Microsoft to dish out major bling on ‘Bing’

Microsoft Corp. is expected to announce a major overhaul of its online search strategy this week which will include rebranding the fledgling Live Search platform under the name “Bing,” according to an Advertising Age report.

The Redmond, Calif. software giant is also rumoured to be dishing out anywhere from US$80 million to $100 million worth of print, television, online and billboard ads in an effort to swoon Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc. users to its new Bing platform. The massive campaign, which reportedly won’t explicitly mention either of Microsoft’s search engine rivals, will trump the $25 million Google spent on advertising last year.

Microsoft, which has been internally testing the new consumer search engine under the codename “Kumo,” is expected to make everything official at The Wall Street Journal’s D: All Things Digital conference in Carlsbad, Calif. later this week.

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But despite the huge investment, industry analysts agree, Microsoft will face an uphill battle in trying to catch up with Google’s massive online search share.

“It’s going to take a lot more for Microsoft than a name change and a rebrand to gain some traction in this space,” Michael Gartenberg, vice-president of strategy and analysis at Santa Monica, Calif.-based research firm Interpret LLC, said. “There is going to have to be a reason for them to exist if they are to compete going forward.”

Gartenberg added that Microsoft’s tenacious attitude toward the consumer space is encouraging to see, but the key to its future viability will be in the way it differentiates itself from Google, rather than the way it chases the search leaders.

But according to Matt Rosoff, an analyst at Kirkland, Wash.-based research firm Directions on Microsoft who has been given a sneak peak at the new Microsoft search platform, there could be a glimmer of hope.

In addition to the rebrand, Microsoft has been working on a fundamental redesign of the search engine. The company is working on improving the relevance of the core engine and trying to develop better top 10 results than what Google is currently offering, Rosoff said.

“They’re doing stuff with specialized searches for things like travel, they’re making a lot of interesting changes to the interface, implementing special sub-category links, and really trying to move beyond Google’s paradigm of a couple of links on a page,” Rosoff said. “I’ve tested what they’re doing and it looks pretty good.”

Rosoff added that while the marketing campaign — which will be a first for Microsoft’s consumer search division — could help them gain minor market share, it’s likely that only a Google misstep could really allow the newly branded engine to make a serious run at search supremacy.

“It’s the classic Microsoft strategy when they’re competing against an incumbent,” Rosoff said. “They keep trying and trying, waiting for an opening and when that opening happens they are ready to pounce.”

But in this case, Google has also been working hard to refine its search algorithm and user experience, making it difficult to imagine they will falter anytime soon, he added.

And while not expected to play a role in the announcements later this week, Microsoft will also need to continue its investment in the enterprise search space to stave off any potential in-roads Google plans to make in the future, Rosoff said.

“Microsoft’s interest in enterprise search at the high-end is a defensive one,” he added. “I don’t think they’re looking at this as a $10 billion business or anything like that. They basically feel like SharePoint is a good product for the mid-range and stalls any of Google’s advances in those enterprises.

“But they also want to make sure they have a high-end answer in case Google decides to compete in those companies,” he added.

In February, Microsoft unveiled its roadmap for enterprise search announcing FAST Search for SharePoint, a search server that will integrate the company’s recently purchased FAST ESP platform into the upcoming release of Microsoft Office SharePoint Server.

The software giant also announced its intention to launch FAST Search for Internet Business, which would be geared toward high-end customers looking to build search-driven Web sites.

“That would be something like a big LexisNexis type customer facing site or an e-commerce site might use,” Rosoff said.

By including enterprise search capabilities into the widely used SharePoint platform, Rosoff added, Microsoft is well positioned to dominate the mid-range market that doesn’t view enterprise search as a core function.

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