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The Battle of Bing: it’s Operation #BingFriday

Search engine, or rather, “decision engine,” Bing, is stepping up the pace.  It’s seen a weakness in the armour of the Google giant and it’s moving in to occupy some search territory.

The question is: is this a reckless, audacious move by Microsoft, or is it a calculated, brilliantly timed attack to register its authority in a near-monopoly market?

In the US, Bing has already gained ground, with a reported 15.1% share of US internet queries.  This is an increase from 13.9% in March 2011, so it’ll be interesting to watch how this develops and to see the effect it has on the UK market.

Getting past enemy lines

One of the biggest challenges facing Bing is partly down to behaviour.  For many, searching for information online has become synonymous with the phrase, “Google it.”  This isn’t going to change overnight, but that’s not to say it can’t be achieved given time.

Many people in the search industry feel there needs to be a sudden, notable development in technology to encourage people to switch to Bing.

Plan of attack

As brilliant as Google is, has it got a little too big for its boots of late?

Most write ups on the recently released, “Google Search Plus Your World,” seem to focus on the negative, concluding that Google+ is not “our world.”

While Google’s “non-SEO” audience may be unaware of what “Search Plus Your World” actually means, there’s no hiding from its new privacy guidelines, which has received yet another wave of criticism.

However, for those who have evaded the news, we can all rely on the brave and valiant Bing to keep everyone informed as to the big G’s intentions via a print campaign in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and USA Today.

Tools in the armoury

While Bing in the UK has a way to go to persuade the search community to switch from the incumbent, it is certainly making waves in the US with lots of exciting developments.

People are “Binging it” left, right and centre in the States, inspired by the new adverts, which encourage “doing” rather than just searching.

How long before we start to see more of this in the UK and Europe, and the words “Bing it!” become commonplace?  Will you “Bing it” today?

Occupied territory: a future with Bing

It feels like Bing has suddenly grown up and has a new found confidence to stick out its chest and be heard.  Its lucrative relationship with Facebook and Twitter, which gives them access to reams of social data that Google does not, helps position it as the younger, cooler kid on the block that’s perhaps more “in touch” with what today’s users want.

It offers more than just search; it’s a decision engine that’s helping us to discover new things and inspire us not just to search, but to do.  Just check out the new Bing ads in the US.

All things considered, Google is still at the forefront of everything we do as an agency, but ultimately, who wouldn’t welcome a bit of healthy competition.

We’re really excited about Bing, and look forward to seeing how the search landscape evolves over the next few years.  However, the SEO community is never short of an opinion or two, so we’re sharing with you some of the insight we’ve gathered from some real industry heavyweights in answer to the following three questions:

1.    What does Bing have to do to get on terms with, or surpass, Google as the most used search engine?

2.    What will the search landscape look like in five years from now so far as Bing is concerned?

3.    If you had three wishes for a search engine, what would they be and why?

Adam Stafford, Managing Director, Fresh Egg

@adam_staff

1.    What does Bing have to do to get on terms with, or surpass, Google as the most used search engine?

There currently seems to be a healthy appetite to welcome another strong competitor to the search arena.  The idea of having an alternative search engine to Google is an exciting and welcoming change – after all, strong competition can result in innovation.  I personally feel it is time for Bing to step up to the plate, and I feel they are getting themselves aligned perfectly to make a difference for how search works in the future.

The knee jerk reaction to change around personalisation is altering.  Although still one of the most important areas for any search giant to tackle, I feel the majority of people are starting to become less worried about the ‘big brother’ sensitivity that often accompanies the subject.

With the correct approach of transparency and choice I feel personalisation and general shared social data is the most viable means to developing search as we know it today.  This is where I am excited about the prospects for Bing – imagine how far it can begin to push search innovation with the relationships it has with Facebook and Twitter.  This is something that certainly can’t be ignored.

There would be no harm to consider these three points; be transparent, give choice to users, and choose your technology partners wisely!

2.    What will the search landscape look like in five years from now so far as Bing is concerned?

Search will most definitely contain more personalisation and will be heavily influenced by social data.  Five years is a long time in this industry and without the help of Mystic Meg to pinpoint the possibilities, the opportunities for development are endless – a reason for why I love my job.

