Search points to Google pages
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
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.
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.
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.
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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