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It’s been less than two weeks since *Microsoft* finally unveiled the new and improved Bing search, but there’s already a consensus that the changes were mostly cosmetic. Our Joe Tartakoff found that the quality of Bing’s search results still didn’t measure up to Google’s, and TechCrunch reports that Bing’s leapfrog over *Yahoo* Search to the number two spot was short-lived. But new eye-tracking data from user experience research firm User Centric finds that Bing’s cosmetic changes could ultimately evolve into a major advantage for search advertisers.
The company studied a small group of searchers, giving them four specific queries so that they’d get the same results on both Google and Bing — and found that Bing users were much more likely to look at the search ads on the right side of the page. On average, 42 percent of Bing searchers looked at those sponsored links, while just 25 percent did on Google (NSDQ: GOOG). The difference didn’t extend to ads that showed up above the organic results; it also didn’t show up in terms of clicks, as ad click-through rates were about the same on both engines.
Find out about User Centric’s methodology and the implications for advertisers after the jump.
But there are caveats. First is the small sample size. User Centric studied about two dozen searchers for this test; managing director Gavin Lew said the smaller size allowed for more qualitative analysis (through one-on-one interviews) that backed up the numbers. There’s also the question of whether Bing’s newness contributed to the searchers’ willingness to look at the ads on the right side of the page; Lew said it could be indicative of a more ad-friendly design. “Bing’s three column layout, with the related links on the left, and sponsored results on the right almost forms bookends around the center content,” he said. “Bookends compel users to look at both sides of the page, not just the center. That’s a direct contrast to the left-centered Google.com interface.” He added that Google had much more white space between its core results and the right side ads.
But the eye-tracking data and design theories can’t make up for the fact that Bing’s results currently aren’t as comprehensive as Google’s. If Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) can fix that — meaning indexing sites faster and increasing relevance — while maintaining the high level of user attention on the paid search ads, then Bing’s new interface could actually wind up being a game-changer in terms of search advertising. User Centric plans to repeat the study in a few months to see whether the trend has legs, so we’ll definitely be able to find out. Release.