Business Insider's coverage was scathing, to say the least, describing the practice as "stuffing the ballot with fake searches." How pathetic can the "little guys" get? Google continues to dominate in core search, launching powerful initiatives like Caffeine, its new Web indexing system ("Now with 50% more fresh flavor!"), while Bing sheepishly withdraws its ill-fated Cashback program. Shouldn't BingHoo be focused more on improving the actual search experience than on manipulating the appearance of popularity?
So, yeah, their behavior is dodgy, doubly so because a respected organization like comScore is public about their need to reformulate their algorithms in order to take these questionable links into account. But part of the problem is that the distinctions that delineate the various Web services are increasingly blurred. Consider, for example, that in the U.K. last month, social networks had more traffic than search engines. But according to comScore's own definition, there's a big overlap between the two types of site:
Traditionally, the industry has thought about a "search" event as a submission of a query that subsequently presents a set of results to a user. comScore's definition of search requires that the user be presented with search results and be able to completely change or refine their search directly from the result page. This encompasses the traditional "text box" query, as is the case with the major search engines' main search entry point.
This definition is why people continue to delight in pointing out that YouTube is the second largest search engine, and I'm sure Facebook ain't doing too bad either. So what's the point of trying to game a system to get on top of just one measure of search traffic that is decreasing in relevance?
Well, for one thing, core search is still a multi-billion-dollar industry, and BingHoo are still in the fight. Obviously, they're hoping advertisers will perk up at their "momentum" and back a winning horse -- or at least one with four working legs. The San Francisco Chronicle, for example, pointed out that "people looking to make a decision are often people looking to buy," meaning that Bing's Decision Engine positioning can work in their favor, if advertisers see them as a category leader.
But they're a long way from being a category leader, and these latest shenanigans sure don't help. The 70 basis points (equal to 7/10 of one percent) they gained didn't garner them any of the million dollars a month BP is spending on paid search, for example, and that was before Yahoo and Microsoft became the untrustworthy purveyors of unreliable search data.
The manipulation of statistics is the last resort of the losing side. Come on, Ballmer. Come on, Bartz. You're too good for that.
Or do you think I'm overreacting? Let me know in the comments.