Inspired by Fred Wilson , my colleagues and I decided to test Bing, Microsoft's new search engine, for a week and then report our results. In fact, we all installed the Bing add-on for Firefox, the browser most of us prefer, to integrate the engine into our workflow. Bing is interesting and may develop a stronger position, but it's got a long way to go to catch up to Google. However, it doesn't necessarily need to overcome Google to be successful. It may pose the greatest market-share threat to engines other than Google.
The bottom line? We were impressed. Bing is interesting and may develop a stronger position, but it's got a long way to go to catch up to Google -- presuming that's its intention. Below is the synthesis of our collective notes. While not a scientific study, this was an immersive evaluation by 15 members of the Clickable team, guided by expertise in search technology, Web services, interface and product design, online user experience and online advertising.
As evidenced by the bullet above, most observation and judgment of Bing is inherently relative to the experience of Goosgle. Therefore, there is little independent evaluation of Bing; there's only an evaluation of Bing AND how well it stacks up to Google (and nobody else).
Google took a stance by being a search engine that keeps users coming back by efficiently and effectively sending them elsewhere. However, while Bing often sends you away, it often tries to keep people on the site. (Remind you of AOL?).
User Interface & Functionality
An evaluation of Bing by several users reveals that people use Google in many unique, subtle ways -- including its advanced functionality and lesser known shortcuts and functions. Despite the seeming simplicity of Google, there are vast, hidden nuances that people have embraced deeply. This means the friction of switching is potentially a lot greater than people might first realize. On the other hand, Bing surfaces sophisticated functionality often in friendly ways. For example, Bing has visual stimuli and logical paths that direct users to results that don't require knowledge of hidden functionality, and don't require sophistication in Boolean search logic. While Bing may be friendlier to the mainstream, it also may be patronizing to more experienced users or hardcore searchers. In many cases, people's search engine habits have been tightly integrated with other Web services, like Google search within the Chrome or Firefox browsers, or Google search within iGoogle/Google home page, or Gmail -- even mobile. The utility of a given search engine relies not only upon how it performs within its own home page, but in distributed and complementary contexts. Bing's use of clean white space is smart, and means less friction when transitioning from Google.
The difference in Bing's search results versus Google's prompted many to question the scale and comprehensiveness of indexed Web content. In our internal test, people loved the image search. Many on the team were skeptical of the value and relevance of the paid search results. Sure, the core organic search engine performance is most important, but the sponsored results and ads inherently detract or add value to the overall experience. People couldn't find enough utility for blogs or other forms of social media, which was a big disruption in transitioning from Google. This includes the inclusion of social media properties in search results. Search history on the left is interesting -- not used often, but occasionally valuable. Speed was a problem for some.
Of course, you first need traffic and searches to begin to think about monetizing. Microsoft adCenter investments already are going into Bing inventory, but it's too early to see results for advertisers. Preview boxes may be more likely to garner clicks.
Our analysis didn't focus on the promotional aspects of Bing, but the estimated $80 to $100 million campaign warrants mention. While the campaign may end up being a critical component of Bing's success, it isn't enough by itself to make the engine a success. Specifically, the campaign will build awareness and drive trial. At that point, the advertising won't matter much. The engine must perform for its users. Not long ago, Ask.com launched an impressive new version of its engine amidst a tens-of-millions-of-dollars marketing and advertising campaign. Most agree the campaign prompted a surge in traffic and trials, but users ultimately made clear their preferred search engine: in most cases, Google.
What do you think of Bing?