Similar to a fledgling attempting to fly, Bing has a lot of machine learning to do. It will take time for the engine to learn when -- or not -- to serve up ads. Algorithms and machine understanding of human behavior drive the site.
Making ads more relevant took a front seat in the development of Bing, according to Microsoft. Although it appears that ad and marketing agencies knew this all along, some felt that paid search ads -- which return alongside queries -- were missing from results. They wondered whether Microsoft had decided to slowly phase in PPC advertising. Others thought a glitch in the engine stopped Bing from serving up paid links.
Brian Boland, director of adCenter product management for the Microsoft Advertising group, says the Redmond, Wash. company embarked on two projects during the past year to improve the relevancy of paid search ads. "Think of where and when the ads show up as another set of very valuable results to the searcher," he says.
Timing is everything. Recent research conducted by Microsoft reveals that consumers expect to see paid search ads. If nothing shows up, the results are not as accurate or relevant. So Microsoft built in a range of technologies to improve ad rankings. Algorithms teach the engine about the person conducting the searches. Signals tell the engine whether to serve up an ad.
Boland believes that agency executives are testing Bing by searching on topics, yet they click on nothing. From that behavior, the learning algorithm begins to think the person searching doesn't like ads, so it stops serving up ads. He says the method increases click-through rates when ads are shown.
A searcher reveals her thought process through the search tabs in the left column. It should give advertisers insight into the types of keywords to buy.
Bing's performance has begun to improve Microsoft's position in search. During the first week of Bing's public launch, analysis from comScore reveals a substantial uptick. U.S. search on Microsoft sites rose to 15.5% between June 2 and 6, up from 13.8% between May 26 and 30 -- an indication that the search engine is reaching more people than before. Microsoft's share of search result pages in the U.S., a proxy for overall searches, increased from 9.1% to 11.1% during the same time.
Still, agencies may have to learn new ways to present vertical categories to clients, Boland says. As for display ads, Microsoft has asked agency executives to start dreaming up new ways to present advertising. The company will not limit ads to a certain format. In fact, during the next few months, it will begin to experiment. "Display ads are not out of the question, especially in entertainment for new movies," Boland says.