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The author

Steve Baker

Chief Analyst

So, Microsoft have released their new search engine, Bing. Apparently, it’s not a search engine, though – it’s a decision engine. According to Microsoft (www.microsoft.com/presspass/press/2009/may09/05-28NewSearchPR.mspx), this means that it is a “new and more powerful kind of search service ... designed to empower people to gain insight and knowledge from the Web, moving more quickly to important decisions”. They go on to explain that according to a comscore study, “results ... across core search engines shows that as many as 30 percent of searches are abandoned without a satisfactory result”, and that “approximately two-thirds of the remaining searches required a refinement or requery on the search results page”. So, they want to give you results that tell you what you want to know, or help you make a decision, without having to run further searches. They’ve just released their first TV advert (adage.com/digital/article?article_id=137044), to back up this message, citing ‘information overload’ as the big problem, not just with the internet, but with the whole world (I think they even blame Google for the recession!).   This sounds great, I thought. I can barely wait to try it out! My excitement increased further when I read this article on ChannelWeb (www.crn.com/software/217700773). It lists five reasons that Bing could rival Google. 1) Visual Presentation. It apparently gives “a richer, more visually agreeable search presentation” 2) Keywords Help. “As search words are being typed into Bing, the Bing search function offers keywords to help users narrow their searches”. They do acknowledge that this is a function already offered by Google, but are hopeful that Microsoft’s version will be better. 3) Shop-Til-You-Droppers and Hypochondriacs.  It appears that Bing will break the search results down into four types, shopping, local, travel and health. Though this hasn’t happened yet, as far as I can see... 4) Best  Match, Instant Answers And Quick Preview. Best Match, they say, is the Bing equivalent of Google’s ‘I feel lucky’ button.  Instant answers gives a single-click version of this, and quick preview gives you a preview of each result’s content without clicking on it. 5) It’s Microsoft. They claim that Microsoft are so big and ‘savvy’ that if they really try, they can probably beat anybody at anything. Hmm... Let’s look at the visual presentation first. Here are the search results for ‘toasters’ from Bing and Google...     The results look pretty similar to me, though Bing isn’t using the full width of my screen, and they put their alternative searches on the left, rather than at the bottom of the page. What about the search suggestions? When I typed toasters into Bing, it came up with two:     Hmm. Wasn’t really looking to buy a toaster for my kids, or join a club for toaster fans... What does Google come up with?   Quite a difference – it suggests looking for the best toasters, reviews, toaster and kettle sets, 4-slice toasters and a few shops that sell toasters. They also give some indication as to how many results I’m likely to get. I think Microsoft have a long way to go before keyword suggestions become one of their selling points... At the moment, the splitting of the search results into four categories doesn’t appear to be working. Clicking on the shopping option above the search results takes you to Ciao – hardly a search revolution. And the other options aren’t visible anywhere... The same appears to be true for Best Match and Instant Answers – if these features are on the website, then they aren’t being promoted very well. I suspect that this is something they’ve still got to add? The quick preview is shown on the top screenshot, and is quite good, though in the case of toasters, the content of the website is quite predictable. Most of the websites sell toasters, and the quick preview is likely to show you this. Though, as you can see above, toasters.com does not actually sell toasters, so this could potentially save you a fruitless (and indeed toastless) click. The last point makes no sense to me at all, that it will do well because it’s Microsoft. After all, so was Live Search. So what’s the conclusion, then? Will Bing suddenly change the search engine world? If they are still in the process of rolling out of their functionality, then they’ll certainly win over some new users. But for me, this is more evolutionary than revolutionary. Bing is better than Live Search in my opinion, with some nice new features, but for me, the most critical challenge is the search results themselves. If Bing delivers more relevant results than Google then it has a chance of eroding Google’s market share, but I believe that users will need a strong reason to switch. It may be true that Google’s users are one bad experience away from switching search engine, but the user experience on Google is consistent and reliable. Unless Google drop the ball badly, it’s probably going to take a bigger USP than any I’ve seen so far from Bing to threaten Google’s domination in the search market.