There’s no question that when it comes to their search engine Bing, Microsoft can use all the positive attention it can get.
Launched in 2009, Bing was supposed to take the search world by storm. Labeling itself a “decision engine”, Microsoft was hoping to upend Google as the hip, go-to search engine for a younger demographic. It suggested detailed “You may also like…” alternate searches! It let you share to Facebook! It…had awesome graphics and pictures on the homepage?
So what happened? While it’s hard to say that Bing flopped, it definitely stumbled out of the gate. It was the Zune to Google’s iPod, the Betamax to Google’s VHS. Sure, it worked…but why would you switch over to it when a superior product that you’ve been using for years wasn’t broken?
Trying to put all subsequent versions of Bing (and its predecessors MSN Search and the awful Windows Live Search) in its rearview, Microsoft has revamped Bing and is currently pushing out a huge marketing effort to garner attention, again targeting a younger crowd.
Bing vs Google in a blind results test? Literally losing the shirt off your back? In California, Google’s own back yard? All of these things pale in comparison to the fact that Microsoft is claiming that, in their blind test, they’re beating Google’s results almost 2:1.
I don’t doubt this is true. But I also don’t think it’s a fair fight.
Microsoft has set up a webpage for everyday internet citizens to take the test. And when I did, I noticed a lot of factors that may tip the scales in Bing’s favor instead of staging this competition as a fair fight. You can take the test yourself at Bing It On.
Here are a few stray thoughts and observations:
Bing is up front with the fact that their blind search engine results are stripping out all ads on each result. This includes all paid search ads, but also takes out Google’s shopping results. And yet, Bing’s shopping results are included in their search result. This may not seem like a huge difference, but see for yourself how just a few pictures can make one side of the blind test stand out over the other. That’s Google on the left and Bing on the right. Notice a difference? Why did Bing allow its own shopping results into the test while excluding Google’s?
I did an informal poll around the office, and 40% of my coworkers said that if they were taking the Bing/Google challenge, they would search for some kind of product. If this is true of most people that have taken this test worldwide, that means that in almost half of the test cases, Bing has set itself up with an unfair advantage by showing their shopping results while excluding Google’s.
Another 40% of those I surveyed said they would search for a keyword that was location-based. And guess what? Bing is also excluding all Google Maps/Places graphics from their side-by-side results as well. Since Google’s results page is optimized and laid out to look better when that location information is displayed, completely eliminating it makes their result look junky and poorly laid out. In other words, Bing is eliminating a HUGE piece of Google’s location-based searches in this test, which makes Google’s results look terrible. So in my unofficial office study, we’re now up to 80% of searches that Bing has significantly given their results a leg up in a side-by-side comparison.
If you take the Bing It On challenge, one thing you’ll realize is how hard Bing is trying to make itself look like Google. Even I was amazed sometimes when I thought I was clicking on the Google result as being superior and finding out it was actually Bing. And I work with these search engines every day! So instead of trying something new and different when it comes to search, Bing seems to be trying really hard to out-Google Google. And if that’s their end goal, I wish them all the luck in the world, because that’s a tough mountain to climb. If you don’t believe me, ask Jeeves. Or should I say ‘ask Ask Jeeves’?
The bottom line is that even if you throw out everything I’ve mentioned above and brand me as biased against the Little Decision Engine That Could, it doesn’t change the fact that Bing does not beat Google 2:1 in the ways that immediately pop into your mind when you hear that statistic. In this (in my opinion, slightly biased) Bing It On competition, users on the street may indeed pick the Bing search results over Google 2:1, but that doesn’t mean that Bing has any chance over the next few years to surpass Google in traffic or popularity. Google is built into more of our phones and tablets. Google still has more of the search market covered than every other search engine combined, and it’s not even close.
Maybe Bing will find a place in the marketplace for themselves and thrive as a niche search engine for specific types of demographics. But they have a long way to go for “I should Bing that” to start rolling off the tongue as easily as “I should Google that” does. And while flashy campaigns like the Bing It On test seem like a good way to grab attention, some of their claims don’t seem to hold up under closer inspection.