Is Bing a Google-Killer? Not Even Close.

By Janet Driscoll Miller | Jun 15, 2009
More Articles by Janet


Microsoft launched Bing approximately two weeks ago amid great fanfare — a $100M ad campaign, including TV commercials and redirecting MSN traffic to Bing. But is the newly created search engine all it’s cracked up to be? Does it live up to its claims of providing more relevant search results? In my humble opinion, Bing was not “ready for primetime.” It’s my personal belief that Steve Ballmer rushed to market with Bing in a desperate move to try to compete with Google — only to release a lackluster product. However, I guess that’s not uncommon for Microsoft, given their history with other products with many bugs at release, including Vista, Internet Explorer and more.

Relevancy of Search Results

One of Bing’s claims has been that it provides more relevant results than other search engines, including Google. Avelyn Austin wrote a great blog post the other day about search relevancy, in which she did a search for the term “search engines” in a variety of search engines, including Bing, and compared the results. Did the search engines actually include themselves in their own listings for this keyword phrase that was highly relevant to them?

The answer? Bing did not rank at all in its own index for the term “search engines”. It ranked many other search engines but not itself. Ask.com was the only search engine that did it right — Ask ranked itself #1 for the term “search engines”. Isn’t it ironic that Bing does not consider itself the most relevant search result for the term “search engines”?

Additionally, like Google Universal Search results, Bing’s combination of images, video, and other content alongside of the web results is flawed. For instance, on the same query for “search engines”, Bing adds image results to the top over the web results. Really? Images of search engines are the most relevant result for that search? Not quite.

Clustered Topic Areas

Clustering technology for search results has actually been around for many years now. In 2004, Vivismo Software launched Clusty, a search engine that clusters results based on topic area. For instance, a search for “shoes” on Clusty yields many clustered topic options to narrow your search, including “women’s shoes”, “designer shoes”, “Nike”, and more. But Clusty never really caught on and failed to become a major player in the search engine space.

Was it lack of brand recognition? Possibly. But inevitably, users of Google and other search engines began to realize that broad search terms like “shoes” didn’t really yield relevant results. For instance, a search on the term “shoes” in Google today yields information such as news about the shoe bomber. Thus, if you were looking to purchase shoes, these results would not be terribly relevant to your search.

But then something happened. We as searchers became more evolved in the way we search — in essence reducing the need for clustering technology. Over time, as we learned that one-word, broad terms did not yield relevant results to our search goal, we as searchers evolved into becoming more specific in our search query phrasing — and thus long tail search was also born.

Hitwise has tracked query string length for several years. Over the past five years, longer search phrases have seen a great increase as searchers become more saavy at how to use search phrases to get the most relevant result to their search goal. ForwardLeap.com created this graph to display the search query data:

Number of Words in Search Query

Bing Shopping Results

I was at SMX Advanced in Seattle when Bing launched, and I was able to get a demo at the Bing booth by some Microsoft staff. The first thing I noticed, as an SEO professional, was how the organic search results were organized as I analyzed how I would need to adjust process to help clients improve their Bing rankings. The search used in the demonstration was for a product — the Canon 40d digital camera. This search yields a shopping result that appears directly below the top two sponsored ads and above the organic results — really blended in a way with the organic results area:

Bing Shopping Sample

The shopping result is an aggregate of many sites that offer a particular product. Click on the shopping result to reveal the various participating sites:

Bing Shopping Sample 2

Notice that the sites are aggregated into a table on this page, similar to the way Google Shopping aggregates results. Fantastic! But as a search engine marketer, my first question was “How does my client get their site into this aggregation and thus gain visibility?”.

I looked over the entire page and found no clear way for advertisers to submit their products to the aggregated page. So I decided to go to the Shopping area of Bing directly to find out how advertisers become included. Bing Shopping indicated that MSN Shopping is now the Bing Shopping area. But amazingly, when I did a search for the “Canon 40d” in the Shopping area of Bing instead of from the main search box on Bing’s home page, I got 31 retailers who carry this camera — listed on Bing Shopping. Yet for some reason, only 2 retailers were listed for this product in Bing’s aggregation. And as the screen shot above shows, participation in the Bing Cashback program (an incentive program for advertisers and buyers from Bing) does NOT guarantee inclusion in that table (notice that Amazon.com Marketplace DOES NOT paticipate and is included in the table).

The table is actually pulled from the top aggregated Bing Shopping result, which only shows two results. But there were many more relevant results for this search — just aggregated in Bing Shopping under various titles that did not happen to rank first in the results.

The Key to Ecommerce Ranking: If you are an ecommerce vendor and concerned about ranking in the Bing aggregate table, be sure to find out what the top result “title” is in Bing Shopping, then title your product that way when uploading products to Bing Shopping to ensure that you will show up in the first result and the aggragate table.

Bing Advertising

A few days ago, Tad Miller of Search Mojo wrote a blog post about the flaws with Bing advertising. Here’s an excerpt from that post on how and when advertisements will appear on Bing — taken verbatim from what Microsoft reps told us:

  • If the organic listings are notably more relevant than the paid listings, then no ads will show.
  • Paid listings must meet a minimum CTR threshold of .08% to be considered relevant enough to show.  This means fewer ads, but also less competition.
  • If one organic listing is notably the most relevant of all listings (for example when searching for a specific company), then sometimes that organic listing will show as the “best match” with links below it to the most requested pages on the site.

WOW. So in some cases, as an advertiser, you can submit your ads, they can meet editorial criteria, but Bing can decide, somehow, that they are less relevant than the organic listings and refuse to show your ad. Seems like a ridiculous revenue model for Microsoft. This, above all things, proved to me that Microsoft (who really doesn’t need revenue from Bing), will even sacrifice revenue generation to try to beat Google — by claiming that their results are more relevant. Doesn’t seem like a prudent long-term strategy to be a Google-killer.

Bing Maps

Like Google, Bing also includes maps and local listings. However, it too is not really ready for primetime. For instance, a search for my town, Charlottesville, Va., doesn’t even result in a map listing in the main results. But the same search in the Maps section DOES yield results — so there are results for Charlottesville, but apparently not important enough to put on the first page of search results, unlike the case with Seattle and other cities.

Performance Thus Far

So how has it fared thus far? Compete.com recently reported on the search engine market share for Microsoft both before the Bing launch and after:

Search Engine Market Share

The interesting thing about these statistics is that, even after the launch of Bing with all of its fanfare, while Bing is increasing its marketshare in the search engine space, it’s not effectively taking that existing marketshare from either Google or Yahoo!, but rather from other smaller trafficked engines. Compete reports that while “new searchers are exploring Bing, but they haven’t forsaken their preferred engines and made the switch completely.

Summary

In summary, is Bing a threat to Google? Not at this point. I’m not sure that Bing is even a real threat to Yahoo!. So will Microsoft achieve its goal to beat Google with Bing? No. Here’s why:

  • In his zealousness to try to beat Google, Ballmer has overlooked a very important element — it’s not about the “bling of Bing” — it’s about functionality. It’s about doing it BETTER than Google to capture marketshare. Rushing Bing to market wasn’t the right answer, especially when it is subpar to Google’s current offerings. Microsoft will never get this right because they ALWAYS release products before they should, and they are constantly full of bugs and problems, i.e. Vista.
  • You can’t run a bunch of ads and try to brand “bing” a verb like “google” is a verb. Google didn’t make itself a verb — its users did. And that’s the reality of today’s marketplace — your users define your brand – not you. Microsoft will never understand that paradigm shift.

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