It might not be a Google-killer (s goog) (yet), but Microsoft’s (s msft) new search engine, Bing, is certainly raising hackles at the Googleplex. The New York Post reports that Google co-founder Sergey Brin is personally leading a team inside the company to analyze Bing’s search engine and make changes to Google’s search results as necessary. An unnamed source interviewed by the Post said, “Bing seems to be of particular interest to Sergey.”
The biggest threat to Google is a change in the behavior of the public; people will expect the search engine to do some of the work for them and to anticipate their needs. Bing’s “decision engine” does provide better search results than Google when it comes to its ability to help searchers narrow down what they are actually looking for. Search for “cell phone” on Bing, and it spits out a list on the left-hand side of deeper results related to cell phones: Shopping; Brands; Buying Guide; Providers; Plans; Accessories; etc. This makes it easy for searchers to find exactly what they are looking for in fewer clicks. The same search on Google leaves users to find their own way — not quite “search overload” as Bing’s ads suggest, but nonetheless Bing provides a stronger search experience for the user.
Google’s entire business plan revolves around text ads placed around search results. That search result for “cell phone” is stuffed with ads from wireless carriers like AT&T (s t) and Sprint (s s), cell phone retailers, and even an iPhone ad. If Google has to put in “decision” links to compete with Bing, it will: 1) mess up Google’s page layout; and 2) potentially mess up the company’s massive search ad business — if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
And so Google is in a bind. If it starts making changes in response to Bing, it is admitting that Redmond came up with a superior product. If it doesn’t make changes, more and more users could shift over to the “decision engine” — especially in areas like shopping, travel, health and local, those areas where Microsoft is especially concerned with improving results. Google is smart to start working on this problem now. Microsoft is no startup, and has plenty of talent, money and marketing muscle to throw at Google — plus, for now, maybe a better product, too.