5 Things MSN Must Do To Gain Search Share

Author: Gab Goldenberg

Don't be evil, Google. Google's market cap is now $I really dislike Google. Bill Gates, on the other hand, is a very charitable guy and MSN hasn’t done any deals with the devil nor helped terrorists, like Google has (hat tips Sunshine and Atlas). So I’m squarely in Bill’s corner. Here are the 5 things MSN/Live Must do to win search share from Google and Yahoo.

First, stop letting Google steal search share from under your noses. It’s hard enough for you to gain as it is, don’t let Google take the share Internet Explorer already gives you.

Second, with the massive cash reserves you have, MSN, buy market share. Google offers 50 cents to webmasters who refer people to their browser, with built-in Google search. Consider that people averaged 69 searches a month, back in 2005. I’d say 200 or better is more accurate today. 200 searches, let’s assume a crappy conversion rate of 1%, on cheap-ass 50 cent clicks. They’ve doubled their money in a month. And that’s assuming completely unrealistic numbers. Chances are there’s more than two ad-clicks a month, for more than 50 cents revenue each. (Though I recognize AOL has data contradicting my points on search ad CTR, consider that break-even is easily accessible even with conservative figures.)

See the economics? And besides, with affiliate programs being what they are, you get free branding with those badges everyone puts on their sites. Talk about brand awareness! Bottom line: dip into your cash reserves, offer $1 or $2 per referred download and get people using IE and Live search! Or heck, offer commissions for installation of a Live toolbar where people can also see their latest hotmail and stuff. Not as good because Google’s toolbar will probably still be there, but hey, at least it’ll mean variety.

Third, brand awareness is crucial for a search engine. Google’s PR department works around the clock and always has a new patent (even if it’s a dumb idea, it’s news), new product, new beta etc rolling out. You know what that means in terms of search volume for Live? People can’t use an engine they don’t know about. Until I did SEO, MSN was a portal + email to me.

Fourth, rip a page out of Google’s playbook (another one; they don’t have a majority share by fluke!) and open up regular communication channels with webmasters. I won’t link to Google’s channels, cuz Google is evil, and therefore I can’t link to them without risking association with bad neighbourhoods, but surely you know who/what I mean. Not only will this get you great publicity in the search world, but get you poor, misguided folks like my otherwise highly intelligent friend Sebastian being brand evangelists. At least you’re doing a good job with Nathan Buggia getting the ball rolling.

Fifth, there’s a certain friend of mine whom you’re flying in to Redmond soon for a third round interview. Hire him. Believe me when I tell you this guy’s the real deal and his technical knowledge will help you out enormously. I don’t know if I’m allowed to share his name, but I’ll bet you guys are bright enough to figure it out, considering you were bright enough to give him the third interview.

Lucas Ng taking a picture at Search Engine Strategies San Jose

Lucas Ng taking a picture at SES San Jose 07, courtesy of Tamar Weinberg’s ever useful Flickr photostream. The next idea is his.

Sixth, increase your share of the search engine market by putting content and search on Facebook. How do you do it? The idea is pretty straightforward, though the logistics aren’t. I’d like to say this was mine, but it’s actually the Naver concept, just applied to Facebook. That is, SEs follow users – and users follow content. Create the content, block other SE bots, and users will check out the content. The beauty is that you have a leading edge on Google here, because you have a share of Facebook, which already keeps bots out mostly and especially because of the user base. And if you don’t watch your arse, Knol will swipe the seat out from under it too!

Essentially, you sponsor content from Facebook users. And I don’t mean crummy pay-per-post type junk. I mean, award prizes (and lots of them) to people for writing good content on Facebook. Then, since you own part of Facebook, you make sure to keep other bots out and set up a Facebook content search for people to check out their friends’ content.

Invite people to review the content anonymously and you’ve got some damn good content and rankings data. All you need to do is return it and serve ads. You could even get partners in competitive industries (think travel, gambling, video game and other companies use Windows servers) to sponsor content and get links to their sites from inside the content or what not. (Another reason they’d be interested is this study showing how many Facebook users shop and buy online (55%); I tried to use it as linkbait, but it didn’t quite go anywhere for some reason.)

One trick to making this viable over a regular joe’s Facebook advertising app is to get the search bar right in the top-left near the people/group/event search bar. Google could get an app in (or not, if that’s in your legal agreement with Facebook?) or someone else could, but mass adoption will be a lot easier with the mass distribution a properly located searchbar affords you (as opposed to being buried under other apps, or even just on some profile pages and not others). Like I said, I’d like to claim the Google-killer, MSN-search-share-booster-grower-increaser-gainer-enhancer-taker-developer-other-conceivable-longtail-keyword for growth (nothing dirty, please) idea as my own but the truth is that this idea (albeit perhaps more fleshed out) comes from the always-brilliant Lucas Ng, of Fairfax Digital Media. I knew that should have been my presentation at FacebookCamp (I did advertising)!

(I hate it when people make a tip list and the last tip is, read this tip list over or something lazy; conversely, this was my bonus sixth tip, or the actual fifth one if you ignore me plugging my friend. But that friend really is a very bright fellow and I think MSN’s algos would do wonders with him playing around, and that could probably sustain growth in share of the search market once you gain it. On a related note, if you liked this post, check back tomorrow for some out these keyword domaining tips you haven’t heard elsewhere, or subscribe by RSS.))

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Comments

  1. Great post. It's amazing to me the various search engines have not seen what Google has done, or at the very least have not tried to copy it. The game isn't over yet, but it'd be nice if they showed up to play.

    Comment by SlightlyShadySEO - December 21, 2007 @ 1:48pm
  2. Thanks X. "The game isn’t over yet, but it’d be nice if they showed up to play." Haha ouch, burn! Good point man, they need to get their game up if they want people advertising. Bottom line, advertisers follow volume. That's why so many people compete on the short tail. Most people are lazy, most of the time (including, often, yours truly). No one wants to bother creating a campaign that will get them 10 clicks a day.

    Comment by Gabriel Goldenberg - December 21, 2007 @ 2:00pm
  3. Excellent post Gabriel. Go MSN Go! And good luck to your friend.

    Comment by Linda Bustos - December 21, 2007 @ 10:25pm
  4. Gab, congrats on hot Sphinn topic! Wouldn't you answer Matt Cutts' comment there?

    Comment by Ann Smarty - December 22, 2007 @ 7:04am
  5. It's all over buy for the crying with MSN search. They should fold shop, re-focus on core products, and get out of search, Zunes, and typewriter ink. Stick with what you know and make it better, or ask Apple and Google for help;)

    Comment by Shark Diver - December 22, 2007 @ 12:29pm
  6. Just read an article in the Washington Post about the FBI collecting data...you know...the whole Big Brother issue. Don't people recognize that Google is Big Brother?

    Comment by bonnie L - December 22, 2007 @ 5:48pm
  7. @ Linda - Thanks for the good words. I do wish my friend luck too! @ Ann - Thanks for the congrats (feels damn good!) and for pointing that out. I just left a [long-winded] reply. @ Shark - And let Google continue to monopolize search? I bloody well hope not. Zunes was not a good idea though, I concede. No idea what the typewriter ink was about though. @ Bonnie - I know, it kills me that Google is collecting so much data. Hellooooooo? 1984....... Friggin Big Brother.

    Comment by Gabriel Goldenberg - December 22, 2007 @ 8:08pm

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