MSN Search looks to grab advertising dollars

Microsoft Corp.’s launch of MSN Search looks not so much at dethroning the likes of Google or Yahoo, but at grabbing some of the billions in search engine advertising these sites generate for themselves each year.

“It is not so much the bragging rights of the crawlers (Microsoft is seeking) as the opportunity to tap into search engine advertisers,” said Andy Beal, vice-president of search marketing for Morrisville, NC-based WebSourced Inc., an Internet marketing solutions company. “While it may get some benefits in terms of more users and people exposed to the Microsoft name, and the reputation of having a great search engine, over the past years the company has become jealous of the revenues Google and Yahoo have been generating from paid search advertising.”

According to Beal, paid search advertising (where people or companies pay or bid on key words used in Web searches in order to use them to drive people to Web sites and online sales sites) generated some US$1.5 billion in revenues in 2004 and is expected to grow to US$7 billion in the next five years.

Along with this revenue potential, Beal sees Microsoft using its MSN Search to drive users to many of its other services including Instant Messaging and Hotmail, and to help push newer services and solutions such as desktop search engine, MSN Toolbar Suite currently in beta.

Stephen Evans, manager of information services and merchant platform for MSN Canada in Toronto said MSN Search will provide users with better search results than currently offered by other engines. Five billion documents are catalogued on the site and it connects users to Microsoft’s Encarta encyclopedia. The site will be refreshed often with more pages and information.

Currently, 4.8 million Canadians use more than one search engine, a large market for Microsoft to tap into with its new offering, according to Evans. “We’ve done some internal research in our usability labs that for an average Web search, it takes about 11 minutes to answer a person’s question,” Evans added.

MSN Search promises to make getting answers faster and to give users more flexibility in how search queries can be posed, such as natural language-based searches. This means a user could post a search query on “How many people live in Ottawa”, for instance, and get an answer, including additional links to other Ottawa-specific information and media.

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