MSN Search Gets New Look; Microsoft Gets New Search Engine, Part 1

  |  July 7, 2004   |  Comments

Microsoft released a public preview of its long-awaited Web search technology. It also gave a facelift to its popular MSN Search site that remains powered by Yahoo's search technology and dropped paid inclusion listings there. Part one of two.

Microsoft finally released a public preview of its long-awaited Web search technology, over a year after first embarking on the project. The company also gave its popular MSN Search site a facelift. Still powered by Yahoo's search technology, it's dropped paid-inclusion listings.

None of the moves are groundbreaking. The beta search technology has glitches common to any new search engine that will be worked out over time. Microsoft's search engine isn't yet a serious threat to Google, Yahoo, or Ask Jeeves. Meanwhile, changes at MSN Search merely bring the company in line with Google's look and feel and the forthcoming new results look from Yahoo.

Microsoft describes its new search technology as "raw" and admits for various reasons it won't do well on some queries. Nevertheless, it's an important start. Microsoft says it views search as a tough technology problem to solve over the next 5 to 10 years.

"We're humble about what needs to be done, but we're very excited about it," said Yusuf Mehdi, MSN corporate vice president. "The first step is getting our own technology out there."

Search Technology Preview

The new Microsoft search engine is best reached via its MSN Sandbox page. There, you'll find links to the MSN search technology preview, designed to serve the U.S. specifically and the world in general. A U.K.-specific version is also offered, as are many others worldwide.

Microsoft says the new search engine has about 1 billion pages indexed. The plan is to increase this size over time. That puts it behind the size of other major search engines, though it's important to remember size is only one of many factors that influence how good a search engine is.

"We're smaller than the rest of the indexes for the moment, so I think you'll see that on some queries, we'll do a decent job. On some we won't, because we don't even have the documents," Mehdi said.

Comparing to Competitors

How does it measure up? Relevancy is very difficult to assess, as I've discussed before. To do it properly, you should run a battery of tests. In addition, measuring how this preview service operates is largely a waste of time. It lacks some key features mature search engines offer that affect relevancy. These will almost certainly be added over the coming months.

Having said that, I did want to get some type of feel. I pulled a few queries from the old Perfect Page Test we conducted in 2002 for a very quick, very rough assessment (see the member version of this column for more information).

I can't stress enough this quick testing doesn't indicate how good or bad Microsoft's search technology is in an overall comparison to its competitors. But it does give you a feel for some of the challenges and problems MSN will have to correct.

Overall, I found the search engine a good first effort. Clustering is desperately needed; only showing one or two top results from any single Web site is a way to ensure variety in the highest results. The ranking system doesn't seem to do quite as good a job getting solid authority sites to the top of the list as it should. It may be susceptible to search engine optimization (SEO) tricks. Much of this is relatively easy to correct and not a surprise in a service debut.

The new search engine gives me a "more of the same" feeling. It doesn't take search results beyond what Yahoo, Google, and Ask Jeeves do and, given their maturity, do better. In fact, a fast run of the tested queries through Gigablast -- a one-man effort by Matt Wells -- makes me think MSN needs to catch up even to that service.

Next week, I'll look at MSN Search's changes and what all this means going forward.

This column was adopted from ClickZ's A longer, more detailed version is available to paid Search Engine Watch members.

Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.

Meet Danny at Search Engine Strategies in San Jose. Also, join us at ClickZ's upcoming AdForum.

Nominate your favorite product or campaign from July 7 through close of business July 14.

ClickZ Live Toronto Twitter Canada MD Kirstine Stewart to Keynote Toronto
ClickZ Live Toronto (May 14-16) is a new event addressing the rapidly changing landscape that digital marketers face. The agenda focuses on customer engagement and attaining maximum ROI through online marketing efforts across paid, owned & earned media. Register now and save!


Danny Sullivan

Danny Sullivan left Search Engine Watch as of Dec. 1, 2006.

COMMENTSCommenting policy

comments powered by Disqus

Get the ClickZ Search newsletter delivered to you. Subscribe today!



Featured White Papers

ion Interactive Marketing Apps for Landing Pages White Paper

Marketing Apps for Landing Pages White Paper
Marketing apps can elevate a formulaic landing page into a highly interactive user experience. Learn how to turn your static content into exciting marketing apps.

eMarketer: Redefining Mobile-Only Users: Millions Selectively Avoid the Desktop

Redefining 'Mobile-Only' Users: Millions Selectively Avoid the Desktop
A new breed of selective mobile-only consumers has emerged. What are the demos of these users and how and where can marketers reach them?


    • Contact Center Professional
      Contact Center Professional (TCC: The Contact Center) - Hunt ValleyLooking to join a workforce that prides themselves on being routine and keeping...
    • Recruitment and Team Building Ambassador
      Recruitment and Team Building Ambassador (Agora Inc.) - BaltimoreAgora,, continues to expand! In order to meet the needs of our...
    • Design and Publishing Specialist
      Design and Publishing Specialist (Bonner and Partners) - BaltimoreIf you’re a hungry self-starter, creative, organized and have an extreme...