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!