Microsoft, The Plucky Websearch Underdog

Microsoft is updating its Live Search web search service, They're hoping that pleasing users with more relevant search results will help it to crawl out of the distant third place it finds itself in -- behind Yahoo a little, behind Google a lot.

Microsoft says its goal is to encourage people who are using its Live Search service to continue doing so. It points to the large numbers of people who find their way to the service through the MSN portal and other online services such as e-mail and instant messaging.

Brad Goldberg, general manager of search-product management and marketing, said 40 percent of all Internet searchers use Live Search, but the service accounts for only about 11 percent of all queries. Google had 56.5 percent of queries last month, and Yahoo, the No. 2 search engine, had 23.3 percent.

Microsoft's own research shows most are satisfied with Internet search, even though the data suggest they shouldn't be, Goldberg said. Half of all queries have to be refined and 40 percent of them are abandoned unanswered, he said.

Realizing that they're never going to catch Google by being just like them, Microsoft has wisely decided to stress returned results for shopping, local information, health care and entertainment, as these are common reasons for queries. The page will look more like a content page than a list of links. The updated service rolls out in stages over the next month or so.