Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) is rolling out the first of what will be a series of fall updates for its search engine, as it seeks to build on the success it has had with Bing so far. A new feature — dubbed “visual search” — lets users see galleries of images instead of lists of links for some queries. Other additions to Bing are coming soon. Microsoft has historically introduced big changes to its search engine each spring and fall — and Bing Director Stefan Weitz confirms to paidContent that that will be the case this year as well.
The new visual search page — which will be prominently promoted via a link on Bing.com — includes image galleries for 50 queries, such as movies in theaters, dog breeds and digital cameras. Select “digital cameras” within visual search, for instance, and thumbnails of digital cameras show up, which can then be categorized by type, zoom and brand (See screenshot to the left for an example). Users who search for certain queries on Bing.com will also see links to “visualize” their results if they like.
Weitz says that the company’s research showed that searchers were 20 percent more likely to find the results they wanted when they sifted through images rather than links. “The data supports intuition,” he says. “People can identify pictures faster than text.” But, for now, the visual search option will only be available for the small subset of queries, and there are no plans to directly monetize it: “We don’t want to overshoot this at launch.”
Asked how many people he thought would use the feature, Weitz said he did not have any projections. But he acknowledged that not all of the features that Microsoft has introduced to Bing have been equally used. A feature that lets people hover over a link to see a preview of the text on a page has been a favorite, while Weitz said “people still don’t quite know what to do” with a feature that lets users break down results into different categories. Weitz said that didn’t concern him. “Bing is trying to morph the product to the intent of the user rather than having the user conform to the search engine.”
And, indeed, used or not, Microsoft’s innovations so far (backed with a $100 million dollar ad campaign) appear to have been enough to drive a number of people to switch to Bing. *ComScore* figures indicate that Microsoft has increased its share of the search market to 8.9 percent, up from 8 percent prior to Bing’s launch.