Other influencing factors that will change the landscape will of course include mobile.  Let’s see how the big players handle privacy, and how they can build confidence with their users; the more confident people become the more they will be willing to share.  The amount of data we/businesses choose to share will influence how search will evolve in the future.

3.    If you had three wishes for a search engine, what would they be and why?

•    Be honest with your users and be transparent about what you are doing

•    Give users a clearer choice for how they want to receive their search results

•    Let Fresh Egg know the intricate details of your algorithm; it would save us a tonne of research time.

 

Bas van den Beld, Founder, State of Search

Twitter @basvandenbeld

1.       What does Bing have to do to get on terms with, or surpass, Google as the most used search engine?

First off all they have to roll out internationally.  Just having the 'real' Bing in the US and part of the real Bing in other English native speaking countries just isn't enough.  To actually get something going they need to roll out quickly.

Next thing they have to do is focus on the 'clarity.' Give people exactly what they want: clear results and social results next to it, not integrated like Google, but separate. People will be startled at first by Google and Bing, but this will offer a clear and clean alternative, which people can turn to.

2.       What will the search landscape look like in five years from now so far as Bing is concerned?

Looking at last year trying to predict the future in the search landscape is difficult and dangerous.

But I would say it can go two ways for Bing: if they can get things together quickly they might have a chance of grabbing market share.  If there ever is a time to grab that share, it is now.

If they don't act quickly my guess is that in five years they will have merged or have been bought by other companies like Facebook or Apple for example.

3.       If you had three wishes for a search engine, what would they be and why?

•    Better results, showed in a different way.  The way search results are presented is still very 1998 and should be much more intuitive.  Many of the results are even not related enough to the query.  Besides that it feels like you only get the top of the iceberg of results where there is so much more valuable content

•    Search everything, from the web to what is in your regular shop to where you left your keys in the house

•    More competition.  Competition keeps a search engine innovative and refreshing.

 

Linus Gregoriadis, Research Director, Econsultancy

Twitter @LinusGreg

1.       What does Bing have to do to get on terms with, or surpass, Google as the most used search engine?

It will take a dramatic development in technology or perceptions of brand to change the behaviour of so many consumers who automatically use Google, either through preference or because it is the default engine on their devices.

Microsoft's best hope in the short term is that consumers notice a deterioration in the relevance of Google's search engine results pages (SERPs), possibly as a result of its rival's (some would say over-zealous) efforts to promote Google+ through the launch of initiatives such as Search, plus Your World.

A USP for Bing is its partnerships with Facebook and Twitter, which allow Microsoft to tap into social data which is beyond Google's reach. This doesn't currently enable it to deliver substantially better search results, but it may do in the future. The on-going partnership between Facebook and Microsoft could be pivotal.

Both companies need to make sure that they evolve their search algorithms quickly, but without a negative impact on perceptions of SERPs quality caused through inappropriate or injudicious use of social data. The extent to which Bing is able to close the gap remains to be seen, and would likely be the result of significant erosion of trust in Google.

2.       What will the search landscape look like in five years from now so far as Bing is concerned?

By 2017, Microsoft will be hoping that it is reaping dividends from its enormous investment in search technology.

Senior managers involved with Bing will hope that it emerges as the winner, as a result of the paradigm shift in search technology, namely that advances in its algorithms (whether driven by semantic search or social data) render irrelevant the old-school SEO factors which have cemented Google's position as the world leader in search.

Microsoft will also hope that it has negotiated the choppy waters of data privacy legislation and lobbyists more adroitly than its biggest rival, using data to serve more relevant results (blending search and display) in a way that doesn't alienate its users.

3.       If you had three wishes for a search engine, what would they be and why?

•    Mind-reading - an engine which knows what I'm thinking based on behaviour (but without intruding too much on my privacy and 'being evil')

•    Does what is says on the tin - there isn't too much tinkering to the user interface and SERPs as we know them

•    Skew towards Econsultancy - Econsultancy comes out at the top of the listings for any search relating to digital marketing and e-commerce!

 

Will Critchlow, Founder, Distilled

Twitter @willcritchlow

1.       What does Bing have to do to get on terms with, or surpass, Google as the most used search engine?

If I knew the answer to this question, I'd be worth billions of dollars... I don't feel like Google will be surpassed by a "better" search engine along the axes we have used up until now. I suspect that either the expectations will change (e.g. with personalisation and social search) and a weakness or vulnerability will emerge or a start-up will redefine the space.

