I’ve been giving Bing a lot of second looks lately, largely because it’s still the biggest story in SEO circles. The cynical way to look at Bing is that they will succeed if Microsoft pays out enough in advertising for the site – and in my experience, cynical opinions are usually right. My other cynical opinion on this is that SEO firms will immediately push their Bing-optimizing services, even though the jury’s still out on whether you need to worry, and there’s still so little information on what Bing looks for in a web site.
But so what? We can at least assume Bing will be with us for a few years to come, between Microsoft’s deep pockets and their acquisition of Yahoo!’s search platform. But Ask.com has been around for years and years, and they can hardly be called, “competitive” with Google just for that. If Bing is going to become something you need to worry about for your SEO campaign, Google is going to need to screw up badly first.
Consider how people perform searches on engines that aren’t Google. These happen in three ways:
1. People are getting their e-mail or checking news on a competitor’s site, and perform a search from that page.
In other words, Google is almost always people’s first choice for search. Even if Bing puts together their 25% block of the search market through their deal with Yahoo!, a lot of that 25% of users will still be Google users first. Granted, Yahoo! is still the most popular web mail service, so there will still be a lot of first-run Bing searchers coming from there. But Gmail is the second most widely used, and Yahoo! is in mid-tailspin as a company, or they wouldn’t have ever made this deal with Microsoft. So it is in Bing’s best interest that Yahoo! Mail not fall apart the way the rest of Yahoo! is. If it does, and people leave it in droves, they’ll go to Gmail, and that will shrink that 25% of searchers further.
2. People aren’t happy with the results they get on Google, so they try a competitor.
Of course, people by and large aren’t unhappy with Google results. Bing does find results differently from Google – they appear to be more interested in the exact search phrase entered, rather than finding sites that seem relevant to the query. (In other words, it gives you what you say you want to find, rather than assume what you want to find.) If people come to find this more relevant to what they wanted than the Google method, they could pull ahead. Still, this will take a level of sensitivity from search engine users they aren’t normally credited with. The average searcher doesn’t actively compare results, they just keep looking until they’ve found what they’re looking for. With Google as the predominant first choice, it is still their game to lose.
3. People are curious about some new “development” they’ve read about, and give the competitor a try.
While Bing is still talking a lot about being a “decision engine,” no one is seeing any proof of this – whatever it may mean. Bing had a huge spike in traffic during it’s launch, which you’d expect from all the press that generated. That has leveled off, however, suggesting people aren’t sticking with Bing because it isn’t better. If they were, they would still be increasing in unique visitors – the people who now use them exclusively, and the people still visiting them for the first time because of the press. If Bing was really magnificently better than Google, the launch would have been the time to prove it.
Bing is simply going to have to do more than improve their search algorithm if they want to compete with Google. Proving their results are “better” won’t work, since results from both are strikingly similar. If you want to give it a shot, go to BlindSearch and try your luck. This site gives you results from Google, Bing and Yahoo, without telling you which is which. Then it asks you which source you think had the best results. Only then do you find out which you thought was best. So far, the results show Google leads, but only by a little – proving my own point, that they’re all close enough no one can really spot the difference.
Search results would have to be pretty bad – as in, MSN bad – for the average user to notice a difference. Bing does not bring drastic enough a difference to search for it to become a breakout hit with users. This is exactly why Google was a breakout hit: More relevant results delivered faster than what was available at the time.
If there is a Google-killer on the horizon – and certainly there will be one – it will come from someone who has developed a radically different and better way of finding information on the web.
That isn’t Bing, and that’s why it will remain second in search. (Unless, as I say, Google manages to really screw things up.)