Who Wants Another Way To Search The Internet?

Google isn’t the only way to search the Internet, but its dominance has made the competition almost irrelevant. According to tracking firm,  hitslink.com, Google’s share has increased to an overwhelming 82% in May 2009. Second place Yahoo is at about 9%, while Microsoft’s combined share (MSN and Live Search) is about 6%.

Share of Searches by Search Engine, May 2009

Share of Searches by Search Engine, May 2009

Without search, most of the hundreds of millions or web sites and blogs and the documents they contain would be invisible. Without search advertising, the revenues, which support Google, Yahoo, and numerous players in online marketing, wouldn’t exist.

Yet search can be problematic. When it works it can be dramatic. You find just what you were looking for on the first results page. Sometimes, it doesn’t work. Numerous results don’t lead to what you want, and you abandon your search without having found what you sought. Time to consult the Yellow Pages, golf partner or the occupant of your neighboring cubicle.

Search can require a kind of semantic understanding, which is difficult for computers to do and no general solution is on the horizon. Yet web users don’t seem acutely unhappy. They have not been holding torchlight parades demanding better search or even complaining about their current search experience.

binglogoMicrosoft claims to have a better mousetrap and on June 3rd (while I was on a bicycle trip in the Pyrenees), it launched its Bing search portal.

Bing, if successful, would secure a larger slice of the Internet advertising business. PricewaterhouseCoopers estimated the value of this at $23.8 billion for 2008. And it continues to grow even in a recession. Microsoft seems to be taking Bing seriously and is supporting its launch with a budget reported by Advertising Age to be $80 million to $100 million.

The branding is curious. Not that great brand names are easy to come by. Bing is hardly a neutral term. Seniors and Boomers might think of the late singer Bing Crosby. Readers of business journalism, myself included, think of business writer and wit Stanley Bing, author of such readable rants as What Would Machiavelli Do? Speakers of Mandarin Chinese might note the similarity in sound to the word for disease. Computer types might think BING stands for “Bing Is Not Google.”

How about a contest: A prize of nominal value to the reader submitting the best acronym for Bing. No purchase necessary to win etc.

You can find 17 (probably all) of Bing’s 30 and 60 second spots on YouTube. Based on small to modest viewership, none has yet gone viral.

The ads play off the theme that words often have multiple meaning, so that searching for them may return results relevant to a meaning other than what you’re looking for. This message is a bit contrived as are the scenarios in ads.

Microsoft wishes us to think of Bing as a new category and calls it a “decision engine.” This would be fine, if it delivered a unique experience, clearly better results or a “decision”.

My initial tests with Bing found it better than any prior Microsoft search offering. In searches for products, news, and information it yielded more usable results than what I remember from searching through MSN.

I did have problems navigating and using the results. To display some video content, for example, Microsoft requires that you download its Silverlight player. A requirement, no other search engine imposes.

Despite the promise of the ads, not all results relevant. Indeed, Google still returned more relevant results more consistently in my tests. Like Google, Bing displays text ads based on your search terms. In searching for an alternative to filter Twitter posts, for example, the lone ad which appeared, was for water filters.

Despite its rough edges, there appears to be something to Bing and it bears watching. It may gather enough traffic, so that it should be included it as part of a search marketing strategy. A Google killer it is not.