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MSN's Web search picks up steam

Net portal is increasingly testing its own legs in Web search race, sending visitors home-baked results over Yahoo's.

Stefanie Olsen Staff writer, CNET News
Stefanie Olsen covers technology and science.
Stefanie Olsen
2 min read
Microsoft's MSN is slowly turning up the dial on its Web search beta, sending more and more visitors home-baked results over results from partner Yahoo.

While the lion's share of MSN search results come from Yahoo technology, the Internet portal is increasingly testing its own legs in the Web search race as it gets readies to introduce a full service sometime this year.

The coming switch-over will be significant not only because Microsoft will no longer be reliant on an outsider, but also because it will likely begin a fierce campaign by MSN to win users away from Google and Yahoo.

"We intend to begin turning up the dial and direct more of our users to the beta," MSN Search executive Oshoma Momoh wrote this week on a company blog. "You'll continue to see us doing this on occasion for the foreseeable (sic) future."

A Microsoft representative confirmed the uptick in MSN original results, but could not say what percentage of people receive the results.

The change comes as MSN is already gaining some ground in Internet search against rivals. In November, MSN procured 16.5 percent of the search volume, up from 15.8 percent the month before, according to ComScore Networks. Over the same period, Google slipped slightly from 34.8 percent to 34.4 percent.

In addition, Keynote Systems reported this week that the quality of search results from Google, Yahoo and MSN differs little, despite Google's leadership position.

Also still in the works for MSN is its own pay-per-click advertising system, which it previously said it plans to create. The company has licensed sponsored search results from Overture Services, a subsidiary of Yahoo. Those commercial results, which appear at the top and to the side of Web query results, have driven a rebound in online ad sales for the last two years.

But in the last year, MSN has begun selling some ads itself at the top of results pages, raising questions in the financial community about when or if MSN will cut off Overture's partnership. In November, the two companies renewed a licensing agreement through June 2006.

As for the timing of MSN Search, a company representative said the launch hinges on its developing quality.

"When we feel the product has effectively incorporated the consumer feedback we receive, we will release the final product," the representative said. "At this point, we are aiming to release the final service early this year."