MSN Debuts Search Engine

NEW YORK Microsoft’s MSN unveiled its new search engine, positioning itself to battle Google and Yahoo in search applications by providing users with direct answers instead of lists of Web pages.

MSN executives said the search engine, under development for 18 months at a cost of $100 million, would steal market share from Google and Yahoo by offering users a more useful search experience than currently offered by search engines.

MSN Search, which MSN released in a test version in November 2004, replaces Yahoo Search on MSN’s properties in 25 markets. It draws on MSN property Encarta to provide direct answers of facts and figures to approximately 1.5 million searches. MSN Search’s Web index includes more than 5 billion documents.

Searches for music return links to music files and other content from MSN Music, including the ability to buy songs. MSN Search tabs let users narrow their search to categories like news or images. Another tab lets MSN Toolbar users include results from a search of their computer files.

MSN executives said the search engine would add additional features over time to further differentiate it from the current search market leaders, Google and Yahoo.

“We think there’s a hunger in the marketplace for another search competitor,” said Bob Visse, director of information services at MSN.

MSN is the third most-used search site, according to ComScore Networks. In December 2004, MSN drew 16 percent of Web searches, compared to 34.7 percent for Google and 31.9 percent for Yahoo.

MSN plans a wide-ranging ad campaign, using online and offline media, to generate consumer awareness and use of the new search engine. The portal has also redesigned its home page to provide a cleaner interface that loads faster and accentuates MSN search.

Microsoft is putting an estimated $200 million in advertising behind the launch to drive traffic and gain market share.

TV spots, via Interpublic Group’s McCann Erickson in San Francisco, will run in local markets during such high-profile events as the Super Bowl, the NCAA basketball tournament and the Grammy Awards. 42 Entertainment handles grassroots and viral marketing work.

In the “Shapes” campaign, the MSN search bar comes alive in an effort to show that MSN search delivers answers not just links. MSN search stakes out more real estate on the MSN homepage and claims to be faster and cleaner and connects you with free Encarta content.

“There are some big boys in the marketplace,” said Jane Boulware, corporate vp of MSN global marketing. “But the race has just started and search is still in its infancy.” MSN only claims 16% of search share, Yahoo has 32% and Google 35%, per comScore.

“Most users don’t think of MSN first when it comes to search. Next week it will be top of mind for consumers, as we’ll reach over 90% of users,” said Chris Cocks, director of MSN global sales and marketing. “This is our most aggressive campaign ever. Even bigger than the 2000 butterfly.”

MSN’s new search engine will continue to display text advertising from Yahoo’s Overture Services division. MSN executives declined to comment on plans for the division developing its own paid search ad program. MSN and Overture have a paid search distribution deal that runs through June 2006.