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Microsoft Search Losing Market Share

No matter whose numbers you believe, the facts are unmistakeable: Microsoft’s search engine is losing market share, and has been for a long time. Greg Linden posted a chart from Danny Sullivan to illustrate that fact, and I’ve Office 2007′d it:

microsoft-search-market-share-102005-102006.png

So, what the hell is going on? Microsoft is doing a great job in the search pace, creating a search UI that I’m a vocal fan of. What are they doing wrong? This is a long-term battle, but one would expect them to be holding their ground, or showing the same small gains Ask.com is making.

Theories:

  • Change is bad: Users don’t like two redesigns in two years, and the unfamiliarity is sending them away.
  • Windows Live Search looks cheap: The old MSN search looked cheap. It was too white, too sparse. The layout and colors didn’t have the right “feel”, seeming like a low rent search engine, rather than a serious competitor to Google. While Google shares many of the same properties, users know it is the search leader, and are willing to overlook its design. MSN doesn’t get the same pass. While the newer MSN Search and now Live.com improved the look and feel, they retain some sort of cheapness. Personally, I think its the white and blue. Something dramatic and dynamic to make the page more exciting. Ask.com has it (the red bar) Yahoo has some of it (the red Yahoo logo, plus they rip off Google well). Perhaps Widncows Live needs a new color on the page, or an animated element. Anything to break it up. A suggestion: Animate the flair on page load.
  • Lack of marketing: Most people don’t know Windows Live Search exists. Microsoft is counting on (a) community evangelism (and besides myself and some other bloggers, I’m not sure there is much of that), as well as (b) MSN and Internet Explorer users discovering the search engine in random use. For god sakes, buy some good commercials, ones people can’t ignore, something undeniably cool and memorable. Also: Say Live.com in your ads, leave out Microsoft, and I guarantee they become more effective.
  • Beta feel: Regardless of how popular Gmail invites used to be, the average user hates betas, and will not use products that appear under construction. Windows Live has so many products that don’t work, don’t work all the time, are behind invite-only walls, or have a beta tag, that users instinctively say “I’ll wait for when its done”. Focus on core products (Live.com, search, image search, news search, Live Mail) and demand a full release by the day Windows Vista hits retail. If you have to, stop designing new features and stabilize the damn code. I don’t care how good the product will be, because your users are leaving now.

God, that’s some harsh language. I feel bad, because I have a geek crush on Windows Live, and firmly believe they are tops in this industry in many categories. I want them to win, and your best critics will always be your biggest fans. For god sakes, guys, don’t blow this! You can gain market share, if you just get the basics right: Looks, personality, gossip and maturity. Take those four words and put them on the door of every Windows Live team member’s office, and don’t them down until Windows Live can claim it meets the basic goals.

November 27th, 2006 Posted by | AskJeeves, General, Google, Live, MSN, Search, Windows, Yahoo | 14 comments



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14 Comments »

  1. [...] As Greg Linden points out, Microsoft just keeps losing market share. Why? Posted: November 26, 2006 by Nathan Weinberg in: [...]

    Pingback by » Google Remains In Lead, Specifics Confusing » InsideGoogle » part of the Blog News Channel | November 27, 2006

  2. Good post, Nathan.

    Hey, to make sure credit is given where credit is due, that graph in my post is from Danny Sullivan. I cited it in my post, but he originally posted it here:

    http://blog.searchenginewatch.com/blog/061122-111956

    Comment by Greg Linden | November 27, 2006

  3. As a Joe average user, I would say I stay away from it because it’s bloated, slow and uses scripts heavily. Make it script-free, use some dark colors, and increase white space and ppl will love it. Just bad design in short, not bad quality searches.

    Comment by Joe Average | November 27, 2006

  4. Added some clarification, Greg. I’d love some feedback on the points I brought up, if you’ve got a blog post in you.

    Comment by Nathan Weinberg | November 27, 2006

  5. Hi, Nathan. Yep, you make good points. The design is not great. Live.com is missing Google’s goofy friendliness.

    Great point on the brand as well. The decision to halfway abandon the MSN brand has confused customers — is it Live or is it MSN? — and I suspect the Live brand remains relatively unknown outside of the digerati.

