MSN has come out fighting in the web search space in an attempt to claw back some valuable market share from market leaders Google and Yahoo. So whose search is best?
Microsoft spent two and a half years working on its search technology, though perhaps its developers took the instruction to go and build a Google-like web search a little too literally: the MSN search is not just close to Google, it’s practically a patent infringement case waiting to be brought. Just click on the MSN search settings button and compare the configuration options to Google’s – the similarities are somewhat striking.
Still, while the features may be similar, whose engine produces the most hits? I tried a search for the terms ‘Google’, ‘MSN’ and ‘Yahoo’ in each of those three search engines to see who’s the daddy.
Anyway, Google beat Yahoo for all searches and kicked the living daylights out of MSN. For the term ‘Yahoo’, Google found 281 million, compared to 102 million found by Yahoo itself and just 19.6 million found by MSN. For the search term ‘google’, Google found itself 155 million times, while Yahoo found ‘google’ 58.1 million times and Microsoft’s MSN found it 68.6 million times. You get the idea – a search for ‘MSN’ at Google produced 104 million hits, way more than MSN itself which only found the term 68 million times or thereabouts. So you could say Google knows MSN better than MSN itself.
I also tried an image search for the phrase ‘Britney Spears’ – the most popular search term of 2004, according to Google. Who would find the most pictures? In the settings page, I of course kept my settings on the ‘Use moderate filtering’ for all searches so as not to cause any undue strain on my heart. In the Stamper Image Search Benchmark Test – i.e. a search for Britney Spears – Google found 121,000 moderate images, compared to Yahoo’s 103,000 and MSN’s approximately 11,000.
Still, perhaps none of these results matter very much. The key is not so much how many hits you get for your search, but how high they are in terms of relevance to what you were looking for. This is much harder to measure. I tried a search for ‘Telecaster versus Stratocaster’, and it was Google that put the most relevant result for my purposes at the top of its list. Yahoo put it second, and MSN didn’t feature a page that had a discussion of the merits of a Strat over a Tele in its top 30 hits. But had I been looking for something else, MSN may have performed best – it just depends exactly what you’re looking for.
Perhaps what makes the power of Microsoft’s new search engine less relevant still is the amount of marketing muscle that the company will bring to bear to promote it. Apparently the company’s ad campaign is going to include television, print, Internet and outdoor promotions. The advert will run during the Super Bowl, the Oscars and the Grammys. Not even Google, flushed with the cash from its IPO, will be able to match that. Nor can Google leverage the fact it is the market leading desktop operating system vendor, as well as the leading browser vendor, whereas Microsoft can. The Google-style search engine wars are far from over – they are only just beginning.