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MSN revamp to include stronger Bing ties

In addition to freshening up the portal's look, Microsoft also wants MSN to drive more traffic to the company's Bing search engine.

Microsoft has been testing different search bars to see which ones drive the most traffic to Bing. Shown here is the one that appeared on the MSN site on Friday. CNET

The planned fall revamp of MSN isn't just about giving the butterfly a fresh coat of paint. Microsoft also hopes to drive more people to its search engine.

The company has been toying with different search box designs to see which ones lead to the most queries. As it stands, the MSN portal already accounts for half of Microsoft's search engine traffic. Comparatively few people typed in queries straight from Microsoft's Live.com address (now Bing.com)

"A big part of my job is figuring out how I pull the Bing experience into MSN in a way that makes sense," Microsoft vice president Erik Jorgensen said in an interview this week.

One way of banking on MSN, he said, is by posting features on the site that tie in to the company's search engine. The company has talked about ways it can write features that push folks to Microsoft's local, shopping, and travel search engines--each among the most profitable parts of the search business and the areas in which Microsoft has focused.

The software maker is also looking at ways it can tie MSN features to the strongest areas of Bing--local, shopping, and travel search. Microsoft

To make that work, Microsoft needs to ensure that it is less visually jarring when one moves back and forth between MSN and Bing.

"Frankly, that's one I think we haven't done well," Jorgensen said. "I think in the fall that's something we've got to tackle."

In its first two weeks, Bing has managed to pick up some market share, but the key will be sustaining those gains in the coming weeks and months.

Beyond driving traffic from MSN, Microsoft is also counting on deals with PC makers Hewlett-Packard and Dell to get more people to give Bing a try.

The company has said it wants to pick up at least a couple points of market share in the first year, although it will need well more than that to truly compete economically with Google. Hence the company's never-ending talks with Yahoo, which is No. 2 in the search market with about 20 percent of the business.