MSN’s Answer to Search (and Maybe a Few Other Things)

I attended a Dallas/Fort Worth Interactive Marketing Association (DFWIMA) monthly meeting recently. I’ve mentioned the organization before; it’s a great organization dedicated to educating and uniting the interactive community in Dallas/Fort Worth. This month, David Jakubowski, general manager of MSN Search, gave a presentation.

As you might imagine, the room was full of people wondering how MSN will compete against Google. Odd as it may seem, Microsoft is the underdog this time. Jakubowski confessed as much, adding, “It’s not a secret that we’re late to the game.”

MSN is betting there’s an advantage to following others into the search game. Said Jakubowski, “It gave us an opportunity to look back on the marketplace,” presumably allowing them to benefit from accepted best practices. He believes search is still in its infancy, with people spending an average 11 minutes “searching” as opposed to “finding” what they’re looking for. He’s convinced MSN is on the right track to winning the search game.

Just how does MSN plan to win the search game? Based on the presentation, it’s betting not just on Web search but on data search across digital platforms. Currently, it sees four components are critical to its success:

  • User information. People use the Web to access news, entertainment, blogs, and podcasts. All these sources must be searchable and easily accessible across multiple platforms.

  • User personalities. People have at least two personalities online, usually work and personal. These personalities show up in separate instant messaging and email contact lists. People want and need access to both personalities, both at home and at work.
  • Software and devices. PC, PDA, mobile phone, Xbox 360. All are separate entities. Currently, accessing the Web across platforms isn’t a seamless experience. Microsoft plans to change that, creating ease and convenience for the consumer and better targeting and advertising opportunities for marketers.
  • Monetization ecosystem. MSN plans to offer a product called adCenter to enable advertisers to better target their advertising and understand campaign performance. With that knowledge, advertisers can modify their campaigns. Jakubowski added, “People can take the enhanced learning from adCenter and apply it to their Google and Yahoo campaigns.” Essentially, it’s promising more control and better reporting for the advertiser. Advertisers can benefit from knowing how their customers use not just search but all interactive environments.

Enter Windows Live, which is a platform in the same way Windows is a platform. The difference is Windows Live allows developers to write applications that can plug into the environment. “Consumers make the decision about what they need and what’s best for them and their desktop. Favorites, phone integration, your own stock ticker, weather, auction, clock, calendar, RSS, etcetera,” said Jakubowski. “Consumers create a desktop and that desktop travels with them, accessible from any computer.”

One particularly interesting feature is Windows Live’s Web mail. Historically, Web mail meant waiting for page loads between each click, each email, and so on. Microsoft has taken the AJAX (define) technology platform to make Web mail much more user friendly, allowing users to access layers or pages of information without waiting for each page to load.

How does all this help you compete in search? It sounds as if Microsoft is banking on advancements in its operating system; it’s creating communication platform integration, more user engagement, and ultimately loyalty to MSN Search. Jakubowski also shared with me that MSN is completely committed to search and it has proprietary algorithms, teams of Ph.D.s, and a new effort called AdLabs, all working toward developing more effective search as well as other online marketing programs. It may seem like the company’s taking the scenic route to delivering a superior search offering, but don’t count Bill Gates out of the search game yet. Perhaps the ability of MSN Search to connect marketers to customers in a platform-agnostic way with more user control, relevant targeting, and engagement will put it on top.

What do you think MSN will have to do to win search?

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