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:
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.
- 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.