Bing Anniversary Prompts Questions Over Microsoft’s Google Challenge

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Bing celebrates its fifth birthday this month, but some question its actual impact on the search engine market

Microsoft has been in the Internet search business for a long time now, going as far back as 1998. And its Bing search engine is now five years old, having been launched in June 2009.

Despite Microsoft’s collective experience in the search environment and various initiatives such as the “Bing It On” challenge, some are questioning the impact Redmond’s engine has, compared to the 800 pound gorilla of the search engine market, Google.

Market Stats

Many hold stock in the search engine figures provided by ComScore. According to its latest findings, Google websites were responsible for 67.6 percent of US searches in May, compared with Microsoft’s 18.8 percent and Yahoo’s 10 percent, both actually powered by Bing. There has been very little year-on-year change.

search_350_4e31937751f11To get these figures, ComScore bases its calculations on desktop computer Web searches by about a million anonymous people in the United States. This means that it does not include searches carried out on mobile phones or tablets, where Google tends to dominate (helped by its Android presence). That said, it include searches from the MSN and Yahoo portals, which some feel helps explain why on the surface at least, Bing seems to have a significant presence.

But according to Reuters, advertisers are less interested in figures like these, but more interested in what hyperlinks are clicked and which websites are visited.

“Clicks are important because they tell us how well we are capturing [search users’] demand, and of course advertisers pay based on clicks,” said Jason Hartley, group media director at search marketing firm 360i. ComScore data “can lead you down the wrong path, or it doesn’t give you as much insight as you’d like,” he added.

Meanwhile another search engine tracker, StatCounter, which gets its data from more than three million websites, says that Google accounted for 80 percent of search engine-supplied US traffic in the last three months, whereas Bing accounted for 10 percent and Yahoo eight percent – lower figures that the ComScore research.

“Their [ComScore] current methodology is likely to mislead those who take it at face value,” Rand Fishkin, co-founder of search advisory firm Moz was also quoted by Reuters as saying.

ComScore meanwhile said it stands by its figures, with VP of Marketing Andrew Lipsman telling Reuters that the data is not designed to measure where Web traffic goes, only the searching behaviour of consumers.

Search Exit?

Whilst it is hard to truly uncover whether the advertisers money goes into Microsoft’s or Google’s coffers, some investors reportedly feel that Microsoft should not be in the search business at all, because it is an expensive venture to operate due to the data centre and engineering expertise needed.

The new search data called into question Bing’s usefulness, Todd Lowenstein at HighMark Capital Management told Reuters. He and other investors believe Microsoft should focus on products that businesses pay for, such as the Office suite of products and the Windows operating system.

“Microsoft would be better served selling Bing to another player who can use the asset,” he reportedly said.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is building relationships with other tech players looking to reduce the domination of Google. In June last year, Apple opted to drop Google from its Siri mobile search option and instead use Bing.

And it is worth remembering that Bing not only faces a challenge from Google, but also other search engines such as China’s Baidu and Russia’s Yandex.

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