Unfortunately, this side of the pond, the most practical answer I can come up with is to lobby for some restraints on Google under anti-monopoly laws.

In the US, I suppose there is a chance that Google could alienate enough users if they stray too far from what got them here and Bing could pick up the pieces, but I wouldn't count on it.

2.       What will the search landscape look like in five years from now so far as Bing is concerned?

Bold prediction: Microsoft will have sold Bing to Facebook.

3.       If you had three wishes for a search engine, what would they be and why?

•    I'm bullish on the integration of social into search.  I personally like having results my contacts have shared interspersed with regular organic results.  I hope someone gets that properly right

•    I like power-user features, e.g. the kind of thing blekko keeps rolling out

•    Better webmaster features – an API for rank checking, keyword data passed downstream, more intuitive webmaster tools etc.

 

Kelvin Newman, Creative Director, Site Visibility

Twitter @kelvinnewman

1.    What does Bing have to do to get on terms with, or surpass, Google as the most used search engine?

It’s a tough challenge, being a little bit better isn’t going to be enough.  Most people don’t think Google’s broken so why should they change?

I think their attempts to nail certain times of searches is a good one, knowing they’re the place to search for hotels or certain types of products is the only way I can envision myself switching.

I think the Google privacy issue is a misnomer, it might play well in the blogosphere, but it’s not something that ‘normal people’ care about.

2.    What will the search landscape look like in five years from now so far as Bing is concerned?

Five years? I’ll have a hover board by then.

I think nobody knows how things are going to shake out and my strong belief is only a start-up search engine that focuses entirely on search will stand a chance of taking on Google. Perhaps one of those might rise up and maybe Microsoft will by it.

3.    If you had three wishes for a search engine, what would they be and why?

•    I’m quite keen on certain aspects of personalisation but I wish it was more sophisticated, I like seeing forums and blogs when making informational searches not ecommerce sites with the word review snuck on them, my search behaviour must indicate this so hopefully personalisation will influence that

•    I think Search+ will make good steps but I often find myself struggling to find a page I visited six months ago and desperately want to re-find, that’s the sort of content personalisation should do more to highlight

•    I’d like some clever way to exclude sites on a search by search basis if I know it’s not going to fulfil my search query. I know I can do that with advanced operators but I’m lazy.

 

Dave Naylor, Director, Bronco

Twitter @bronco

1.    What does Bing have to do to get on terms with, or surpass, Google as the most used search engine?

More users!  But relevancy is the main factor in my opinion, they need to understand more about what a search term means.  If it’s a commercial term like “Loans” why show Wikipedia, or even “windows 7 download” where they are not targeting the results properly showing the official site at number 2.

2.       What will the search landscape look like in five years from now so far as Bing is concerned?

What will it look like, hmmm tough one.  I would like to think that Bing is smart but history has proven wrong before in the past, but better integration into win7 phones, tablets, desktop and xbox via cloud computing will only work when they get webmasters involved creating buzz about them.

Just look at the marketing industry we blog every little thing that Google does yet Bing just slowly rolls on.  They need better outreach and more communication with webmasters and the community.

3.    If you had three wishes for a search engine, what would they be and why?

•    Tools and data : because I’m greedy I use Google tools all day long, the flip side for Google is I end up using their search

•    Relevancy: there is nothing worse than trying to find something and you can’t. Bing is still the worst for delivering bad results and bad PPC ads (there is no reason for Bad PPC). Example: "Cheap Windows 7"

•    An easy way to sort issues out that is open and transparent on both sides.

 

Martin Macdonald, Head of SEO, OMD

@searchmartin

1.    What does Bing have to do to get on terms with, or surpass, Google as the most used search engine?

Competing with, or even surpassing Google can only really be achieved by changing the default user behaviour a good deal of the internet population have become accustomed to over the last decade.

That isn’t something that can be won easily with development of the algorithm to be ‘better’ than the competition, or even by providing more ”one-box-esque”  services – it will only be achieved by having a strong, distinct identity.

They got off to a good start with the graphically rich homepage, and if they carry on down that path of differentiation then they could take a market slice out of google, as bandwidth increases and the need to stick to the ten blue link ethos is reduced.

