Microsoft Bing, Because It’s Not Google (better?)Posted on June 3rd, 2009 5 comments
- But it’s not Google?
- Not so fast batman!
- What’s so good about it fanboy?
- What needs to improve?
- Conclusion – am I a Google2Bing switcher, is it better?
But it’s not Google?
Well, I’ll be straight with you. When I found out that Bing was going to be the new name for Live Search, I thought someone was having a laugh. Frankly it sounded naff and the name has been pilloried on twitter and various tech blogs. This unfortunate ‘acronymisation’ of the new brand implying that people won’t use it because it’s not as good as Google resonated with me until I tested the full-featured US version.
I had also read that respected industry people like Apple’s co-founder, Steve Wozniak were impressed with the new search (‘Decision Engine’ as Microsoft are positioning it) but when I looked at the UK localised version, I couldn’t really see what was so great about it.
Not so fast batman!
To date the features haven’t been rolled out in the UK version. A switch to United States and wow, this really impressed me. Now I know what the MSFT execs were talking about. It’s not the name, but the functionality or product behind it that makes the brand and this one has taken some big steps forward in search. It had to be good, because Microsoft are not just trying to better Google’s search product, but also overcome the negative brand equity accrued over the last few years with Live Search.
What’s so good about it fanboy?
Here’s a lowdown on the features that have impressed me.
The homepage design
How to get users to come back to your website rule no.1: make sure you update your homepage often. The new Bing homepage has a number of changing parts including a different image each day with some ‘hotspots’ inviting discovery enabling the user to drill down into the featured topic.
This at first reminded me of the Wikipedia ‘Did you know’ feature, and for me it works in this context too. Clicking through often reveals not only further information on the subject, but some of new functionality available with Bing that users might not otherwise quickly discover.
There are also other features pulled through from Live Search such as popular now: which reminds me a little of twitscoop (a good thing: real time information is crucial in today’s web).
Microsoft claim that search has become a bit tired and static with one dominant player monopolising the market (ok I know, they would say that, wouldn’t they). One area they saw a gap in was in how people narrow their searches. According to their research, a chunky 42% of searches need refining and moreover that analysis of search behaviour demonstrates that the way people refine is predictable.
Having identified this ‘predictable’ behaviour Microsoft have built a number of categories to identify common search themes and then provide the user with ready made filters on the left-hand panel. This is a well-designed feature and something that seems so obvious you wonder why Google didn’t do something like this ages ago. Again doubtless Microsoft have borrowed ideas from other sites such as ebay and price comparison sites where your searches are guided and filtered using common categories, nonetheless the implementation is slick and the broader general search context gives it added value.
Some good examples are products, places, films and symptoms each with their own common filters. Still Google are doing stuff in this area, so expect more developments. I like the ‘wonder wheel’ which Google so far are making no effort to surface. See this example of symptoms ‘headaches and dizziness’ I tested on both Bing and Google. Disappointingly Bing didn’t give me the nice filters you see above with Limassol above http://www.bing.com/search?q=headaches+and+dizziness&form=QBRE. Google was much the same, but if you dig a little:
That is nice but it is not a way of narrowing your search, more it facilitates ‘discovery’. I hope Microsoft will work fast to pad this feature out to work whenever expected (try ‘Madeira’-works, ‘Funchal’-no, ‘Thessaloniki’-no, ‘Salonica’-works) and I expect Google to react.
Decision making tools
Microsoft noticed that a lot of user sessions on a search engine are iterative viz. someone keys in a search term, goes away somewhere, comes back, does a related search and so-on until they eventually get to a point where they can make a decision. One use scenario given was a Kodak EasyShare camera:
That is a very good result for a product search. You get the filters I alluded to above in predictive filtering, but also some aggregation and categorisation of reviews + price comparisons, product details, cashback. That really does go a long way towards Microsoft’s ambition to make Bing a decision engine – in this use-case. It should greatly reduce the amount of iteration needed when using Google for the same kind of search/decision and save the user significant time.
This is where it gets a bit controversial. Microsoft have really stepped it up when it comes to previews your results:
- mouse-hover synopses and high-level navigation: this is nice once you work out where to hover!
- ‘enhanced’ view: for Wikipedia entries and I think other stuff too you get some sub-navigational links plus this in your results. This shoves the whole page in Bing: handy huh? I can see why Microsoft wanted to do this (gives you what you want without having to leave the site during your session), but hmmm this is borderline. I’m not sure what I would think if it were one of my sites. On the one-hand I would like the fact that extra content layers are exposed through deeper linking and higher relevancy, but on the other I would be quite uncomfortable about the wholesale use of my content on someone else’s site (presumably without permission).
