The Future of Bing

October 18, 2011 • Blog, Search • Views: 154

Most SEO discussions today revolve around Google. It has the largest market share in most countries, and even the term “Google” has become synonymous with search.However, experienced search marketers know that Google is not the only game in town. Microsoft Bing, which launched over two years ago, now commands a respectable share of the market, and can occupy an important place in many search marketing campaigns.That being said, many marketers today may be wondering about Bing’s future. While Bing has a reasonably high volume of searches, Microsoft is losing billions developing the search engine, and Bing still faces considerable difficulty differentiating from Google. Bing also has various tactical weaknesses, such as low adoption in mobile search, and the declining share of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.

Search Engine Marketshare

Recent market share reports have been good news for Bing. Compete recently released a report that put Bing-powered search at 31.7% of the market, compared to Google-powered search at 69%.

This represents an all-time high for Bing, which seems to be steadily climbing over time. It also appears that this most recent growth has come at the expense of Google, which saw a slight decline. However, a report released only one month earlier by comScore tells a somewhat different story. While comScore shows Bing growing as well, Google’s share remains steady.

It should be noted that although most studies by data companies will show a distribution of roughly 30% Bing , 70% Google, practical data from many webmasters and web analysts would show search market share leaning much more heavily in Google’s favor.

To demonstrate this, we dug into some of Where 2 Get It’s search data. We picked a major consumer web property, and found that of nearly 400,000 unique search engine visits over the last 6 months, 89.9% came from Google, with Bing and Yahoo picking up a meager 7.6%.

Bing, Microsoft, and Long-Term Sustainability

While Bing does seem to show  growth, it also faces very significant challenges. CNN Money recently covered a critical Bing problem: it’s losing nearly $1 billion per quarter, with no signs of improvement.

Stefan Weitz, director of Bing at Microsoft, stated Bing’s problem perfectly – “Our challenge is that no one wakes up in the morning and says, ‘I really wish there was a better search engine.’”

Microsoft has an ambitious strategy to solve this problem. Bing plans to improve search by “reorganizing the Web.” By leveraging Microsoft’s partnerships and products, Bing’s developers hope to gain a better understanding of what results a user really wants in response to a query.

Microsoft is relying on technology to compete with Google, stating that Bing’s technical “secret sauce” will allow the engine to expand the scope of what can be searched, and provide more intuitive results to users. Bing’s stated plan is not to “out-Google” Google, but “change the game fundamentally.”

In response to this plan, Danny Sullivan published an article in Search Engine Land, accusing Bing’s strategy of being outdated and repetitive. The concept of providing search results that are not better than Google’s, but somehow “different”, has been Bing’s positioning since it launched, and hasn’t proved particularly compelling to users.

Bing and Mobile

Another problematic area for Bing is mobile. Google’s mobile dominance seems absolute, with the general industry perception being that Google drives 95% or more of mobile search traffic. As some analysts predict that mobile Internet usage could surpass desktop usage in under 5 years, this is clearly a huge issue for Bing.

An important element to consider here is Android versus Windows Mobile.  Google’s mobile operating system now controls nearly 43.7% of the smartphone market, compared to Microsoft Mobile’s 5.7%. Having so much presence in the sector gives Google a huge amount of leverage that Microsoft can’t compete with.

That being said, mobile search on Google has issues of its own. Google’s crawling and indexation of mobile content is far from perfect, and Google’s mobile search results will often return content that is poorly optimized. Android also does not give Google a lock on the search market – mobile carriers using Android are generally free to change the default search provider.

In a recent interview with mobile search expert  Bryson Meunier, Bing Executive Andy Chu expressed Bing’s goals for mobile. Bing’s marketshare may be small, but Chu pointed out that unique users have recently grown by 270% for android and 100% for iPhone.

However, on the issue of differentiation from Google, Chu wasn’t particularly clear. Chu stated that, “To meet the needs of the market, we’re constantly testing and updating our applications and mobile browse experience”, and “We’re working to expand the search box to take new signals into consideration to help people do, not just find, on the go.”

This seems very close to the “decision engine” positioning that Microsoft has been using since Bing’s birth. Arguably, this isn’t a particularly strong point of differentiation. Google is definitely testing and updating its mobile results, as well as incorporating new signals.

On the whole, Bing is facing considerable challenges, but at the same time, is growing market share steadily. Marketers should continue to consider Bing an important element of search marketing efforts. After all, it seems like Microsoft is heavily committed to search. Looking forward, Bing will need more unique value that differentiates it from Google. Simply calling it a “decision engine” is not enough to undo the public perception that search and Google are one and the same.

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