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Microsoft Pursues Search Improvements, Sans Yahoo

While the company only has a 10 percent share of the search market with its Live Search technology, Microsoft has big plans to enhance its platform regardless of what happens with its now-dormant proposal to buy Yahoo.

At the Search Engine Strategies 2008 conference in San Jose, Calif. on Tuesday, Microsoft's Satya Nadella, vice president of the company's search, portal, and advertising platform group, discussed the company's goals for search but did not want to talk about the company's Yahoo plan. That planned acquisition has not panned out.  

"At this point we're focused on building our organic strategy," Nadella said when asked about Microsoft's current interest in Yahoo.

Nadella emphasized that search has become easy but there is room for improvement.

"The ability to talk to a search engine is perhaps the simplest it's ever been," Nadella said, adding that search has become a $15 billion market in the United States. More than 50 percent of search sessions are more than 30 minutes long, Nadella said.

The questions now are whether search will change and improve, he said. Nadella cited three trends affecting search: user intent and the ability to understand user intent better; content and context and the ability to understand these better and drive individual search experiences and, lastly, what is the frontier for advertising efficiency and yield for publishers.

"Those are the three things that I believe are going to cause search to change," Nadella said.

Search experiences could be more optimized, he said. Microsoft is doing work to understand search patterns, he said.

He also cited a goal to understand user Internet experiences, analyze them, and come up with search behaviors and patterns. This information could be used to shape the search the experience and help publishers and advertisers looking to do targeted advertising.

Another search trend cited involves the growth of content, including the proliferation of multimedia images. Search engines also are expected to understand more about time and location. User intent and context must be understood by search providers, Nadella said.

Microsoft looks at what advertisers and publishers are saying about what they want from a search engine. Search providers can be expected to invest in capabilities such as correlation of offline and online capabilities, openness and correlation of display and search functionality. Black-box search engine ad systems will be opened up for more efficiency,

With its Microsoft Live Search technology, Microsoft wants to deliver the best search results, simplify key tasks, and innovate the business of search, according to Nadella. The company's acquisition of Powerset, which provides semantic search technology, fits in with its plans to improve relevance of searches in Live Search, Nadella said.

To simplify tasks, Microsoft plans to understand search patterns and build experiences that fit those patterns. "You can see that today in what we have done with image search what we have done with video search," Nadella said.

Microsoft also is looking to expose search capabilities in Windows properties such as MSN, he said. Nadella acknowledged Microsoft is a media company. "To say that we're not a media company would be hypocrisy," he said, adding that Microsoft's place in the media value chain is in search, portal and communication tools, not in providing content of its own.

An audience member interviewed after the presentation said he tried out Microsoft Live Search and found it was something different.

"Actually, I've been looking for a camera," said Otis Maxwell, a freelance copywriter. "I've not been successful in finding the right price and the right camera on Google," he said.

Maxwell said he then tried Live Search but still did not find the right camera. "I could see [Live Search] was different. The fact that it's different I think means it's going to have some potential," he said.

Microsoft at the event also cited its release of adCenter Add-in for Excel, which is a keyword research and optimization tool based in Excel that now is in a beta format. The company on Wednesday announced a public beta program for its AdCenter for Publishers technology, in which a Web publisher can leverage Microsoft Live Search to run ads on its site and share these ad revenues with Microsoft. 

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