Microsoft’s Bing at Search Engine Strategies Toronto 2009

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This year’s Search Engine Strategies conference was a mix of young and old, experienced and novice search marketers that got together to discuss the state of the industry, what’s to come, what’s working, and who to watch for.

Of course, one of the big topics of the conference was the recent introduction of Microsoft’s new Search Engine, Bing. The highly anticipated launch of the site was actually somewhat of a surprise to many, as it wasn’t a typical Microsoft launch. What we saw was a fresher, gentler giant come out and quietly release its new offering that, well … didn’t quite look like Microsoft. It had more resemblance to Google — both aesthetically and how it was introduced.

I had the privilege of spending time with Microsoft’s Search Lead, Stacey Jarvis, whose enthusiasm about Bing actually started to wear off on me.  And, if I’m really honest, Stacey actually surprised me; I had pegged a typical Microsoft speaker as someone in a blue shirt and khakis talking technical but Stacey was anything but. Both as a speaker and a personality she came across differently then most anyone at SES, and broke my mold of how I perceived someone talking about Microsoft Search.

Microsoft created custom ringtones specifically for Bing. Stacey shows off 3 versions she used for the internal launch.

Microsoft’s step to obsolete Microsoft's Live Search and migrate users and advertisers to Bing is no small gesture, but one that seemed to happen quietly. According to Stacey, Microsoft’s development and launch of Bing was so stealth that most employees weren’t aware of the initiative. Even her boss was unaware of exactly what she was working on, what it was called, or when it was launching. (A cue from Apple?)  Several names were considered, different teams were working on the project, all under NDA, extensive research was conducted, and the end user experience was refined to produce something that at first glance, bears resemblance to something we’ve already seen, but upon use has some terrific features.

As a marketer, I couldn’t help but wonder about the branding and insights behind retiring Live, but its name closely associated with Xbox Live and already preconceived notions of Live Search would make it hard to rebrand under an exiting name.  So, clean slate it was.

Based on a few days of use, here are 5 reasons users will start migrate to using Bing:

  1. The experience is familiar, and slightly more robust without being intrusive.  The left navigation bar with Related Search that presents intuitive refinements, easy to click search history, a hover over meta description + top links  (this is the basis of it being called an ‘answer engine’ – faster and easier responses to a users search)
  2. Image search much more advanced. Search refinements by characteristics are available, results are displayed as a frame within Bing, allowing easier clicking through to the next, previous or other images.
  3. Using Maps is a superior experience. The bird’s eye view is much better, clearer,  and actually usable compared to Google’s satellite view. It also loads quickly and doesn’t have create that annoying message when you can’t zoom in that close
  4. Video search allows you to preview snippets before clipping.  This provides an easy way to review what’s in the video before committing to leave the page, but also gotten Microsoft in trouble for being able to display porn previews
  5. Most importantly: The search results are actually good. Combing the above features with good search results is the ingredient that will switch and keep some users. Having compared queries with Google, there were some differences, but nothing that hindered me from find what I needed.

Ultimately, search is a commodity and will be increasingly competitive.  Will Bing exceed Google? Not likely in the short term. Google has created an extensive footprint with all the related properties and services it provides, so users are inclined to use one or more of them together, which provides a nice sense of convergence and usability. As users we’re also stuck in our habits, so it really takes a lot for us to switch. That said, the heavily saturated search market  has‘ the big G’ with over 80% market share in Canada  and even higher globally, Microsoft’s comparative 9% is only set to grow.

I can hear Steve Ballmer saying ‘bing, bing’ already.

Bing is also available for mobile at m.bing.com

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