The companys MSN group plans to launch the changes on July 1. MSN Search will place fewer sponsored link ads at the top of search results to ensure that non-paid Web search results appear higher up on the results page, said Lisa Gurry, director of MSN. To achieve the goal, MSN is limiting to three, rather than four, the number of paid links that appear atop Web results in a section it calls MSNs Search Featured Sites.
MSN will share the changes with the 400 marketers and advertisers planning to gather next week at its Redmond, Wash., offices for its Strategic Account Summit.
"Were making it easy to distinguish between what is a paid link and an unpaid link," Gurry said. "And were putting algorithmic results in the top half of results 100 percent of the time."
MSN sells it own search advertisements and contracts with Yahoo Inc.s Overture Services division for sponsored listings. The Search Featured Sites will be predominantly MSN-sold paid links, while Overture results will fill the paid links designated for the right-hand column of the search results page.
MSN also will tweak the look and feel of the search results page to better distinguish listings, including adding a shaded background to the sponsored links, Gurry said.
The changes to search ads wont affect the unpaid Web results, which MSN draws from Inktomi, now part of Yahoos revamped search engine. Yahoo has faced some criticism for a program launched earlier this month that lets Web sites pay to be included in its Web search index, though it has maintained that its algorithm gives equal weight to paid inclusion and organically crawled Web pages.
MSNs changes will not alter the paid-inclusion Web search listings it gets from its Yahoo partnership, a spokeswoman said.
The Federal Trade Commission also has weighed in on the issue of paid listings, suggesting that they be clearly labeled as separate from non-paid Web search results.
MSNs paid-listing changes were one part of an MSN Search beta, which MSN has been testing with a limited number of users since the fall. Gurry said that MSN is developing its own algorithmic Web search engine to launch later this year but declined to offer further details on it. Last June, MSN began crawling the Web with its MSNBot.
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