NEW YORK (AdAge.com) — MSN is getting its first major redesign in more than a decade in a bid to dust off its late-’90s look, reduce clutter and, as Yahoo did earlier this year, give users the ability to interact with their social networks from its home page.
The question remains: Does it matter?
It does if they want to maintain share against Facebook, which now accounts for 11% of all time spent on the web and has more than doubled over the past year. Like Yahoo, MSN is bringing social tools right onto the page, in the hope it will remain the on-ramp to the web in an era of Facebook and Twitter.
As part of the redesign, which goes live today, MSN is removing text ads and limiting display ads to a single unit on the right, and a small second ad halfway down the page. While it hasn’t done a top-to-bottom redesign, AOL has reduced ad loads on its front page as well. Microsoft is also eliminating 50% of the links and simplified navigation across fewer categories.
“Consumers told us they were suffering from information overload,” said MSN’s general manager, Scott Moore. “One of the things we wanted to do with this redesign is surface content in a less-cluttered way.”
MSN’s redesign comes five months after rival Yahoo redesigned its front page, and there are plenty of similarities, as the new look incorporates more white space and integrates social-media tools. Nielsen stats show Yahoo’s audience as flat since then, but in an age of Facebook, that’s not a bad thing.
“For Yahoo to retain its market share is itself a victory,” said Jon Gibbs, VP of analytics at Nielsen.
Once, this was the battle to be the web’s front door, but now the Big Three legacy web portals — MSN, Yahoo and AOL — are happy when they can retain the share they have. Yahoo’s $100 million global “It’s You” campaign is about defending its position in the U.S. and growing it abroad.
Consider: In 2005, AOL, MSN and Yahoo accounted for a combined 30% of all time spent on the web in the U.S., according to Nielsen. Today, they account for a combined 17%. In September, the average Facebook user spends 5.5 hours on the social network per month, while MSN users spend 2 hours, Yahoo users spend 3 hours and AOL users spend 2.5 hours.
Importance to Microsoft
Still, the 17% share means the death of the portal has been greatly exaggerated, and MSN boasts the largest global audience of any of the three. Moreover, MSN is a key audience vehicle for Microsoft to drive adoption of technologies such as Silverlight, Internet Explorer, Windows 7 and search engine Bing.com.
MSN is the largest single source of referrals for Bing.com, which will get deeper integration into shopping, travel and local categories. Bing.com search queries will also inform what links appear on the home page.
“We can order content and put it on MSN with the assumption that if people are searching on it there is a much larger audience,” Moore said.
Rather than produce its own content, MSN is focused on joint ventures, such as the deal with production company BermanBraun for celebrity channel Wonderwall, news content from MSNBC and NBC News and Fox Sports, and entertainment and lifestyle content from Hulu and Hearst.