Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) is preparing to launch a redesign of its MSN portal this fall that will more tightly integrate the site with the company’s other online properties. Microsoft MSN Corporate VP Erik Jorgensen tells paidContent that one goal is to get away from the site’s rather tired listing of links on the top of the home page. “Traditionally, MSN and other portals thought of themselves as internet directories. They have to have 27 channels across (the top of the page) and link to hundreds of headlines. We’ll clean that up,” he says. It “needs a new look and feel.” Jorgensen says the redesigned site will be “simpler,” include tie-ins to various social networks, and will also play up the company’s revamped Bing search engine.
The changes comes as Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) is also expected to soon introduce a big overhaul of its home page. But Jorgensen says he “hasn’t seen what Yahoo and others are doing” and adds that the size of MSN’s audience “is not our challenge” since it already has 550 million users and continues to grow. “Our challenge is deepening engagement with those … users,” he says.
— Search: A quarter of the usage on MSN.com goes to the search bar that runs across the top of the home page, Jorgensen says. But he says there is room to integrate Microsoft’s search engine throughout the site, especially since its remake as a “decision engine.” “My vision is that Bing and MSN become more tighter in terms of experience across both those two,” he says. “The concept of a decision engine fits incredibly well with a content portal when you want to drill into a topic and go deeper.” An example: An MSN article on the latest trends in jeans could link to Bing’s shopping search — to “help users complete the task.” The search bar will also get more prominence in the redesign. “Right now we’re running a number of (tests) — how do we make search as successful as possible — where do you put the box …, the suggested search tag clouds,” he says.
— Social networking: The revamped site will make it much easier for users to share MSN content on social networking sites. One concept being tested in Brazil lets users drag and drop videos and articles onto a “social bar” to share items with contacts (See screenshot above). Jorgensen says the revamped site will also play up Microsoft’s Windows Live services, which recently added the capability to let users track activity on multiple social networking sites from one place — a stream of information that could be added to the MSN home page. A concept being tested in France also lets users IM via Windows Live Messenger from the home page.
— Content: Jorgensen says he wants to focus MSN’s content offerings in five major areas — news, entertainment, sports, finance, and lifestyle. He also says that ultimately MSN will customize its content to a users’ interests. Already, the site is testing topic-centric versions of its home page. However, Jorgensen says that the site could eventually automatically customize content based on a user’s behavior and interests. In addition, he says MSN is looking into an algorithmic programming model, which would update the selection of content on the site in real-time based on what users are clicking on.