With the revamped search engine it announced this morning — dubbed Bing — Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) is introducing new ways to sort and manipulate search results in hopes of finally challenging Google (NSDQ: GOOG). Bing offers real improvements over its Mountain View rival in offering a cleaner interface and in instantly categorizing many results by relevant topics. It also provides a simple way to preview results without having to load a new page. (More on Bing’s features below and on the strategy behind it here).
But after a week of using Bing and Google against each other, I can report that Bing has a major shortcoming: No matter how useful those features were, the quality of the results in my searches — when I looked beyond likely common queries like “UPS” or airport codes — was never better than those offered by *Google*. For the most part, the results on the two search engines were basically the same. But sometimes, the Bing results were actually inferior.
I noticed two general problems: Bing didn’t seem to surface recent web pages as quickly as Google did. (For instance, while searching for the address of an apartment, I found that day’s Craigslist posting at the top of the Google search results but it was nowhere on the Bing page. I had the same experience while looking for a current article in a local weekly paper.) Also, Bing did not appear to be pulling its results from as wide an assortment of sites as Google. (For instance, I couldn’t find a photo of myself on Bing, while there were two in Google’s image results).
Microsoft likely doesn’t expect to get Google searchers to switch to Bing as their primary search engine right away. Instead, the company has touted data showing that people are used to using multiple search engines. And Bing’s new features certainly give users reasons to try out another option.
But if I’m going to use one search engine more than another (i.e. make it the default in my browser), I want to be confident that I’m not missing out on results that I might find via another search engine. And after my week-long trial, I don’t have that confidence with Bing.
As promised, here are some of Bing’s new features that I liked:
— Previews of results: Hover to the right of results and a box shows up featuring a preview of the text on that page, offering a way to gauge whether that’s the result you want without having to navigate to a new page.
— Categories: Search for some queries — like a car brand or a famous person — and results are immediately broken down into relevant categories — like reviews or biographies.
— Best matches: Some Google queries (such as “5 + 5″) return only the one, obvious result. Bing, though, takes this much further. Many common search queries — such as “UPS” — return only the one “best match,” along with specific information that a searcher who entered that query might be looking for, such as in the case of “UPS” a customer service number as well as blank field to enter a tracking number.
— A clean interface: There’s a useful left-hand column, which includes a listing of recent queries a searcher has looked for as well as “related searches” for many results.
— Smarts: Search for “weather” and Bing will give you the weather wherever you are. Similarly, enter two airport codes (or two cities along with the words “tickets”) and the search engine will return the price of the cheapest airfare between them.
I was also reminded of existing features in Microsoft’s search engine that I had forgotten about (or did not know existed). For instance, image results can be sorted by very specific criteria (like “just faces” or “just head and shoulders”). And you don’t have to click to get to the next page with images. Instead, the thumbnails continue to load as one scrolls down the page. And with local search, typing in the name of a restaurant returns a capsule that provides a quick snapshot of reviews culled from Yelp and Citysearch.