Microsoft herds its Web sites

In a logical step to leverage its brand awareness, Microsoft will incorporate its myriad Web properties under the MSN umbrella.

Jim Hu Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Jim Hu
covers home broadband services and the Net's portal giants.
Jim Hu
3 min read
In a logical step to leverage its brand awareness, Microsoft will incorporate its myriad Web properties under one MSN umbrella, the company said today.

The giant's estimated $100 million marketing and promotional initiative will bring all its Internet properties under the MSN brand name, according to sources close to the company. For example, Microsoft's travel site Expedia will be renamed "MSN Expedia."

Microsoft's portal effort, dubbed Internet Start, today was relaunched with a new user interface, and renamed "MSN Internet Start." The default home page for Internet Explorer browser users now includes additional content channels organized along the left side of the page.

Many channels are now being powered by Microsoft's Web properties, which the company will maintain until it strikes partnerships with external content providers.

"We're using existing properties as a baseline for establishing channels and expanding them with what we feel is necessary," a spokesman said.

"Our goal is to make MSN Internet Start the most useful place on the Web," reads a note posted on the newly revamped site. "We'd like it to become a kind of study and a living room as well--a place where you can read, do research, discover new things, find out what is going on in the world, communicate, save time and money, even relax."

"We are planning further changes in the coming months," it added.

Microsoft sites will begin to include MSN in their URLs. In doing so, all Microsoft traffic will be registered with one site--MSN.com, even though surfers will be taken to distinct sites. The move allows Microsoft to present advertisers with larger audience numbers.

"As you start to establish a singular identity, that's a stronger story to tell in the short term," he added. "It's certainly a business move to create a cohesive network for advertisers to know what they're buying, and we can integrate it into a single effort."

Currently, MSN.com is rated as one of the most heavily accessed site on the Internet, mainly because Microsoft's Web properties such as Expedia, CarPoint, and Investor have "MSN" in their addresses. Visitors to these sites are tabulated under the MSN.com address.

Microsoft traditionally has been vague about defining its Internet content efforts. MSN was the name of its subscription-based online service, but company executives later began using it to describe the network of Web properties it had developed in the free, nonproprietary space. Since then, Microsoft had been mum about what it would do with the MSN brand name after it renamed its proprietary service to MSN Premier.

However, tying all its Internet efforts into one name with an established brand among Internet users is a strategy reminiscent of other products.

"Can you say 'Microsoft Office'?" Kate Delhagen, an analyst at Forrester Research, asked rhetorically. Delhagen explained that bundling Microsoft's four software products into one branded package boosted sales further than marketing the products individually. By doing the same with its Web properties, Microsoft potentially could repeat history.

"It's only when they tied it all together that it took off like a rocket ship," she added.