    I would add that the Live product appears to have unremarkable search result quality. It certainly not noticeably better than Google and probably is worse. That means people are unlikely to switch. Furthermore, the weakness of the Live brand compared to the overwhelming strength of the Google brand means that people are unlikely to perceive Live search as better even if it was, increasing the barrier Microsoft needs to hurdle to succeed.

    Comment by Greg Linden | November 27, 2006

  6. Hey Nathan, Excellent post. I share the same geek crush for Windows live. I also want it to succeed. But I am more optimistic then you are. Yes MSN/live search is losing market share but it is going to pick up gradually.

    Comment by kandarp | November 27, 2006

  7. Thank you for nailing it in one

    You write, “. . . the average user hates betas, and will not use products that appear under construction. Windows Live has so many products that don’t work, don’t work all the time, are behind invite-only walls, or have a beta tag, that users instinctively say “I’ll wait for when its done”.”

    That’s exactly right. God I hate betas. I have a job to do and I don’t want my time wasted by software I know won’t work.

    I suppose I should add something besides “me too.”

    Microsoft as a titanic corporate entity simply doesn’t get viral marketing. You have to be tiny like Opera to do it because you don’t have the throw weight of a gazillion advertising dollars to get on TV. Did you ever see a 6 x 6 truck handle like a sports car?

    Microsoft has a wonderful series of TV commercials called “people ready,” and I especially like the one about the currency trader’s first day on the job. If they could get that kind of accessible advertising, which has a very human and almost intimate quality, they would reach a lot of people.

    You have to wonder why huge corporate giants squander so many opportunities to reach their markets. It is kind of like the NFL setting up their own TV network, putting it behind a pay-per-view firewall, and then wondering why they lost viewers?

    Comment by Ohadi Langis | November 27, 2006

  8. There are a lot of things to say about why Live Search isn’t gaining any market share – but why are they actually losing it?

    Perhaps they need to be more evil. Google has their Toolbar, and are promoting it quite visibly. I just tried a query on Live Search, and I notice nothing to keep me there. No “Thou shalt use us as your default Search Engine”, no Toolbar, no nothing. As a power user, I love it that way, but right now, don’t they need every user they can get…? Google already has its share of loyal users: they need to come back for Gmail and their search history.

    Comment by Tim | November 28, 2006

  9. >Lack of marketing

    Hmmm…I’ve seen full page ads in the newspaper for Live Search and notice quite a few web ads. I don’t think lack of marketing is the big problem. That would also be easier to argue but since it is actually going down it suggests to me that people are unhappy with it.

    Comment by Pastco | November 28, 2006

  10. Sorry for posting again I meant to say “That would also be easier to argue if it just wasn’t growing…”

    Comment by Pastco | November 28, 2006

  11. [...] A number of bloggers chimed in with their takes, including Greg Linden of Findory and  Nathan Weinberg of Inside Microsoft (who can’t resist Office 2007izing the chart): [...]

    Pingback by Main : Why MSN (Live) Search is losing share: the blog conversation | November 29, 2006

  12. Nathan you nailed it with those 4 bullet points. They are stepping up the marketing so if you haven’t seen any yet you will do soon. Doesn’t help when the product won’t retain users though.

    Oh I see you got the Vista countdown gadget going too! :)

    Comment by Chris Overd | November 29, 2006

  13. I don’t think Look&Feel or too much change is the main problem. I think the current design HURTS, not helps, but more basically – Live search quality is NOT AS GOOD and Google AND Google is out-executing Microsoft.

    * Google has a better product
    * Google has a better brand
    * Google has much more inventory
    * Google has way better monetization

    The rest of my take on the situation:
    http://gotads.blogspot.com/2006/11/microsoft-will-never-catch-google-in.html

    Comment by John K | December 4, 2006

  14. The BIGGEST mistake is that Microsoft has chosen to use the Verdana font instead of Arial in its search listings. Google, Yahoo, and Ask all consistently use Arial… why must MSN use a different typeface? In addition, it has been proven that Verdana at the size Live search uses is less legible than Arial. Umm… hello?!?! Did anyone research this?

    Comment by Alexander Sienkiewicz | April 3, 2007

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