MSN home page gets a makeover

The Microsoft unit unveils a new look for its home page, touted to be "faster and simpler", in a bid to make inroads into the lucrative search engine market.

SINGAPORE--Microsoft's MSN unit has unveiled a new look for its home page, boasting new features such as Web logs and Really Simple Syndication (RSS) news feeds.

According to Sharon Bayley, regional manager for MSN ICAN (Inter-Continental, Asia and Nordics) region, the changes were driven by user feedback.

"Sixteen percent of the consumers we surveyed found the amount of advertising 'very frustrating', while 10 percent were not happy with the speed of page loads," said Bayley.

Seven percent of users polled found the old site "very frustrating" when looking for content they wanted, while the same percentage of users said it lacked unique content.

With these findings, said Michael Rawding, MSN's corporate vice president of sales and marketing, the company made several new additions to the site such as integrating content on MSN News into six main categories: top headlines, sports, entertainment, science and technology, health and business. Powered by MSN Search technology, the news site is updated every 10 minutes, after looking through various news sources for updates.

In addition, users can now add their own RSS feeds of blogs and news to the home page, he said. The search box has also been moved to a new and "more prominent" position at the top of the page, Rawding noted, while the previous advertising "clutter" has now been reduced to a uniformed 300x250 ad unit.

The Web site also features links that take users directly to their Hotmail accounts, and the home page of its instant chat application, MSN Messenger.

It is clear that MSN is looking to capture a hefty slice of the search engine market, which has been dominated by rivals Google and Yahoo.

Bayley pointed out that the market has huge potential, and that revamping the home page is but a first step that MSN is taking into the arena.

Rawding believes MSN's search engine has come a long way that since its inception about 18 months ago.

According to MSN internal data, the company's search engine now generates more than 3 billion searches monthly for some 420 million unique users who access the Web site. This works out to about 10 searches per user globally.

The new home page is now available to users in Malaysia, and further rollouts are planned in October for other South Asian countries such as Singapore, the Philippines and Thailand.