- video previews: this is great. Hover over a video on the video results and starts playing there and then. Sweet. That really saves some time checking out stuff that you might not be interested in without having to leave the site. Ditto my point above about content use: I believe this has caused something of a stir already. It will be interesting to see how this develops.
What about Porn?
No-one ever mentions this, but porn accounts for the largest portion of search queries I believe. Surely this is an important, ahem vertical. Let’s face it ‘Paris Hilton nude videos’ must be one of the most profilic search phrases in the history of the web. And don’t slate the porn users as edge cases or irrelevant. They are the majority of the male population and no doubt a decent percentage of females too. They need ahem servicing too and no doubt the same porn searcher might later be using their preferred search ‘tool’ for different kinds of content like flight booking or product searching.
Well, I think pornsters will appreciate the video search which gives better previews of their target search and also the other enhanced preview facilities. The image search also makes better use of space than google giving more results which aids the eye-candy-per-pixel factor. Am not sure about relevancy though. A quick check on ‘Paris Hilton nude videos’ and Google comes out on top for relevancy I would say in my ‘expert’ opinion: as for other search terms, hmm will let you know later .
I am intrigued if Google/MSFT et. al actually do any serious work targeting this market and if they do what.
What needs to improve?
- Relevancy! Microsoft have made great strides in this area, but are still behind Google for initial results and their relevancy to the search. Bing is now much less bad compared to Live Search which often fell at the first hurdle: but still this is crucial and MSFT have to continue to work extremely hard in this area to keep within touching distance of Google
- Hurry up and roll it out in the UK and other non-American countries, being non-American this irritates me, not only that but for every UK Bing use between now and the time all features do roll-out in the UK Bing is losing brand equity – as it did with me. If my job didn’t involve working closely with MSFT I might never have known and dismissed Bing out of hand.
- Smooth over the rough edges .. fast, there are still plenty of these and they need to be culled ruthlessly and quickly
- a map search should always give a Bing Map, not sometimes, the maps integration is much improved but still not good enough
- I expect items obviously qualifying for predictive filtering will always get that treatment, not randomly and sometimes as is the case now e.g. try macbook pro 17 and macbook pro 15
- inconsistencies such as when you are on a product page in shopping (see the example above) and you click something else like ‘manual’, the shopping filter disappears
Conclusion – am I a Google2Bing switcher, is it better?
No. Not yet anyway, BUT Bing has genuinely stolen some of my personal search market share from Google. Some tasks Bing performs better than Google and vice versa and one can be a good backup for the other although for the no.1 success factor relevancy, Google still reigns as king. I will use both for now….
Microsoft have really done well here, they did their homework, spotted the gaps in the market and moved on them. The interface is a refreshing change to Google’s and the previewing and predictive filtering are genuinely very useful.
I believe this will take market share from Google, probably more than the 2/3 odd percent Ballmer is hoping for this year.
Google, who pulled a crafty counter-punch on the day Bing was announced by later announcing the awe-inspiring Wave, will have to react to this. They can’t sit on their laurels, especially if they expect Microsoft to build aggressively from this decent platform. Good news for you and me: the users.
But not only Google will be worried. Price comparison sites and flight checkers should worry, this will eat into their market. Even sites like eBay may see this as a challenge as Bing begins to move into its territory ever so slightly, not least after having ‘borrowed’ some of its search filtering techniques. This is where MSFT have been smart, in positioning Bing not just as a search engine head2head with Google, but as a slightly different animal, one that should give people what they really want as fast as possible, not just more search results.
So .. conclusion: I think the success of Bing will depend on MSFT rolling out all features fast and globally and very importantly, the rough edges need smoothing. People will tolerate some glitches at first using a new tool with lots of cool features, but if the glitches remain over time this tolerance will disappear. The next few months together with the promised $100mill marketing campaign will be critical. The other factor is of course if and how Google reacts.
Will have to investigate the video search
Wouldn’t it be better if they spent the $100m marketing campaign on smoothing over those rough edges, and performing the full global rollout?
I agree though, I have done an odd bing where I may have done a google before now, and it doesn’t totally suck (like LiveSearch did).
You can sleep easy, I have corrected the spelling of you name on my linking post
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[...] colleague Alexi Harakis has recently started blogging and has done a great post independently analysing Bing search. He seems to have selflessly spent a lot of time checking out the quality of porn [...]
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