MSN Homepage Redesign Comes with New Ad Options

MSN is rolling out a new homepage that will surface content based on visitors’ previous behavior, among other enhancements. The redesign comes with several new ad offerings, including a more prominent 300×250 ad and synchronized rich media units.

In appearance, the new design is simpler and lighter than earlier versions. A new logo is designed to match and draw attention to a prominent Bing search bar at the top right of the page. The MSN butterfly has also been given a refresh — it’s first since 2000.

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Above-the-fold content will be determined, where possible, by users’ previously expressed interests. Hence, someone with a history of clicking on sports articles will be presented with more sports content, entertainment fans will see more celebrity stories, and so on.

“Microsoft has invested a lot of development talent in sophisticated programming that surfaces the information you care about most,” said Lisa Gurry, senior director at MSN.

Lower on the homepage, Facebook and Twitter integrations allow visitors to update their status on either service from the MSN homepage and to engage with those services. A local module at the lower left will include movie show times, jobs, and headlines targeted to a user’s location. Additional features such as “Shopping” and “A-List” search tabs will leverage Microsoft’s all-important Bing search product. Fully 45 percent of Bing searches come from MSN, Gurry said

MSN will begin rolling out the new homepage design to about 10 percent of its users this week. A gradual rollout will follow, reaching 100 percent in January.

Ad formats on the new MSN homepage include a 300×250 “Showcase” format; a new horizontal top-of-page ad the company is calling “Sliver”; and a “Waterfall” vertically oriented display ad. The Showcase ad unit was offered previously, but Microsoft has made it more prominent by removing editorial content from the space immediately surrounding the ad. MSN is also bundling these ads together for clients wishing to place synchronized executions.

MSN’s redesign follows new homepage iterations from rivals Yahoo and AOL, both of which have embraced integration with outside services, including rival e-mail offerings such as Gmail. MSN does not go that far, drawing the line at Hotmail integration.

Additionally, Yahoo and AOL have both signaled they intend to increase their investment in original programming. Gurry did not indicate MSN has plans to aggressively ramp up in-house content production. She described the portal’s approach as “strategic.”

“We’re continuing to invest in [original content] on a smart scale,” she said. By way of example, she pointed to the MSN feature “Last Night on TV,” a daily video recap of the previous evening’s boob tube programming.

ComScore pegged September traffic to Microsoft sites at 133 million U.S. users, behind Yahoo’s 160 million users and ahead of AOL’s 100 million.

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