Microsoft yesterday used its Silicon Valley outpost, just down the road from Google, to unveil a "major update" to the web's third most popular search engine. And, yes, it's only been a year since the last major update. Bill and the gang plan on re-launching Live Search every 12 months.
With this update, the company now claims that - on the whole - its core search engine is better than Yahoo!'s and on par with Google's.
"In 2005, when we started, we were way behind," said Satya Nadella, corporate vice president for Microsoft's search and advertising platform group. "But after this release, we feel that our slope of innovation is so good that we can claim that we're as good as Google."
Feel free to chuckle.
According to the company, the new engine indexes more than four times as many sites, it has a better understanding of user queries, and it's more likely to turn up relevant information. "Overall, we feel we've made a quantum jump on our core relevance," Nadella said.
At the same time, Microsoft has announced a bevy of new vertical engines that work in tandem with core search. These include a local search platform with more info about individual businesses, a shopping platform with more info about products, a health platform with more info about bodily functions, and an entertainment platform that tracks the worldwide popularity of Salma Hayek.
One search engineer told us these updates will be available to all US users by Monday - with the exception of the new local search engine. That will arrive in late October.
According to the latest numbers from research firm comScore Media Metrix, Live Search is the third most popular search engine in the US, handling only 11.3 per cent of all web queries. Compared to Google's 56.5 per cent, that's a pretty paltry number. But Microsoft is quick to point out that Live Search reaches more people than this would seem to indicate. In August, the site handled only 11.3 per cent of all searches, but it was visited by 37 per cent of all searchers - i.e. almost 70 million people.
From our perspective, this indicates that the company's existing search engine is a piece of junk. People go there, and then they quickly leave for another site. The Redmond outfit confirms that 46 per cent of its users are "not satisfied" with the current state of Live Search, with most complaining that search results aren't as "relevant" as they should be.
But Microsoft likes to look on the bright side of this less-than-Googlicious position. Since it already reaches such a large audience, the company says, it can quickly expand its overall market share simply by improving the quality of Live Search.
"All the things we've done [with the new update] are in response to specific feedback from our customers," said Brad Goldberg, general manager of Microsoft's search business group. "Almost 40 per cent of all searchers on the internet use Live Search every month, but...we only have an 11 per cent share. That's where the opportunity is. If we can do a better job of going out and delighting those customers and addressing their needs, I think we have a real opportunity to grow share."
We'll see about that.