MSN Gets The Message: Don’t Prefill The Search Box

I’m still waiting for the promised official response from Microsoft about the entire prefilling of the search box thing that happened at MSN UK, as we wrote about last week. But via Threadwatch, MSN UK apparently has a blog about the — yes — MSN UK home page. There, MSN explains about the experiment, which has been stopped after users loudly complained that prefilling the search box is bad.

As a reminder, MSN UK started prefilling their search box with a query like this:

MSN UK Prefill Search Box Ad

At first, it seemed like this was some promotional deal with the BBC. But then other prefills started showing for "Cricket World Cup" and "Euro 2008 results." That made it seem less like an ad deal and more like something MSN was trying.

Indeed, MSN UK blogged on March 30 that this was an experiment, one dubbed a failure:

Our small experiment with pre-populating the search box on the homepage didn’t last very long. We pulled this from the page today after receiving feedback from you that this wasn’t a good move. Your comments were backed up by our click stats which showed no increase in usage of the search bar. In fact, our click numbers were down slightly – a major signal to us that we need take action.

Many of you found a pre-loaded search bar intrusive and did not like us trying to predict what you were interested in searching for. Having to actively delete content from the bar was also negatively received.

A follow up post from today says:

First of all, I’ll just re-enforce the point Nicole mentioned recently about the experiment we ran where we pre-populated the search bar at the top of the page with an ‘of the day’ phrase such as ‘Apprentice BBC’ or ‘Cricket World Cup’. Your comments on the initiative were pretty unequivocal – ‘Every time I log in, ‘The Apprentice BBC’ is in my search box. Not very clever and very annoying… Just as bad as SPAM’ said one user, whilst other critics used the phrases ‘absolute disgrace’ ‘very annoying’ and ‘unwanted marketing’ when describing the move. The negative feedback, combined with the click statistics which showed that the move wasn’t working from a usage point of view, meant that we acted quickly and put an end to the experiment just a couple of days after it had begun. Without your valuable feedback we wouldn’t have had such a clear picture about the effectiveness of the trial, so please don’t hesitate in future to let us know when we take a wrong step. Hopefully any future ideas which we try will be better received!

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | Microsoft: Bing | Microsoft: Bing Ads | Microsoft: Partnerships | Stats: Search Behavior


About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • Philipp Lenssen

    If you need user feedback and click statistics to figure out this is a bad idea, you’re seriously in trouble as a search engine, because your team misses certain people with a good common sense understanding of the web.

    By the way, did I miss this or did MSN in their posts not explicitly mention these were non-partnered/paid phrases?

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