When was the last time you visited Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Internet portal, MSN.com? If you're like a growing number of Americans, it may have been a while. Though MSN.com is still a fairly popular alternative for global Internet users, it's lost a bit of its luster here in the states, something Microsoft would like to remedy.
Even as Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella continues sharing his "mobile-first, cloud-first" mantra to anyone within earshot, a successful MSN.com, particularly the way in which Microsoft envisions it, could help drive revenue across multiple business units. Of course, MSN.com is just one of a seemingly endless number of options to access online information, so getting it back to its glory days is going to be easier said than done.
The new MSN.com
Taking a page from Yahoo!'s (NASDAQ:YHOO) playbook, Microsoft is trying to position MSN.com as a one-stop, information portal. Yahoo! has gone to great lengths to expand the breadth of its coverage, including hiring some big-name news talent like Katie Couric and several ex-New York Times pros, including tech guru David Pogue and editor Megan Liberman, among others.
Keeping up with companies like Yahoo! and becoming an Internet destination of choice isn't going to be easy, but the recent overhaul of MSN.com could help jump-start Microsoft's efforts. A constant influx of new information, particularly in the world of instant news access the Internet allows for (and users have come to expect), isn't something Microsoft or any other portal is able to do alone. Towards that end, Microsoft said it has partnered with 1,300 global publishers to provide a constant flow of current news.
The vice president of Microsoft's information and content division, Brian MacDonald, describes the new MSN.com as being built "from the ground up for a mobile-first, cloud-first world." Clearly, Nadella is never far from anything Microsoft. But MacDonald isn't simply spewing the Microsoft party line; MSN.com does have some new, cloud-related features, too.
Going forward, MSN.com will have what amounts to a services menu lineup across the top of the page, most of which are accessed via Microsoft's cloud services. The default alternatives of the menu include buttons for users to quickly link to services like Skype, OneNote, Microsoft's cloud solution OneDrive, Office, and Outlook. And in a departure from past iterations, there are also quick links to popular non-Microsoft sites, including Facebook and Twitter.
Users will also be able to customize a unique version of MSN.com to allow for a more personalized online experience. Rumor has it Microsoft also intends to roll out new Bing apps wrapped in MSN.com clothing, and make them Android and iOS compatible.
Was the old MSN.com that bad?
Once an Internet destination mainstay both domestically and around the world, MSN.com has steadily slid down the Internet popularity rankings. In the all-important U.S. market, MSN.com ranks a paltry 26 on the list of most visited websites. In the recent global list of most popular websites from Alexa, MSN.com stands at a respectable 10, but a mere fraction of fourth-ranked Yahoo!, which boasts 750 million estimated monthly visitors compared to MSN.com's 280 million.
Final Foolish thoughts
For Microsoft, a successful MSN.com can translate to significant revenues in a number of ways. Certainly, greater traffic with higher user engagement directly impacts ad revenues, as Yahoo! knows well. But Microsoft also has the benefit of inviting site visitors to try any number of its other products and services, most of which utilize the cloud. Maybe Nadella's mobile-first, cloud-first mantra actually does apply to the soon-to-be-released MSN.com.
The new, content-rich, customizable MSN.com is certainly a step in the right direction. Will it bring back visitors used to relying on the Yahoo!'s of the world for up-to-the-second news? That will take some time and continued tweaking. But in the meantime, it's not hard to imagine ancillary sales of Office 365, OneDrive, and other incremental revenue gains as a result of MSN.com clawing its way back to relevancy.
Tim Brugger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Facebook, Twitter, and Yahoo. The Motley Fool owns shares of Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, and Yahoo. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.