The other major advantage that they could leverage, but are yet to really nail – is their own social integration.  Just how much data they can access from Facebook still remains to be seen, and with the launch of GSPYW they have arguably lost any lead they had but G+ isn’t going to take over facebook any time soon, and if Bing could integrate social recommendations into results well, it could be very powerful.

2.    What will the search landscape look like in five years from now so far as Bing is concerned?

The wider question is more of “what will search look like in five years”.

There are a lot of variables in play here, for example if Facebook (or any other platform) really nail social search in an innovative and useful way then it could radically change the way we search.

Presuming that doesn’t happen, Bing really need to have tight integration into the full stable of Microsoft devices from traditional desktops through to mobile handsets.  Unfortunately unless there are some pretty generational type advances in store over the next year or two, it’s hard to see how they would compete against Apple/Android in mobile, and windows8 will have to be pretty astounding to take on iOS and Android the tablet market.

3.    If you had three wishes for a search engine, what would they be and why?

•    Much improved duplicate content recognition and source attribution – let’s get rid of those scrapers!

•    Further controls through webmaster tools, for instance the ability to change landing pages for specific keywords easily, and fool proof parameter handling

•    Social citations to be included as part of the main index, not dropping social results as a layer on top of the normal results.

 

Dave Coplin, Director of Search, Advertising & Online UK, Microsoft

@dcoplin

1.    What does Bing have to do to get on terms with, or surpass, Google as the most used search engine?

A really, really interesting question and one to which the answer isn’t as obvious as you might think.

I think the key point here is all about the value proposition to the consumer and to that extent it’s really about how we see the internet and the people that use it evolving.

At Bing we feel we have a fundamentally different philosophy on the true potential of search in terms of what role it needs to play in supporting the needs of a modern (digital) society.  We are moving from a world where people used search to “find” things, (e.g. answering topic-based questions, providing more information on a given topic etc), to a world where search is the vehicle we use to “do” things, to achieve an outcome like finding a job, buying a camera or organising a night out or a holiday.

We tend to think about search not just in terms of “organising information” but more in terms of it being the “user interface” for the internet and all the value it has to offer.

Today, most people start their internet journey with a search query and understanding the potential and power of that is crucial to the future of the search industry.  Microsoft fundamentally gets the importance, power and value of search and sees it as a strategic part of our overall propositions to both consumers and (business) customers.

You are beginning to see that strategy shine through right across our product landscape, with Bing being increasingly used across the unique and incredible breadth of products and technologies that Microsoft has within its estate.  Today Bing is the engine powering discovery on devices such as XBOX and Windows Phone – and this is just the beginning.

2.    What will the search landscape look like in five years from now so far as Bing is concerned?

We live in incredible times and I think the search industry is at a key point in its evolution.

The internet has fundamentally changed since its original inception – even our use of the web today is dramatically different to how we used it just five years ago.

The topic-based usage that used to be the major part of the service has been supplemented (and in some senses superseded) by a much richer experience, one which brings together the warmth of a rich, human (social) signal, a broader awareness and understanding of context (location and devices) along with an entirely new metaphor of usage (apps).

Search has to respond to that challenge, it is no longer enough to simply organise information. Both today and in the near future search has to get better at connecting the dots and delivering a much more cohesive experience that is much more reflective of how we use technology to augment and improve our physical world.

For Bing, that means continued focus on the collection and cohesion of services that enable a richer experience along with becoming even more prevalent across a multitude of screens and devices.  If we’re successful, ironically, search will be much less visible as it will be something that becomes a natural, embedded part of the activity or outcome we are looking to achieve rather than a completely separate place.

3.    If you had three wishes for a search engine, what would they be and why?

•    Transparent – embedded in to the thing I am trying to do, not a separate place or activity

•    Connected – not in terms of “networked” but in terms of intent.  I want search to join up multiple elements into a single instance. For example, booking a holiday, I want to be able to discover locations and activities, book travel and accommodation

•    Trusted – I think relevance, although important is just one part of the service.  In addition to relevance, I also need trust.  In some ways, trust actually trumps relevance – a less relevant, but trusted result is of more value than a relevant, untrusted one.  In reality I need both.

 



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