I really want Microsoft to do well in search, because the overall search experience for consumers would be improved if Google had a viable competitor.
(Also, I have friends there, and I want to see them do well.)
Having built Spock.com, a vertical search engine company, and having worked with both Google and Microsoft on various partnerships during that time, I think I can share a few simple things that Microsoft can do to improve search.
None of this is rocket science. It’s computer science. Which is why it’s so surprising to see Bing not pushing harder on these things that would decrease the gap between them and Google.
Improve Bing Crawling for the Long Tail
Google’s crawlers are impressive to say the least. If you launch a site tomorrow that has over 1,000 pages, within 2 days, Google will discover your site and crawl all those pages. Now, it might not put them in the index if the pages do not meet Google’s quality standards, but at least Google found and crawled your site.
With Bing, I don’t see that same level of execution. Heck, some popular sites that have thousands of pages indexed on Google are not to even be found on Bing (except for the home page). Bing likes to say that they are on par with Google when it comes to search experience. That may be true for the head terms like “credit cards”. But, when you type in long-tail terms like “freehold township credit union” the results from Google and Bing are drastically different. With Google’s being more relevant to the user.
If Microsoft really wants to compete with Google, then it needs to improve long-tail search. The only way to do that is to crawl faster, deeper, and with a lot more scale. Google has over 200,000 servers. I am sure Microsoft can match Google dollar to dollar on spending for servers. But if Steve Ballmer wants to really win, then get the right engineers in the crawling group working on the right set of challenges, like building crawlers that can crawl at least 50% of the web. That would be a good start.
Get AdCenter on Par With Adwords
This one is not hard. Microsoft should just copy what AdWords does and stop confusing advertisers.
Several months ago, I was invited to give the AdCenter team advice on how to improve its experience for advertisers. While I was there, a group of researchers walked us through some advanced thinking on AdCenter. It made no sense to any of the advertisers in the room.
We told Microsoft that they should just work to get AdCenter on par with Adwords from a user experience point of view. We showed them the features that Adwords had for years that AdCenter still lacked. Some of us were surprised when it seemed that we knew more about the feature to feature comparison of AdCenter to Adwords than the AdCenter team.
Stop using AdWords!
The only team that should be using Adwords at Microsoft is the AdCenter team, and that only to learn from it. Why give free revenue to Google?
Google won’t let employees use Windows based computers in the future, which means 20,000 less Windows license fees for Microsoft. If Google wants to do that, maybe Microsoft should stop giving Google so much revenue with all the AdWords accounts that are being used across Microsoft.
Yes, Microsoft marketing teams across the company use AdWords like crazy to market their products. Several people at Microsoft have told me that there are over 50 Adwords accounts at Microsoft. Let’s make that zero.
No more gimmicks
Gimmicks like slideshows and xrank need to go. They are artificial and do not result in real growth, When Google came out in 1999, they focused on core search experience, while other search engines offered prizes to people for using their engines. Guess who won! Microsoft needs to end all gimmicks and only focus on core search and nothing else.
No more MSN.
Microsoft should focus on building utility web products like Bing search, Office Online, and SkyDrive. See what happened to Yahoo when it tried to be both a search company and a content company?
Microsoft should learn from them and cut all content related products. It’ll be a tough pill to swallow. Especially given all the people who work in MSN. But if Microsoft wants to win in search, online documents, and the cloud, then it cannot be spending all those resources on content related activities. Focus on utility products. That is where the money and future reside.