The combination of portals and search remains an ongoing topic that some would just as soon sweep under the rug. But in the coming year, search engine marketers will learn to optimize the two.
MSN, which sits in a Microsoft division losing money, has been directed to drive traffic to the company's search engine Bing. Scott Moore, partner and regional executive producer for the MSN group, told Federated Media Signal L.A. conference attendees Tuesday that MSN editors have begun to curate results for the search engine. For instance, those searching on Bing for the keyword term "Super Bowl" might see a page on Bing filled with topics that MSN editors curate.
Today, MSN editors curate the content for terms and topics that create the most searches. When MSN editors curate the terms, click-through rates rise between two and three times higher on Bing, compared with a typical 10-blue link layout. "Our No. 1 priority as a division is to drive Bing's share," he says. "We're very proud of the fact Bing went from 7% in June 2009 when it launched to now 12%, about 18 months later. I don't think anyone has gained share in the search space since Google came on the scene."
Bing-powered search, which combines Yahoo and Microsoft, held 27.4% of the market share in January, up from 25.8% sequentially, according to Experian Hitwise. The data firm estimates the combined Bing and Yahoo search experience achieved the highest click rates in January 2011. More than 81% of searches executed resulted in a visit to a Web site, compared with Google's 65%. One caveat -- marketers must take into account the amount of searches on Bing/Yahoo compared with Google. Longer search queries -- between five and eight words -- rose 5% from December 2010 to January 2011. Shorter search queries -- those averaging one to four words long -- fell 1% from December 2010 to January 2011. Two-word searches comprised the majority of searches, amounting to 23.59% of all queries.
Aside from Bing, Moore says the MSN portal continues to gain market share. In fact, he says, traffic rose within the past year from 30 million users less than Yahoo to within five million. "We have the largest digital media audience globally," he says. "Not only are we a close No.2 in the U.S. in terms of total reach, we are No. 1 in the U.K., France and Brazil and all over Latin America."
MSN has a monthly audience of 450 million to 500 million who connect monthly. Moore says MSN will take the programming media services internationally. Glo will soon get rolled out in a European country, and Wonderwall in an Asian country.
Moore says the risk for AOL, whose audience is more diverse, is that it acquired a company with an audience that has a specific point of view. "I know this is true because Huffington Post is the largest distributor of MSNBC television video outside MSNBC.com," he says. "Their audience is interested, until recently -- Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow and the rest of that lineup. ... "
The real question becomes whether AOL can embrace this different type of audience and differentiate the brand without falling flat. MSN also has challenges requiring the portal to take advantage of distribution options attracting content partners. The trend toward combining search and portal content has become evident on Bing, too.