Microsoft's Streamlined Search Makes Targeting Critical

by , Feb 16, 2009, 8:00 AM
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microsoft live searchMicrosoft Live Search has begun several projects to understand the tasks that consumers want to accomplish on search engines before making decisions, and the steps they take to get there. But making search more efficient could put pressure on advertising networks and agencies to perfect targeting ads.

People often use search engines as navigation tools. They repeatedly type in queries on Google, Live Search or Yahoo that take them from keywords such as "Amazon.com" to the URL. The more searches that are done, the more pay-per-click (PPC) and display ads are served up.

Sometimes the ecommerce transaction or information queries can turn into multi-minute, multi-page, high-single-digit searches that begin as a keyword or phrase and turn into long, drawn-out processes, according to Stefan Weitz, Microsoft's director of Live Search. "Search can reduce the overall time to task," he said. "It should help people make decisions faster and smarter."

Microsoft Live has added several search features such as "related queries." The results appear on the right rail. The tool returns results that Live Search thinks are related. Another tool, Opinion Index, crawls Web sites, collecting opinions and reviews. The comments are aggregated, placed into categories and divided by sentiment, so searchers can read opinions in comments made about products, services and companies that have been posted across the Web. The tool also notes the number of positive and negative remarks.

For ecommerce sites, the Live Search team is developing ways to help consumers validate buying decisions. One site, recently acquired by Microsoft and supported by Microsoft Live Search, relies on analytics. Seattle-based Farecast aggregates cost and stats across airline sites to predict whether prices on specific fares will increase or decrease within a predetermined length of time.

Weitz said these examples support Microsoft Live Search's view that "search is more than a keyword to a URL," and that Microsoft plans to remain in search to compete. Recognizing that search is a long-term commitment, he said "we're looking for ways for people to reduce the time it takes to search for something."

But with streamlined searches comes less opportunity for advertisers to make an impression on searchers. Although Weitz declined to comment on potential affects to advertisers, David Berkowitz-- director of emerging media and client strategy at 360i, New York--said it has been a topic for discussions that has been floating through the industry for years.

"Streamlining search means there will be fewer ad impressions for every search session, so there are fewer opportunities to reach consumers during the search process, but it also means the ads must be more meaningful each time they engage with consumers," Berkowitz said.

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