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Bing Helps Overcome Search Shortcomings, Still No Google-Killer

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bingMicrosoft (s msft) is hoping its new search engine, now questionably branded “Bing,” can grab eyeballs from Google (s goog) and Yahoo (s yhoo) — and is spending $80 million to $100 million on an extensive marketing campaign to make that happen. Its goal: To convince searchers that the “decision engine” in Bing will help them find information better than regular old “search engines.”

But Bing doesn’t fundamentally change the way search works. The service tries its best to help users find information they’re searching for with fewer clicks — and does this quite well for many queries. Searching for “Red Sox” brings up scores from the last few games, the team’s record, and various other statistics. Search for “weather” and Bing does a reverse-IP lookup to figure out where you are and return weather results for that locale. Same thing if you search for “Chinese food.” The travel section of Bing is cool, letting you search for flights within the search engine, incorporating price prediction data from Microsoft’s purchase of Farecast last year, before sending you on to Orbitz or Travelocity to purchase your flight. Bing is a nice revamp of a B-List search product, but lots of small improvements don’t make it revolutionary enough to knock Google off its perch — and neither will an ad campaign.

In an interview with AdAge, a Microsoft exec said:

Search has been about number of results and access to everything, and when you talk to people, they don’t want everything anymore…Less is the new more. [People] want the right things for them.

That’s true, but Bing doesn’t address the fundamental issue with search engines today.

There is an old computing adage that states, “The computer does what you tell it to do, not what you want it to do.” Search engines work the same way. Google returns data based on the search query given — but users don’t know how to craft queries, using obscure commands and symbols, to get the information they want. It’s not Google or Yahoo’s ineffectiveness as a search engine that’s keeping users from finding what they’re looking for — it’s a lack of education in how to search.

When less-sophisticated searchers (my mother, for example) use Google to find information, they aren’t aware of the various tricks to filter results down and get exactly what they’re searching for. Using various boolean strings and site:-type modifiers in searches can quickly narrow a search to just the relevant information. Not knowing these tricks, or how to use them (which is why large universities have trained research librarians and teach classes on how to do research), can be a recipe for search-disaster.

The first ad in Microsoft’s marketing campaign, from JWT North America, came across to me as brash and confusing. An ominous voice-over intones, “While everyone was searching, there was bailing; while everyone was lost in the links, there was collapsing.” I don’t know if essentially comparing the financial crisis to users’ inability to find what they’re looking for on the Internet is exactly accurate. Ty Montague, chief creative officer at JWT, told AdAge, “We’ve been lulled into thinking it’s OK to spend two hours doing something that should have taken a few minutes.”

Bing is better at some things — a search for “cell phone” prompts the user with options for news, buying guides, providers and plans. However, if users had a better search query than the über-general “cell phone,” they would get considerably better search results. Will Microsoft’s next round of ads, equating Google with “search overload,” help it grab search share? Maybe, but I doubt users will go flocking to Bing long-term. Google is, for a massive number of users, “good enough.” It’s even become part of the vernacular. Users don’t “search.” They “google.” The clever features in Bing are great, but don’t solve the problem of “search overload.” To really fix search, the average user needs a class on how to effectively use it — and no 30-second ad spot during “The Office” is going to accomplish that.

31 Responses to “Bing Helps Overcome Search Shortcomings, Still No Google-Killer”

  1. Bing is currently dropping sites and pages like theres no tomorrow (just like MSN always has done)i’ve noticed this with several sites.. they do come back though in the majority of cases.
    Bing is a joke.. the all new search engine, yet behaves exactly the same as MSN and returns the same results.

  2. Marco

    Why is there so much emotion (positive and negative) when a news story focuses on Microsoft? Let’s stick with the facts and how they might or might not impact us. In what ways is Bing better or worse than Google or Yahoo? How will (or should) Bing’s introduction affect marketers? Here are my newest thoughts on Bing, Yahoo!, and Google.

  3. Gregory

    Maybe when they run out of four letter domains to rebrand their search with, they’ll actually work on the search engine itself?

