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February 01, 2005

MSN Search will chip away at Google’s share

By Charlene Li

With the placement of its own search engine on the MSN.com home page, Microsoft’s portal is poised to take back much of the share it’s lost due to Google meteoric rise over the past few years. The number one target – users who regularly use MSN.com or Hotmail but choose to use another search engine. Under direct attack is Google. Although Google has the market lead -- with 38% of US online households using it most frequently to search the Internet – 20% of those Google searchers also have MSN.com as their default home page. (For more background, see this post on search loyalty and this one on MSN Search). Google gained a great deal of share between 2003 and 2004, but this was mostly in the face of little true competition and tons of publicity from its IPO. I expect that it will give some of it back over the next year with MSN.com and Yahoo! (not to mention AOL's new web site strategy and Ask Jeeves) all competing aggressively.

MSN Search is good enough to technology-wise to lure some of those users back. But coupled with the anticipated marketing campaign, MSN should be able to convince its users to at least give the new search a try. I think many will be pleasantly surprised and start using it out of sheer convenience – why bother going to another site if you’re already got a decent one sitting right in front of you?

Google will continue to capitalize on its hallmark innovation, which will keep the early adopters loyal.  Realistically, MSN isn’t focused on convincing those hard core Google loyalists to switch. It will need to be “just good enough” for the next year to recapture some of its lost share. But look for MSN to come out with some innovations of its own in the next 12 months – a logical place would be to cut the final cords of search dependence to Overture and develop its own PPC search engine.

On the home page redesign: I really like the small tweaks they’ve made, especially grouping the left nav bar into logical categories. It’s now so much easier to find things, rather than the old alphabetical organization. Kudos!


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It will depend on the % of people who only use one search engine vs. the % of people who use multiple search engines. Even if MSN Search does not become the leader in overal search quality, they are already the clear choice for certain searches, such as the answers provided by Encarta. These fact-finding searches can be authoritatively answered in seconds using the right database of structured information; whereas it could take significantly longer to find the answer (if you can even find one) by searching the unstructured Web.

I think the long-term trend in search will be a shift from who has the biggest hammer (general web page results) to who has the fullest toolbox (integrated specialty databases) with easy access to the right tool for each job. MSN has room to grow into the "answer engine" if they can quickly duplicate the integrated features of Yahoo (1) and Google (2), and start adding more features from the rest of MSN (3) and beyond.


Ryan Massie

Sean, I grant that Encarta is a good resource to own, but Ask Jeeves has been providing direct answers, called Smart Answers, from structured databases since April 2003. (And Yahoo and Google have subsequently launched similar features, though not as extensive.) We completely agree that structured data is a significant part of the future of searching. We were the first to innovate in this area amongst the major engines, and more innovation is on the way. Stay tuned.

(Love your site and manifesto, btw. Cool beans.)

Ryan Massie
Product Manager
Ask Jeeves


But of course... how could I forget about the original answer butler? Or, for that matter, the new AOL Search?

Although I guess it is indicative of how little "top of mind" real estate is available for general web search.

And even when I know the strengths & weaknesses of each search engine, do I actually stop and think about them?

Or, is it more common to try everything on the default engine, then use "X" number of alternates if necessary?


No way. No way. Oh and did I mention, NO WAY! Microsoft isn't on the radar screen of the power or casual web user. AND, this is one space where deep pockets does not guarantee success. There will be new comers and alot of competition for mindshare but Microsoft's content has never been a player since the advent of the internet.

It is more likely that TW unbundles AOL and makes a serious run at creating a serious content portal available to all on the net. And, unlike anyone other than Yahoo, they have home grown content.


I can't believe people mention Ask Jeeves in the same breath as Google, MSN and Yahoo. Horrible results

Kirk Lindstrom

Isn't the main value for Google in how they get placement of their pay for click ads on web sites like ours in the listed URL?

Note how if you want to read my market thoughts, you have to scroll past 4 google ads related to my investing topic.

There are even Google ads on main pages like the top of this one

Will MSN offer a partner package to affiliates to serve their ads?

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