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Microsoft Live Search and Web Analytics

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The recent launch of MSN Live Search sent shock-waves through the web analytics community.

This wasn’t because it’s a significant step forward in Search – especially for Microsoft – as because the initial implementation failed to pass a referring site when a visitor clicked through.

This is a fundamental piece of information for analysis – one that allows web analytic tools to understand that the visitor is coming from MSN Search and treat the data accordingly. For web analysts everywhere, it’s one of those sudden, totally unexpected headaches that make lives miserable.

I’m hoping that this will prove to be a tempest in a teapot and that Microsoft will quickly resolve the issue. So I’m not going to add my voice to that discussion. Instead, I’d just like to say I’m impressed with the direction Microsoft is going with the actual Search Engine. Way back at the beginning of the year I wrote a blog about how Search Engines lacked transparency in ratings (http://semphonic.blogs.com/semangel/2006/03/seo_as_a_house_.html) and how I thought they might improve.

Well, the new Live Search incorporates some of those ideas – particularly in letting the user adjust the weighting of several key search factors.

It’s still a long way from ideal, but it’s a pretty good first step. I’d like to see more weightings opened up – and perhaps the ability to set your focus (shopping, information, research, etc.) directly on the main search page along with the Ask.Com like related search functionality that’s already there. I’d also to be able to sort and subset within a search set that’s already there.

It’s ridiculous to pretend that I’m going to use 15 pages of results (much less hundreds or thousands) – the way all the search engines seem to.

I’d rather they returned the top 100 results and then gave me much better tools for browsing inside that list. This would reduce the absurd importance of the #1 position – and greatly simplify SEO in general.

There is, in my view, nothing more pernicious to site development than the drive to be #1 in organic listings.

If the engines returned the top x listings (perhaps even alphabetically) and then gave good sorting tools based on the kind of weights I suggested I think that overall usefulness would improve as would the sanity of SEO.

Microsoft hasn’t done much to impress anyone lately (at least outside the Xbox world) – they’ve lost share in Search and deservedly so. AdCenter has been rocky and underwhelming.

Their core software business seems stagnant. So it’s nice to see them moving in a direction that might actually matter.

Now if they’ll just fix that referring site problem

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Gary Angel is the author of the “SEMAngel blog – Web Analytics and Search Engine Marketing practices and perspectives from a 10-year experienced guru.

Microsoft Live Search and Web Analytics
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