02 June 2010
Searching Now Trends
by Dan Dixon, Web Reach Consulting
In the world of search, Google has held all the cards for a long while. With Yahoo spinning their wheels and no other contenders in site, it at one time seemed that Big G was destined to be dominant for the eminent future. But alas, recently Microsoft has stepped up with a new search engine that's getting a lot of buzz. But is Microsoft Bing too little too late?
Bing's Strategic Approach
In order to understand why Bing is growing in popularity, we first need to review the angle they're taking to reel in new searchers. The most prominent difference in strategy is Bing's willingness to integrate elements of commercial influence in search.
It may seem trivial to some that Bing has secured exclusive rights to be the default search engine on any Verizon Blackberry, but this is certainly a concern to search engine industry members who value the organic nature of Google search. Searchers don't want to have to work around limitations created by Microsoft strategic partnerships, so it should also matter to you on some level.
Another example is the Bing Cashback program. Microsoft has entered into partnerships with several retailers to integrate 'ads' for programs that provide cash back when searchers make a purchase at an online store after being directed there by a Bing Shopping search. While this may allure searchers looking to save a few bucks, it contrasts with Google's more organic approach.
This isn't to say that Google is free of ads. There was certainly some upheaval when Google announced they would place sponsored listings in the middle of organic search results a few years back. Nevertheless, Google was founded on organic search results and has held strong to this principal despite the potential to increase profits by entering into partnerships.
What Bing Has Accomplished
Bing has caught up with or surpassed Google on a variety of impressive fronts. A short review of those areas where Google needs to catch up will help us understand why Bing is generating some buzz (in addition to the word of mouth by those flashy television ads).
- Helpful Sidebar Links Based on Queries: Bing's sidebar provides more and better options related to your search, as well as clickable search history links. This feature helps novice searchers find what they are looking for, and makes it easier for experienced searchers to quickly find desired information.
- More on this Page feature: Bing provides the ability for searchers to view a preview of search result pages via an expandable arrow that previews content and provides other details. This is another user-friendly feature that helps searchers locate their desired content quickly.
- Image Search: Bing image searches return results which are sorted better and have more easily usable features than Google can presently offer.
- Video Search: Bing video searches return results from more sources, and provides a better user interface in their search results than Google.
What's All This Chatter About Bing Maps?
One area where Bing has certainly raised the bar for Google is their Maps innovations. Both Google and Bing have strong features for satellite views and other aerial location images. Although these vary slightly, the biggest development in the world of search engine Maps of late has been the Bing Photosynth feature, which allows users to stitch together multiple images to make a panorama. Bing Maps searchers are no longer limited to a single perspective view of the location they are looking for; they can see a much more complete 'Bird's Eye View' picture of a given area. This allows searchers to learn more about businesses in the area, interstate access, and more. Considering the level of innovation that Google reached with their Google Earth application, and the later integration into Google Maps, it's quite an impressive that Microsoft one-upped them here. Bing Maps still has a way to go, but they have been developing partnerships (surprise) that suggest that they are in it for the long-haul.
Bing's Achilles Heel: Search Result Quality
In the end, a search engine should return the best results, and here is where Bing still lags behind. Google's algorithm is significantly better at handling complex search results factors such as synonyms and contextual search elements, and thus will usually return better qualified search results. It's going to be hard for Bing to catch up here. Google has a huge head start and nobody has gained ground on them in this search quality in over a decade. To their credit, Microsoft realizes this and has admitted to Bing being a first step in the right direction rather than the giant leap it would take to catch up with or surpass Google in search quality. But the question is: do they REALLY want to catch up? They seem to be taking a different angle, one of user-friendly features and new innovations around online behavioral trends.
The Last Word
Bing has done a great job of creating a search engine that helps novice searchers find what they are looking for, especially in terms of shopping and commerce. Bing has also succeeded in getting Google's attention by innovating in areas of increasing online interest, such as images, videos and maps. These innovations should get Google's attention, and help Bing catch up their search result quality a little bit in the meantime.
Google is still the pacesetter in providing quality, relevant search result content for their users, and will be in the near (and likely distant) future. What Bing has done is impressive, and being backed by Microsoft and their many strategic partnerships ensures they will stay in the race as long as they have the motivation to do so.
But in the end, this search industry professional recommends sticking with Google for their search quality and overwhelming market share. Nevertheless, don't forget about Bing – especially if you surf the web more casually. And keep in mind that Bing isn't competing on the same playing field as Google; their strategic intent is more targeted towards shopping, multimedia, and speedy searches. It's a terrific angle that is probably here to stay.
And, if nothing else, the presence of Bing helps ensure that Google will stay on their toes. Which is ultimately in everyone's best interest.