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Bing vs Google: The Debate Rages On

Google has come in for a lot of criticism in recent times, thanks to the overhaul that the search engine giant has given its algorithms over the last couple of years. However, most of us still consider Google to be the be all and end all when it comes to SEO.

No avenue should ever be discounted though, and users essentially rule the roost, but will Bing ever take over from the machine that is Google when it comes to search? And which is the better PPC platform?

Let’s take a look.

Latest Research

Bing It On

Last year, Microsoft conducted a blind study, ‘Bing it On’, to test people’s perceptions of search and found that when “using the UK’s most popular web searches, people preferred Bing web search results to Google’s”.

Microsoft point out in the Bing it On blog that whilst many people still use Google, many do so out of nothing more than habit and in fact, overall many people actually prefer Bing. The study involved showing a random selection of people search results pages from Google and Bing side-by-side, without any branding or ads, so people wouldn’t know which company’s results they were viewing.

Each participant was asked to carry out 10 searches and decide which page of results they preferred. The study was conducted by independent research company Answers Research and it was found:

  • 53% of participants picked out Bing over Google
  • 34% picked Google more often
  • 13% couldn’t decide
  • Out of 10,000 Bing was chosen 39% of the time and Google 32%

However, in a Yale study by professor Ian Ayres, the results were found to be false. The professor and his students conducted their own ‘blind taste test’ using the Bing it On site and found that 53% preferred Google and 41% Bing.

“This is not even close to the advertised claim that people prefer Bing "nearly two-to-one."  It is misleading to have advertisements that say people prefer Bing 2:1 and also say join the millions of people who've taken the Bing-It-On challenge, if, as in our study, the millions of people haven't preferred Bing at a nearly a 2:1 rate,” the professor pointed out on his blog. The results were even higher when test subjects were allowed to choose their own search words instead of the suggested terms.

Ayres Study

Ayres study results, image and full study available here

Whilst Google’s Matt Cutts posted a relatively “subdued reaction” to the professor’s research, saying that he “never bothered to debunk the Bing It On challenge, because the flaws (small sample size; bias in query selection; stripping out features of Google like geolocation, personalization, and Knowledge Graph; wording of the site; selective rematches) were pretty obvious,” Microsoft’s reaction wasn’t quite so bland.

“The professor's analysis is flawed and based on an incomplete understanding of both the claims and the Challenge," Matt Wallaert, a behavioural (sic) scientist for Bing responded.

"The Bing It On claim is 100% accurate and we're glad to see we've nudged Google into improving their results.  Bing it On is intended to be a lightweight way to challenge peoples' assumptions about which search engine actually provides the best results. Given our share gains, it's clear that people are recognizing our quality and unique approach to what has been a relatively static space dominated by a single service."

What it Means

Google hasn’t been the search engine of choice forever. Those of us that are old enough will remember when we used to have a clear choice of engine: Yahoo, Lycos, Ask, Alta Vista etc. etc. Whilst Google is undoubtedly at the top of the tree right now, if it continues to annoy users with ever-tightened restrictions, it will eventually lose out. Take the keyword not provided issue as an example of how annoyed some are becoming with Google, then add to it the recent furore surrounding guest posting for SEO and it becomes clear that not everyone is very happy.

Both Microsoft and professor Ayre’s research do prove one thing, Bing actually don’t have bad market share. However, it is still quite far away from dominating the market, although it is taking a very different route to Google, which is focusing search on a deeper understanding and ‘learning’ algorithms in order to understand what a user means when they enter search terms.

Bing, on the other hand, partners with social networks and gets its data directly from these sources so it doesn’t have to predict what users mean, it already knows what its users want from the social data that it gathers.

So, whilst Google are taking a gamble right now, Bing is moving further towards personalisation, which is something that it’s very clear users actually want. Microsoft also has a corner of the mobile device market which it could further use to its advantage and is constantly integrating search with its new products.

In the end, it will probably come down to which company produces a complete, integrated product that people want and will use. This is something that mobile really could drive, after all, how many of us type in a search engine on mobile and how many just use the one that comes packaged with the mobile browser?

Final Thoughts

At the moment, it’s unlikely that Microsoft will win out in the short term. Google is now firmly entrenched in Western society, you don’t often hear people saying “I don’t know, why don’t you just Bing it” after all. Google has the upper hand when it comes to the simplicity of its home page too, but whether this will be enough to ensure its continued dominance relies completely on the success of its new algorithms.

Google is also playing a dangerous game by ensuring that it’s alienating SEO professionals. There’s no doubt that the changes have put some out of a job and whilst for the most part that may be because they participated in black hat techniques, it’s not always so. The keyword not provided issue has put a lot of noses out of joint and the guest posting issue has created manual penalties for some that just don’t deserve it.

With this in mind, we could see a migration from Google to Bing, but at the moment, I’m not holding my breath.

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