Interview: Microsoft Search Director Weitz On The Strategy Behind ‘Bing’

imageSure, Google’s dominance of search has been growing by the month, but Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) insists it has identified what would appear to be a glaring opening: It says its own research shows that people are actually often let down by the search engines they use. (That’s Microsoft’s way of saying that it thinks that even though lots of people use Google (NSDQ: GOOG), a good chunk of them don’t really like it.)

In an interview with paidContent about the revamp of its search engine, which the company unveiled this morning, Microsoft Live Search Director Stefan Weitz acknowledges it won’t be easy to get people to change their habits. “People are not waking up every morning saying we need a new search engine,” he says. But Weitz outlined three broad areas where its data suggests that Microsoft can differentiate itself with Bing, the name for the new iteration of its search engine. Many searchers end up giving up out of frustration, Weitz says, so Bing tries to do a better job of getting people directly to the information they want, in part by surfacing more “instant answers” in the results. It also tries to organize searches more intelligently by providing lists of “related searches” and breaking down results by category. Finally, many people want to use search engines to accomplish specific tasks, like to purchase a plane ticket or to find reviews of a restaurant, so Microsoft is introducing some new features to facilitate that. (See “My Week With Bing” for a critique.)

Excerpts below from our interview with Weitz.

Real-time search is all the rage nowadays. Why isn’t there some sort of real-time search function in Bing?

There is. Real-time is characterized in a number of ways. You can look at RSS feeds and mine those for fast changes. It will be pulling in news stuff from half an hour ago — right into the results. We aren’t doing anything in the user experience with Twitter. We have folks looking at what we do there.

What’s in Bing for advertisers?

The goal frankly is for us to add additional query volume to the site. The conversions are really great with Live Search. The problem is they don’t have enough eyeballs. Beyond that, enhancements were done in the AdCenter product.

What are the risks involved with Bing for Microsoft?

There are risks to not doing anything honestly. One of the benefits in being where we are is that we can actually do a lot of riskier things that don’t necessarily risk the Microsoft business. The product we’re shipping out there — things like the UI, the grouping of results — hasn’t changed that much in the last 12 years.

There’s a list of companies that have tried to do radical departures. People have abandoned [them] not willing to relearn the search interface because [there are] no switching costs. One thing I’m mostly worried [about] — are people going to appreciate — are they going to use and want to use the modified interface.

Why did Microsoft pick this name for its search engine?

We know our current brand doesn’t have great recognition. As we sharpened up the product, as we got clear about what the product was going to do [we wanted] something clear, different and which would stand for something. The brand is important. What we did is choose something that is going to help us break through in the consumer mind.