Microsoft Bing is making progress in its bid to dislodge the reigning search leader, Google. But Bing faces a long, steep road ahead if it's ever going to beat Google. Here's how it can do it.
Bing was the fastest growing search engine for the month of August, metrics firm Nielsen says. Bing expanded by 22.1 percent to claim 10.7 percent of the U.S. search market. Google also grew, by 2.6 percent to take a 64.6 percent market share, while Yahoo continued its decline shrinking by 4.2 percent to hold a total of 16 percent of all US-based searches.
If you're keeping score, that means the top three search engines rank in the following order: Google, Yahoo and Bing. By comparison, the rankings in May of this year looked like this: Google (64.2 percent), Yahoo (20.4 percent) and Microsoft's Live Search (8.2 percent). That's right, the rankings look almost the same. So, while it's good news for Microsoft that Bing is growing, the new search engine has yet to prove that it's a better brand than its predecessor, Live Search.
The difference this time is Microsoft is investing a lot more time and money into Bing. It's hard to tell if Bing will have a significant impact on Google in the future, but here are four things in its favour:
1. Bing is market-focused
Microsoft has called Bing a discovery engine. Unlike Google, which serves as a general search engine with broad categories, Bing is designed to work well in search categories such as shopping, restaurants, hotel and flight bookings, health questions, film times and real-time traffic information.
In other words, Bing is focused on helping you buy things and find places to spend money, which could mean third-party partnerships and more revenue down the road.
As the saying goes, "if you can't beat 'em, lease 'em"... or something like that. Earlier this year, Microsoft and Yahoo announced a deal where Microsoft would supply all Yahoo sites with Bing's search technology for the next ten years. The deal still has to be approved by regulators, but assuming it goes through, the Microsoft-Yahoo partnership would put Bing in second place almost overnight.
The question is whether that reality will register on metrics scores from Nielsen and ComScore. Microsoft will be supplying Yahoo with search technology, but not the Bing name. That means Yahoo may still hold second place over Bing, even though it's actually Microsoft supplying Yahoo's search results.
3. Bing will try anything
Earlier this week, Bing introduced a new feature called Visual Search, which displays your search results as a series of images instead of a list of blue links. Although Visual Search could come in handy under a specific set of circumstances - like finding out which movies are in cinemas now - the new feature has been met with mixed reviews.
Nevertheless, the launch of Visual Search proves that Microsoft is willing to experiment with new features to try and take Google down by a point or two. Heavy experimentation could lead to some innovative and useful features missing from Google.
4. Microsoft Muscle
Google may have a huge infrastructure to support its online operations, but Microsoft can go pound for pound with the search champion any day of the week. If Microsoft maintains a heavy level of investment in Bing, along with its other online services, such as Windows Live and the upcoming Microsoft Office 2010, then it may convince some users to make Bing their preferred web portal.
...but Google is tough to beat
Although Microsoft has an interest in beating out Google, overcoming a fifty-four percent market deficit will not be easy. Bing is more likely to end up as a solid number two, with about thirty percent of the search market. Bing may be growing fast, but it is only slightly larger than the search engine it replaced. Now that Bing has overtaken Live Search's old position, the real popularity test between Google and Microsoft can begin.