Microsoft to Go it Alone in Web Search

At the Search Engines Strategies Conference and Expo in San Jose this week, Microsoft outlined its plans to compete with Google in Web search. Those plans presumably have changed a lot this year, given Microsoft's on-again, off-again romance with Yahoo!, with which Microsoft had hoped to form an alliance to take on Google together.

Satya Nadella, senior vice president for search, portal and advertising at Microsoft, pledged to gain share on Google. That shouldn't be hard, as Microsoft currently controls less than 10 percent of all Web searches worldwide. More problematic, perhaps, the company controls just 5 percent of all Web ad revenue worldwide.

According to Nadella, those users who do utilize Microsoft's Live Search are spending a lot of time searching, with almost half spending 30 minutes to find what they're looking for. To help these users, Microsoft is developing deeper, interrelated search queries that should yield faster, more accurate results. So instead of just tracking earlier searches by the same user, Microsoft will use related searches from previous users to understand the intent of the search and deliver more relevant results.

Privacy watchdogs should have a field day with that one, especially when you consider the advertising implications of aggregating the search results from multiple users. But Nadella says Microsoft needs to take big steps to overcome Google's momentum. "If we come again and again with innovation that matters, we will have the opportunity to grow our volume and our share," he said.

Microsoft is also working on splitting its search engine into task-specific interfaces. So instead of running a general search, a user might instead specify that they only want results tailored to specific categories, like travel, news, health, or images. Part of the company's new approach can be seen through the light of a recent acquisition: It purchased natural language search processing innovator Powerset earlier this year, paving the way towards integrating Powerset technologies into Live Search.

The software giant also purchased travel forecaster this year. That technology has already been rolled into Live Search, allowing users to search for hotels and airfares. Microsoft also has a cash-back program to reward users who purchase products after searching for them on Live Search.

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