  4. Jesse Kopelman

    I like how in the Bing TV commercial they imply that the use of Google and other old search engines caused the Global Financial Crisis. Did not like how they used a bing sound instead of saying the name — so cheesy. Microsoft’s best commercial ever is that little Asian girl doing photo editing. they should just make her their official spokesperson. Maybe have her do interviews, instead of Ballmer, as well. If she likes Bing better than Google, I may be convinced of its worth.

  5. Patrick

    One thing that will likely help Bing’s usage & penetration … I’m sure Microsoft will make it the default search in IE browser updates. And make it a little tougher (a couple extra clicks) to change search used by IE.

  6. I had a little laugh when I read ‘to really fix search, the average user needs a class on how to effectively use it ‘. Common sense tells me, that the fact that if you’re reading this article in on gigaom (commenting on it or even writing it) probably puts you in the top percentages of search savviness .

    So what about someone like my mom (or your mom)? When she searches, she searches for head terms like ‘cell phone’ or ‘car insurance’. And she’s not going to take a class or even watch a YouTube video on how to search… she doesn’t even know what YouTube is. So for the search savvy, this engine isn’t a break-through – but I can already see the possible benefits of bing to users like my mom (vs. me).

  7. Haresh Vaishnav

    You are missing the point. User experience that matters lot more than functionality. Apple has proved this more than once. What Bing has done is understand the shortcomings of Google for everyday Joe and exploited it to present the search results in a more user friendly fashion. Everyday people don’t want to learn about intricate details of how to formulate good search query using Boolean and other things. They want to type weather, for example, and see the current temperature at their location. Bing does this nicely.

    For once in my life I am excited about product coming from Microsoft. If they execute well I think they have decent chance of increasing their search market share at the expense of Yahoo or Google or both.

  8. Good post, Jordan! You hit the nail right on the spot. I believe that search today is broken. When I search for something today, I feel like the yellow pages are being thrown right back at me!

    I wrote a similar post on the day Bing launched, on my thoughts on the subject. Do read and comment, if you will.


  9. AndreaF

    Bing achieved two things over Live:
    1 – improved the search algorythm so that its results are now comparable to google’s; before, especially outside of the States, Live results were simply rubbish. For me, someone who doesn’t particularly like Google the company, this is already enough to switch from Google to Bing. Probably there are not many like me but I am sure that this alone will give Microsoft a couple of extra points in the search market share;
    2 – it improved the results; although the functionality it put in place for travel, shopping etc., is not ground breaking, it is a good step ahead; more importantly, it is a step in the right direction, i.e. addressing issues from the users point of view; not just cool technology for its own sake but technology that helps the end user;
    This current version of Bing is not a google killer but MSFT has clearly indicated that it’s stepping up the game; remember the first Xbox, it barely brought MSFT on par with Sony, now, after a few years, Xbox is ahead of PS.
    MSFT’s marketing team simply sucks. They must be the worst bunch of losers in the technology world these days. The first ad is simply poor.

  10. big one

    The author should really try using Firefox extensions for google search. He would find that the result would be a search site that would be whatever he wanted it to be. It just not google but what you can do with it through firefox extensions that make it a better site than bing a ling. Knowing MS and there quest for control I doubt that it will have the same ability to morph itself to whatever you want your search site to be.

  11. briggsbw

    You contradict yourself:
    [quote]But Bing doesn’t fundamentally change the way search works. The service tries its best to help users find information they’re searching for with fewer clicks — and does this quite well for many queries.[/quote]

  12. sean001

    there are something fundamentally wrong in the auther’s brain. why does bing has to be a revolution to replace google? it is better in function a much better in user experience. i don’t know how you come with that conclusion, have you looked at what the users say? or you have the conclusion two weeks ago. it is sad.

    • Bing is not at all better in function.You may be right at your point as far as user experience is concerned but when it comes to function, google is having much better search algorithm than Bing. Google search results are way better than that of Bing.

      Also i agree with the author’s(jordan’s) point that you should have some basic search skills in order to get the best of the search engine.

  13. Steve153

    An old Apple search tool, Retrieve It!, (with a little dog that barked when the search was done) had a really useful little feature along these lines — a menu of search operators next to the search query box, and when you selected one it would show an example how to use it right under the search query box. It was simple way to show users how to get better at searching.