So this week saw the launch of Microsoft’s latest attempt to gain a foothold in the search marketing world. Originally thought to be named Kumo, but finally released as Bing, this is Microsoft’s latest attempt to challenge Google’s supremacy and prove they have something different to offer. Backed my a multimillion dollar advertising campaign in the US announcing the end of the search engine and the revolution of their “decision engine” they seem to strongly believe they something new and improved to offer the world of search engine marketing. But what have they really changed? Below is my summary of the various features of Bing, and also, where nothing in particular appears to have changed.
Live Search Suggest
As you type in the search box Bing brings up a list of suggested searches you may be looking for, auto completing single and double worded phrases. In the screen shot below you can see as I type in the word car, bing starts to suggest words like “cartoon network” “carrie underwood” and other words beginning with car. Google obviously does a similar thing but also displays the numbers of results alongside each keyword. Google’s functionality is actually a little more sophisticated and interprets your search meaning more accurately, so nothing new or ground breaking here.
One of the new features which forms part of bing’s “decision engine” positioning is the search refinement suggestions which appear in the left hand margin of their new SERP when results are displayed. Again, nothing ground breaking, but it does add a little bit more usability to their results, and from their point of view, allows for a more accurate search experience and obviously more searches means more ads displayed and more potential ad revenue.
Another part of the decision engine functionality is the ability to preview website content for the SEO rankings to allow the user to make a more educated decision on which is the best website to visit. On hover Bing displays a text snippet from the website along with some of the navigation links to allow entry into a different part of the website. Google has been offering site links on some website for a while but not on such a wide scale, and the ability to view additional website content is a nice addition which should allow users make a better decision on a websites suitability without leaving the search results. At last something Google doesn’t have! (yet)
The changes to th Bing image search functionality are more aesthetic than any improvements to the results. On hover an image is enlarged to give you a better view, and you are presented with the details of the image, i.e. size and file name. There is a little added functionality in the option to view similar images which could be useful, and they have also added the ability to feedback on image results. Some nice usability amends but again, nothing which is going to shake up the world of search and scare Google too much.
The video search function also has some nifty (but not necessarily groundbreaking) features aimed at keeping you with Bing, and helping you make your “decision”. Once within the video SERP you can hover over one of the videos and it will begin playing a snippet so you can see some of the content. Once you click a video it will also play a full size version, within Bing, without you needing to visit the video owners site. This obviously means that users can use Bing in a youtube format, and not need ot navigate away from Bing to different video sites. I did find a couple of instances of this functionality not working meaning it was necessary to visit the website hosting the videos though, so maybe it can be blocked in some way, and if it can most video owners will do so as they would prefer to viewer to enter their site. I like the hover functionality, one up on Google there.
They have also added some additional search functionality (again using the left hand margin, I see a common theme developing!) which enables a more advanced search quickly and easily. The ability to filter video search results by length, screen size, resolution and source. Again, nothing that cant be done using Google advanced search but actually done in a much more user friendly way removing the need for a completely new search query.
Natural Search Algorithm
Not much news here I am afraid, it looks like there has been some minor tweaks to the Live Search algorithm but nothing major. I have seen some movements up and down of maybe 5 positions but nothing major. This is going to be one of the big changes and a test of Bing as a search decision engine. More usable search results so that all the awareness generated by Microsoft’s advertising spend doesn’t just result in single visit users who revert back to Google after disappointment with the sites their queries return.
Paid Search Results
Again nothing new to report, Microsoft’s claims of taking their search engine beyond “ten blue links” didn’t actually result in taking PPC any further than it was on Live search. I believe a new adcenter is due later in the year so maybe they will roll out some changes or additional functionality with this release. But for now nothing changes, other than a possible uplift in impressions as people check out bing to see what all the fuss is about.
So will it change anything?
Although I have pointed out here that a lot of the features are nothing new, I actually like what Microsoft have done with bing. The image and video search functionality is good, the bing platform is user friendly and I like the design and layout. They still have a long way to go until they are a true challenger to Google though. The usability will help them keep some of the new users they get from all the publicity, but more needs to be done on the technical side with the SEO and PPC results and options. Advancements in the adcenter options and their PPC system, as well as improvements int he natural search algorithm are going to be the next big challenge, and wll be crucial if they are going to eat away at Google’s market share.
A lot of what they have done well can be picked up by Google and implemented pretty easily and that is the main problem. Until they come up with a ground breaking innovation which is unique to them and difficult to copy, they are always going to be playing catch up. I have said in the past, I really want somebody to step up to the plate and challenge Google, and it is only real innovative thinking and something truly new and fresh which will achieve this. Getting better, Microsoft, but still a lot of work to do!