Following Google's lead, MSN released its own Internet browser search toolbar yesterday.
The toolbar, officially still in testing, lets users conduct MSN searches directly from their browsers. It also comes with one-button access to MSNBC news, Hotmail and MSN Messenger in addition to a pop-up blocker.
The toolbar's release is another instance of MSN playing catch-up with search rival Google. Microsoft chairman Bill Gates admitted Friday that the company had been slow to embrace search as a key component of Internet use, telling a crowd at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that Google “kicked our butts.”
Google accounts for about 31 percent of Internet searches to MSN's 15 percent, according to comScore Media Metrix. Yahoo draws 28 percent. Yahoo's executives estimate that each percentage share of the search market is worth $200 million.
Browser-based toolbars, which have been around for years, have gained new prominence since the market for paid search has taken off.
Google released its popular toolbar back in 2000. Google updated it last June to include a pop-up blocker and other add-ons like blogging tools and access to its news and shopping search. The search engine went one step further in November, releasing a so-called deskbar that sits on the Windows taskbar at the bottom of PC screens and lets users search without having a browser open. Yahoo also offers a search toolbar, Yahoo Companion.
The MSN toolbar integrates a variety of its own services. For example, the toolbar contains a drop-down menu to find movies, financial information, e-commerce options and encyclopedia entries. The toolbar also has an option that highlights queries on the Web pages returned on searches.
The MSN toolbar currently is available only in English. Google's toolbar comes in more than two dozen languages.
The toolbars are one front of the evolving search war. Added tools like pop-up blockers and shortcuts for filling out forms are seen as enticements for users to stay loyal to search engines without visiting their particular Web site.
Gates looked ahead to further search advancements, saying the company would have its own search technology by early next year. Microsoft now relies on Yahoo for its algorithmic search technology through Inktomi as well as its paid search listings from Overture Services.
Microsoft hopes to catch up with Google and Yahoo by using its dominant position on the desktop. The company has said it will embed search technology throughout its new Windows operating system when it is released, possibly in 2005 or 2006. The new search function is expected to combine Web search with document and database search to create an all-in-one search capability.
Brian Morrissey covers search marketing for DM News.com. To keep up with the latest search marketing news subscribe to our free e-mail weekly newsletter Search Engine Marketing by visiting www.dmnews.com/cgi-bin/newslettersub.cgi .