Microsoft and Ask.com have announced they are working together to better protect the privacy of users on their search engines and other internet properties. Microsoft announced that user data collected from Windows Live Search will be anonymized after 18 months unless the user wants it held longer, and the policy changes are retroactive and apply to every country they operate in. That means that they are already removing user data from before January of last year.
Microsoft and Ask are going together to try to push the rest of the industry to enact similar policies. Ask announced AskEraser, which will go even further and lets users click to delete all of their stored history at any time, not waiting for the search engine to get around to it. Thusly, if you’re worried about what they know about you, you could click and anonymize your data manually every single day, or just tell Ask you don’t want it keeping any data on you, ever, ever, ever.
Microsoft’s AdManager beta advertising service, part of Office Live, will begin selling advertising for Ask.com. Users of AdManager will be able to purchase Ask.com search ads and Live.com search ads, bringing two of the top five search engines (numbers three and four, most of the time) under the same roof for the first time in years. According to ComScore’s recent numbers, the two combine to reach 18.2% of the search engine audience, over 1.5 billion search queries performed per month.
Blogging Stocks lists Nielsen/NetRatings market share numbers for the top five search engines over the last two months, and they show a slight drop for Microsoft. Take a look:
As you can see, Microsoft dropped slightly, losing 23.5 million searches from October to November 2006. Granted, there isn’t a lot of movement there (Google lost market share, but we all know they are running all over the industry), but Microsoft has been trending downward forever, and they really don’t need this.
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.
Lycos, inexplicably still the number five portal in the U.S., announced that it is switching its search engine from Microsoft’s Windows Live to Ask’s also excellent search technology. Interesting that Ask is stealing from Windows Live, since lately the two companies have been out-innovating the bigger firms, but are taking syndicates from each other. If you’ve been reading here, you know how great Windows Live Search is, and you can go to InsideGoogle to see some of the great things Ask.com has been doing, including a little more on this post.
Just worth pointing out a post I just did at InsideGoogle about search engine market share. The numbers haven’t budged in sixteen weeks, as you can see in the graph I made (in Word 2007 Beta 2 TR, no less);
This is a perfect period of stable market share. An event needs to happen to destabilize the numbers, and Microsoft is banking on Windows Live Search’s launch to do it. These are the numbers to revisit in the months ahead.
SiteAdvisor, which attempts to warn users of websites that are unsafe (from spyware and the like), has done a study ranking the percentage of unsafe results in the major search engines. Turns out that MSN has the least number of unsafe results, with just 3.9%. Yahoo is next, at 4.3%, followed by Google (5.3%), AOL (5.3%) and Ask (6.1%).
What I find even more interesting is that only 3.1% of actual organic search results were deemed unsafe, while a staggering 8.5% of sponsored links were unsafe. That means that the search algorithms are doing a better job detecting poor quality sites, but that if you pay enough, you can get right back on the page.
I wonder what percentage of search results for lyrics searches are malicious? I’ll bet it is over 50%.
Microsoft has named the new head of MSN, the man who just days ago was CEO of Ask.com: Steve Berkowitz. MSN takes away the head honcho of one of their major search competitors, one who has done a good job making Ask competitive and helping them grow market share.
While losing capable people is never fun, Ask immediately eleveated Jim Lanzone to Berkowitz’s old job, so they’ve now got a very good pilot running the show. I’m not too worried for them, and we’ll see if Berkowitz can bring some good results for MSN and Windows Live.
John Battelle has word from Microsoft PR and an interview with Jim Lanzone
A survey of which major search engine results in the best conversion rate puts AOL as #1, and Google dead last. The study tracks visitors who go from the search engine to business-to-consumer e-commerce sites, and how often they buy something.
Median (All Categories)
This does mesh with what we know of users of these engines, Google may be extraordinarily popular, but its users are less likely to be swayed by advertisements, or as the release explains it:
â€œOne way to explain the difference in conversion rates is demographics,â€ said Ali Behnam, senior digital marketing consultant for WebSideStory. â€œWith portals rich in content and services, AOL, MSN and Yahoo may tend to appeal toward a more buyer friendly demographic. Google, meanwhile, may appeal to more browsers â€“ those with less of an intent to buy.â€
â€œAll of this suggests search engine marketers may want to consider demographics in allocating their budgets,â€ Behnam said.
One thing to consider, with MSN converting 50% above Google, it could conceivably have less market share and earn more money. Perhaps MSN should have bought Snap.com and used their cost-per-action ad system, which would have worked perfectly with their audience.
Interestingly, the less a website caters to the Google crowd, the more money it makes per visitor. I remember that back when Jeeves had almost a full page of ads (around a year ago), it was getting many more ad clicks per visitor than Google. Problem is, the less you are like Google, the more you make per visitor, and the less visitors you get. So, its a catch-22, one that, if balanced properly, can result in lots of money.
(via Search Engine Roundtable)
The search engine U.N. has been put together, and its going to meet at Search Engine Strategies New York, which will be held February 28 – March 3. Danny Sullivan, who is giving the keynote, put the whole thing together. Representatives from Google, MSN, Yahoo, and Jeeves will be sitting there, sitting at the panel and discussing the hot issues in indexing, the kind of stuff we all want to see standardized accross all engines. Remember how the “nofollow” tag was agreed to by almost all the engines? Well, this panel hopes to give the engines a chance to hash out some other ideas they’ve all had.
Oh, and I’m reasonably sure I’m going to be there. I’ll be coming back from San Francisco the morning it starts, so I’ll be going from blogging on the Left Coast to on-location conference blogging. Should be one crazy fun week.
Off topic: I’m gearing up to the big West Coast trip. If anyone who lives or works in the Bay Area would like to do something, I’d love to hear it. I wouldn’t mind going on some nice tours of some nice companies (I know there are a lot of cool companies around there, and I tend to say nice things about nice people) and I wouldn’t mind a geek dinner of some sort. Also, I need info on free wifi hotspots, or at least places I can jack in and blog from for free. Let me know.
IT Observer reports that a recently released Keynote Systems survey of 2,000 consumers put Google on top, but with Yahoo and MSN gaining fast. Based on both overall consumer experience and the question of which engine users plan to use, Google was first, followed by Yahoo, MSN, AskJeeves, and Lycos. Yahoo and MSN have made signifcant gains, with Yahoo improving 20% and MSN improving 30%.
BusinessWeek takes a look at whether Google, MSN, Yahoo, and other’s can find a way to make money off of their desktop search programs.
Slate has a roundup and review of five desktop search products, and declares Copernic the best, followed by MSN, Google, Hotbot, and last, Ask Jeeves. It’s reasons are similar to mine.
AskJeeves gets points for having a user-friendly interface, and well-organized tabs, but loses a lot for being too simplistic. Hotbot is an Internet Explorer add-in that searches from a toolbar and displays results in an IE sidebar. It gets good marks for allowing you to add file types, web history, even RSS feeds, but gets demerits for not allowing searches of any media files, such as music and videos. While they like Google’s web history, thumbnails, and integration, it’s inability to search certain files and lack of advanced options keeps it from rising above third place. Meanwhile, MSN wins lots of points for having a more advanced interface than all of them, but Copernic trumps it for an even more advanced interface.
What have we learned? Whoever offers the most features, wins. Let your users do whatever they want; don’t try to make assumptions for them. Also, with AOL using Copernic’s tech in its AOL Browser, the AOL Browser is looking more and more to be an exciting pieve of software.