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New MSN Search algorithm could do with a tweak

So, Microsoft/MSN have launched their new search engine (in beta).

After the initial problem of their servers being overloaded with “please come back later” messages I managed to perform a few test searches.

Well, having had a play with some keywords I’m not impressed with their search algorithm. To give an example, I’ll use my favourite test search – a query of “news” (partly because I like to see if BBC News is top 🙂 ).

Let’s get a control search result for “News” from Google

  1. BBC News
  3. ABC News
  5. Google News
  7. MSNBC
  8. Yahoo! News
  9. Wired News
  10. CNET

Ok, whilst I may be a little biased because BBC News is first (yay), I still think that is a well rounded set of results.

So, let’s perform the same search for “News” on MSN Search Beta

  1. DSP News
    (DSP News DSP News Automobile Computer Services Computer Software Education Electronics Employment Entertainment Finance General Merchandise Health Care Hotels and Resorts Insurance Internet Medical Miscellaneous …)
  2. Canada NewsWire
    (Daily News Release Summary Earnings Database TV & Radio Media Send a News Release Tools For: Media Investors Resources: Free Educational Forums Partner Associations Stock Exchange Directory Communication … )
  3. ENN: Environmental News Network
    (win a whale-watching trip to Mexico. Deadline for entry is November 30, 2004. READ ALL TODAY’S NEWS > ? Pollution in Southern China Exceeds U.S. Standards, Study Says ? Expo on Eco-Building … )
  4. Catholic World News (CWN)
    (Catholic World News provides daily reports and analysis from an independent Catholic perspective. Our coverage includes the Vatican news and updates from the Holy Land; papal audiences, encyclicals … )
  5. eSchool News online
    (… Today’s Top News Wednesday, November 10, 2004 eRate flows again–’04 apps still pending eRate officials on Nov. 3 announced they have enough cash on hand to start mailing funding-commitment decision … )
  6. CNET — Technology news and business reports
    (Tech news and business reports by CNET Focused on information technology, core topics include computers, hardware, software, networking, and Internet media. CNET CNET tech sites: … )
  7. Greater Danbury’s News and Information Source
    (… sit right atop one another and electric cables dangle in a dizzying array overhead. Local News: Newtown to track students’ fitness Local News: New Milford loses out on Cruise film Sports: Newtown wins …)

As you go through the list it’s almost comical! “Catholic World News” at #4? Local news from Greater Danbury at #7?

Sure, “ENN: Environmental News Network” is a good cause, but it’s hardly what one would expect for a general search for “News”.

DSP News, which get’s the top spot looks to me link one of those ‘google juice‘/’link sites’ that shady SEO‘ers produce to try to improve their inbound links (and thus up their Google ranking). It’s not a content site whatsoever.

A search for ‘News’ on MSN’s current search:

  1. Google News
  2. CNET
  3. ABC News
  5. Yahoo! News
  6. BBC News
  7. Open Directory – News
  8. Wired News
  10. InternetNews Realtime News
  13. Moreover Technologies – Welcome

Clearly, these results are a lot more respectable – although it’s worth noting that the current MSN Search technology is provided by Yahoo!.

The presence of Moreover is somewhat interesting as they are a news-content solutions provider used by the likes of the BBC rather than a “news source” – but that’s out of the scope of this entry.

But ‘news’ is not the only bad apple, have a search for the following (with results in brackets):

  • email (bulk email providers, email marketing, “evil email” anonymous mailer, etc – Google returns, Yahoo! Mail, etc)
  • London (mainly obscure London, Canada sites and London hotel marketing sites – Google returns London,England sites such as tourism and London news)

I even tried a specic search from my Google history: “.htaccess authentication windows” ? compare the type of results returned on MSN Search beta and Google.

My final observation from all of this is the number of results returned per page. Google returns 10, current MSN Search returns 14 (although the page says it’s returned 15!) – new MSN Search beta only returns 7.

Obviously these settings are often available for customisation by the user, but most users will stick with the site’s default. I was wondering why new MSN Search only provided 7 results per page for ‘news’, when I realised, they include the number of sponsored links in the results (in this case 3, and 3 + 7 = 10).

Based on the fact that Google don’t do this, and yet they’ve been offering similar sponsored links for yonks, I wonder whether this will be MSN’s downfall? Users will perform a given search, and be returned with relatively fewer relevant links than other search rivals (assuming that sponsored links are rarely as relevant as the returns returned – otherwise what’s the point of paying for a sponsored listing?).

My conclusion, funnily enough, is that I?ll be giving MSN search a miss.

Published in Industry Thoughts and Rants Tools Uncategorized