MSN Buys Desktop Search Tool, Re-Orgs Sales Team

Updated: Only two weeks after updating its look, functionality and search engine, MSN fired a couple more salvos in the search wars today. The company announced it acquired Lookout Inc., makers of a personal Microsoft Outlook search tool.

MSN also announced organizational changes within its ad sales team.

Lookout, compatible with Outlook 2003, enables fast search on a user’s own PC for email, files, Outlook data such as calendar entries, and desktop searches.

Desktop search is heating up as a very competitive arena. The combatants are Web-based search providers, and the makers of the major PC operating systems. Google is reportedly working on a downloadable file and text search tool, code-named Puffin. Apple’s forthcoming Tiger version of OS X will feature improved desktop search functionality, as will Longhorn, the next Microsoft OS. In the meantime, smaller vendors such as Blinkx have entered the arena.

“Microsoft has made no secret that they aggressively plan to pursue the search business. This acquisition is a sign that they may look outside their organization for missing components,” commented Peter Hershberg, managing partner of search marketing firm Reprise Media. He believes “the next innovations around search will involve the desktop, and Microsoft is as poised as anyone to take advantage of that space and become its leader.”

Whoever can enable search with the fewest number of clicks has the advantage, thinks Fredrick Marckini, CEO of search engine marketing firm iProspect.

“While Google is talking about a downloadable application, Microsoft may have an advantage if they can incorporate search into the desktop,” Marckini said. “And the utility of using the same search box to search your hard drive or the Web could be an advantage for the company first-to-market.”

According to Marckini, “Unequivocally, a search box on the desktop has a substantial ability to steal market share from a search box that requires a browser launch first.”

Restructured Sales Team

In a move further emphasizing MSN’s emphasis on search, Joanne Bradford, chief media revenue officer, announced organizational changes to her group. She named Matt Lydon senior sales director of search. In the newly created role, Lydon will head ad sales for search products, working closely with the direct marketing solutions team. Lydon was formerly MSN’s western regional director.

In addition, Mark Ugar was named senior sales director, verticals responsible for vertical revenue including entertainment, Latino, sports, financial services, retail, and automotive. Steve Sirich, who formerly oversaw the automotive vertical, is now director of US sales strategy; and Steve Moss, formerly responsible for East coast and Midwest sales, is now senior sales director, national field sales.

“We’ve aligned our team to put MSN in a position to achieve results for our advertising customers,” said Bradford, “The changes recently made to the MSN Ad Sales organization structure will help us make MSN ‘Easy to Sell and Easy to Buy.'”

At least one industry player finds the tagline appealing.

“MSN’s recent steps are very consistent with what industry experts have been saying for many months about MSN – that they are getting themselves in shape to duke it out with Google and Yahoo,” said Doug Ausbury, co-owner of search engine optimization firm “As an agency in a fast-growing industry where ease of use and customer service are becoming critically important, we are particularly interested in Bradford’s comment about ‘Easy to Sell and Easy to Buy’. We say, bring it on!”

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