletimes.com