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Thursday, January 26, 2023

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!


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