We were hosted by the Bing Ads team, and shown previews of new advertising products including the Hero Ads format , which was recently introduced as part of Smart Search in Windows 8.1. Hero Ads are gigantic, full-page takeovers where users can navigate directly into myriad details about a brand: retail locations, product inventory levels, hours of operation, etc.
The marketer in me loved it. Having complete control of the user experience, with information, deep links, even calls-to-action in-line, is very exciting. The consumer in me was a little skeptical. As this ad format extends beyond branded terms (assuming that happens eventually), will users feel that objective Bing results are being sabotaged by brand endorsements?
The undercurrent prompted by this internal debate many of us were having, and the elephant in the room, was this: Can Bing compete with Google? I mean, really compete?
Certainly the Bing Ads team is keen to compete with Google AdWords for share of advertising wallet. That much was clear, based on the group that was assembled in Redmond, and the parade of new ad products like Hero Ads. Bing though, seems very comfortable in its own skin: as the second largest player in “traditional” desktop and mobile search. The team even admitted as much, cautioning us not to miss out on 1/3 of the search opportunity,” one that consistently yields a stronger return on ad spend (ROAS) than AdWords.
But what will the longevity of traditional search be? As the “Internet of things” becomes more of a reality every day, will we really be Googling in the same way for years to come?
Way back in 2008, Gord Hotchkiss penned a fascinating five-part series on “breaking the Google habit.” My favorite of the series, and the one most apropos to this column, was the final installment, “The Last Word on Breaking The Google Habit.” In that piece, Hotchkiss points out Googling’s ease and fluidity. Breaking the habit would mean intercepting the search user “before the habitual behavior” kicks in. He explores ways in which a competitor could successfully do that, including an integration of “search at an application or OS level, making search even easier and inserting a habit-breaking context switch.”
Does the Internet of things now give Bing that chance? I think so.
The upside potential, and perhaps fate, of the Bing “search engine” seems to be intertwined with the ecosystem wars that are currently playing out across the multitude of hardware, software, and web services each offers. Microsoft’s eventual place relative to current leaders Apple, Google, and arguably Amazon will directly impact Bing adoption and usage.
This isn’t just me opining away. I’ve experienced this firsthand. A longtime Apple diehard and fan boy, I recently bought the new Xbox One for my son (I swear it was for my son). More than a video game console, the Xbox One is a legitimate entertainment utility device for the living room. Bing voice search is embedded throughout the experience, enabling easy access to local and Web content. There is no Google, nor would I think to seek it out if it did exist. Bing just works.
And as I write this on my Microsoft Surface 2 tablet, another new device that amazes me in its own way, I can’t help but think that in the case of Bing, a rising Microsoft tide will raise all ships.