The update launches in beta today (8 September) ahead of a full-scale rollout in the coming months. It sees the technology business abandon its goal of trying to compete directly with media owners such as the Guardian and New York Times in favour of a more collaborative offering designed to kickstart what was once Microsoft’s single largest source of ad revenue.
MSN’s overhaul curates content from its own editorial teams spanning everything from sport to finance alongside editorial from media partners in more than 50 countries. Users accessing the site via their Microsoft ID can synchronise articles across different apps, devices, social networks and operating systems to create what the business calls a “fully personalised and scalable” experience.
The business is rebranding the Bing News, Sports, Finance, Travel, Health and Fitness and Weather apps under the MSN banner to support the revamp.
It represents a u-turn on the company’s previous stance, whereby Bing News was formed to be an aggregated news source, while the MSN portal is meant to deliver content as well as demonstrate other Microsoft technologies such as Outlook and Skype. Bing will become more deeply integrated into the different categories, driving not only referrals for the search engine but also serving personalised content based on user preferences.
Advertising on MSN will also be updated to support Microsoft’s push for online ad revenues. Brands will only pay for the ads that will be in view on the site, Microsoft claims, with it promising not to place any below the fold. Several advertisers are also on board to back the portal’s launch.
Owen Sagness, general manager for Microsoft Advertising and Online UK, says: “Because there’s an eco-system in place across different Apple, Android and Windows devices, apps and browsers, it allows advertisers to tell stories in a sequential fashion. An ad for a campaign can be served to people when they wake in the morning on their smartphone, and then it can be updated and pushed onto their [connected] TV in the day before reaching them again on a tablet device in the evening.”
MSN’s positioning has gone through various changes over the years with the site struggling to fit easily with the rest of the technologies and services-focused Microsoft. Its last major overhaul occurred in 2012 when the portal received a new look as well as partnerships with the Associated Press and Reuters to support the Windows 8 launch.
Steve Lynas, regional director at MSN, says: “MSN has used joint-ventures in the past but never on this scale and across so many markets. It’s a new business model that helps us court media companies by giving them SEO as well as direct links back to their sites and new revenue streams.
“The MSN brand remains strong. More than 40 per cent of UK Internet audiences engage with MSN at least one a month, while 435 million people worldwide use the site each month.”
Traffic to the MSN portal has been stagnating for the past 12 months with its global ranking – a measure of the average daily visitor and page views over the past three months – dropping from 31 to 34, according to web measurement tool Alexa. Additionally, the percentage of visits to the portal coming from a search engine plummeted 19 per cent in the period to 3.4 per cent.