As Google dominates search market, Microsoft gets personal

August 20, 2008

microsoft-logo Yesterday Microsoft announced its intent to provide better tailored individual search results for users in an effort to better understand what users are searching for. This comes after news earlier in the week that Google performs 60% of US search queries.

While it would be foolish to count them out of the search game, Microsoft’s share of the search market has dwindled by nearly half in the last year. Microsoft’s drive to improve their Live Search technology is evident by their recent failed bid to takeover of Yahoo and acquisition of consolation prize search company Powerset.

The recently acquired Powerset team uses semantic technology in hopes of better understanding what users are looking for. Teaching computers to understand language is a Herculean task that could dramatically improve the relevance of search results. Microsoft’s Senior Vice President of Search, Satya Nadella, was quoted at the Search Engine Strategies conference in San Jose as saying that he believes, "understanding user intent–being able to analyze (queries) and come up with search patterns and use them to shape the search experience–is one of the most important areas for us."

Another way that Microsoft hopes to tailor results more closely based on a user’s search history. Their search engine currently keeps information about the last query a user made in order to provide more relevant results, but may begin to keep a longer history of individual users’ search history. That way the search engine could better learn from searchers who spend considerable time digging into a particular topic via more than two queries. In compiling this behavioral information on individual users, Microsoft also hopes to provide better ad targeting for search advertising customers.

While it’s possible that this new approach could spark a resurgence in Microsoft’s share of the search market, the company has a long way to go. With only 10% of US search queries providing feedback to improve Live Search, the search engine has dramatically less information on user search patterns to learn from than Google. However, considering the strong focus on search in Redmond and Microsoft’s deep pockets, we could start to see new innovations from Live Search that begin to draw users back to the site.

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