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February Search Engine News

 

MSN Search points to Google pages

Source: - TimesOnline.co.uk

Microsoft will step up its battle with Google later today when it launches its own internet search engine. But listing a full page of Google links must count as a blunder in the software giant's campaign for web-domination.

Google, the market leader in the multi-billion-dollar online advertising market, owes its popularity to the deft algorithms it uses to prioritise search results and its carefully cultivated "alternative" image. The company's code of conduct has been boiled down to three worlds: "don't be evil".

Microsoft's  MSN Search will have to tackle Google on both these levels if it is to succeed. However, when a Times Online reporter conducted the obligatory vanity search and typed his name into the Microsoft site today, ahead of its official launch at midnight New York time, he was faced with a page of results comprised exclusively of pages from Google.

The result begged the question: "Why bother with MSN in the first place?"

Deri Jones, test services manager at SciVisum, the web testing company, said: "This is very surprising. You would assume that Microsoft would have a filter in place to prevent something as extreme as this happening.

"Looking at this page of results you would think these two companies were partners - not competitors."

MSN's "Google-friendliness" must surely count as a blunder. This is despite Microsoft having made progress since Times Online ran its own (albeit unscientific) roadtest of the site on the day of its soft launch in November. Then, in the 30 minutes Times Online spent testing the long-awaited MSN search engine, it broke down eight times. This time the site worked well.

In a repeat of our November test, we again placed ourselves in the shoes of a tourist planning to visit the place with the longest name in the British Isles, but was unsure of how to spell Llanfair-pwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.

In November a search for "Llanfair" on Google immediately brought up 94,800 websites, the second of which included the full name that we were looking for in the explanatory text below the link. A search for the full name then brought up more than 9,000 websites – again instantaneously. In stark contrast, searches for both the terms caused the Microsoft site to stall for a few seconds before the "search" engine announced: "This site is temporarily unavailable, please check back soon."

This time around, Google found 97,000 pages in a fraction of a second. Microsoft found 63,273, again in the blink of an eye.

Google perhaps should pick up a bonus point for including at the top of the list a link to a map of our searched-for town, but there was little to choose between the two services. True, Google found more than 50 per cent more pages than MSN Search. But who needs - or has time to trawl through - close to 100,000 web pages?

This has formed part of Microsoft's thinking. Matt Whittingham, head of information services at MSN, said: "I think consumers, maybe two years ago, were wowed by the fact that you could enter a relatively obscure search term and you would get hundreds of thousands of results..

"In fact, there is perhaps too much information out there and what consumers want are results that are tailored to them."

Microsoft says that users want search engines "to be a bit smarter, to know where they are geographically and to alter searches depending on the time of day and if they are at work or at home."

MSN Search, which launches in 24 countries and ten languages today, is designed to give localised results. One feature allows users to ask specific questions, such as "What is the capital of Peru?" and "What is the largest ocean in the world?" with the answers provided by an online version of Microsoft’s Encarta encyclopaedia, which has more than 1.4 million entries. Microsoft is also billing its new product as providing the most up-to-date information by refreshing its list of around five billion websites every two days, compared with every two weeks in other cases.

In reply, Google today reminded users of the vast amount of information its website accesses. "Recently, we nearly doubled the size of our search index to include more than eight billion web pages - all searchable by Google users worldwide. We’re excited about this accomplishment and pleased to share even more of the world’s information with all of our users," it said

SciVisum found, in a survey of 450 websites, that Microsoft’s "robots" – the programmes that harvest the webpages that search engines list – only picked up a third of the number of pages that Google’s did.

SciVisum also found that the "web results" figure given by MSN Search regularly decreased as users progressed through them, perhaps suggesting that the original number of sites claimed found was an exaggeration of the actual number. This did occur on other engines – but not as often.

On the question of utility, the key factor may be whether a leaner, more nimble Microsoft offering can outmanoeuvre Google's exhaustive directory.

The battle will be ferocious. Google makes 95 per cent of its revenues through paid-search advertising, where clients pay a fee for their website to appear at the head of the list when certain key words are searched. It is estimated that the market is worth some $5 billion a year and is expanding. This month Yahoo, the world's most popular website, said online advertising had reached a key "tipping point" with marketing accounts migrating to the web at the expense of old-media firms.

Analysts at JP Morgan, the investment bank, believes that the paid-search market will expand by more than one-third in 2005 to $7.4 billion.

There is no question that Microsoft has a battle on its hands. Google leads the market by a massive margin. Google.co.uk deals with just over 60 per cent of all visits to search engines in the UK, according to latest figures from market researchers Hitwise. The existing search facility from msn.co.uk, which is operated by a division of Yahoo, has a 10.6 per cent market share. Ask Jeeves UK is in third with 9.4 per cent, followed by Google.com with 6.7 per cent.

Google today professed to welcome the competition. In a statement, the company said: "It’s nice to see that [Microsoft has] recognised the importance of quality search as well ... it’s the users who ultimately win."

Despite Google's statement that "there is room for a number of companies to succeed in this space", the battle for the multi-billion-dollar online advertising market is set to become ferocious.

 

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