Microsoft Vaguely Aware It Kinda Sucks Sometimes

    June 3, 2008
    WebProNews Staff

Eeyore, the donkey always missing its tail, always liked to thank people for noticing him. Seems like, when it comes to search, Microsoft has the same problem. SearchEngineLand’s Danny Sullivan interviewed Microsoft’s Kevin Johnson, president of the Platform and Services division, during today’s keynote session at SMX Advanced in Seattle, and all roads led back to Google.

(Coverage of the SMX Advanced Conference continues at WebProNews Videos. Keep an eye on WebProNews for more notes and videos from the event this week.)

As a side note, during the Q&A to follow, Johnson mentioned Microsoft’s launch today of adCenter Desktop in beta, a tool to help webmasters run their ad campaigns offline; to bring it around full circle, Google released a similar product two years ago.

Obviously, innovation, as Johnson noted too, is one of the lumbering giant Microsoft’s biggest challenges in the online space. That, and the nearly complete dilution of its search brand.

With a brand so dilute and Google "so entrenched," as Sullivan put it, what are the chances of Microsoft being able to add real competition in the search space? Johnson’s answer stepped to the side of a more Ballmerish we’re-going-to-kill-em-anyway explanation. Johnson opted to focus more on trenches the company actually could, um, entrench itself in.

Better, a hole—a niche—within Google’s world Microsoft could reasonably climb into. For Johnson and Microsoft, this means honing in on "commercial intent," or searchers looking to buy, which makes up 30 percent of search queries (as opposed to generic informational queries), but accounts for about 80 percent of the revenue.

"Google is already entrenched so you need to have disruptive ways to change the paradigm," said Johnson. This entails innovation in "horizontal relevance" and search navigation, and "amplifying" verticals related to commercial intent. "We want to connect buyers and sellers. We’re going to be thoughtful about the fact that we have an entrenched competitor, but we need to deliver innovation … to build our value in the market."

Hmmm. Yes, very corporate-y with a touch of humility, unlike the sour mash of tossed chairs and Ballmer sweat. Bottom line: Unlike Google’s newest approach, which involves decreasing the search ad real estate in order to increase relevance and converting clicks, Microsoft is looking to change what’s relevant. Johnson’s words make it almost sound like SS Mr. Softy is changing course into e-commerce waters almost exclusively.

Johnson readily acknowledged to Sullivan that Microsoft’s biggest challenge in getting people to use MSN/Live…whatever it’s called…is the brand. Again, all conversations lead back to Google. "Google is a very strong brand," Johnson said. "People think that Google equals search. We need to differentiate the product experience."

As far as picking a brand and fixing it? Johnson and Microsoft are fielding suggestions. One tack Microsoft is taking, in addition to the choosing a brand thing, is renewing its focus on distribution. Recently, the company struck a deal with HP so that computers coming out after January 2009 will default to Microsoft Live search.

Hey, it worked with IE and Media Player, right?

Johnson said it was important the brand "stand for something." In this new strategy, Microsoft’s decades-long image of default marketing will really shine through.   


Hat tip to Tamar Weinberg