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July 23, 2009

Microsoft vs Google: game on or Bing results too “spammy”?

It didn’t look too promising at the launch but Bing has been constantly in the news ever since. Some say the results are better than Google, even going as far as suggesting Google is all but finished. I don’t agree.

On one of the search engine forums I often comment on, one of the moderators had this to say on the subject: “But overall this confirms my sense that Google, having abandoned the business model that got it to the top, viz. fast no frills search, in favour of added features and buying up other companies, is becoming increasingly fat and complacent, and along the way their search results are becoming less relevant.”

Now, I have to say that I had a small run-in with this guy as he supports everything Microsoft does, from its browser to its operating system and now to its new “decision engine”. So when he writes, “I’ve been using Bing lately and I’m finding a lot of advantages over Google. These are early days yet but this is the first emerging search engine that may provide a real threat to Google’s dominance – something I for one welcome,” I’m a little suspicious.

There’s plenty of supporters out there giving online commentaries on its progress., for example, analyses its early success by saying: “Microsoft sites’ average daily penetration among US searchers reached 16.7 percent during the work week of June 8-12, up 3 percentage points from the May 25-29 period (which was prior to Bing’s introduction) and up over 1 percentage point from its first week.”

However, on following its launch, Matt Cutts, Google’s spokesman and soothsayer, was reported, rather scathingly I thought, to have tweeted: “Matt Cutts: Congrats to @bing on the launch! Sad to see this not-so-relevant result at #4 for [matt cutts] though.” And then: “The #5 Bing result for [matt cutts] is spammy too.” Interesting that one should search one’s own name to find out if the results were “spammy”, but never mind.

So, I did a little research on the subject of my own and tested my web turf to find on “web design bangkok” Bing returned very poor results, spammy even, with “Luxor Bangkok the Egyptian Design Hotel” and “Bangkok Metropolitan Administration” being placed in the top ten.

However, there is a site that offers users the opportunity for us to choose for ourselves. Just go to compare-your-search-bing-vs-google-vs-yahoo and type in any search term you are unfamiliar with and see which search engine results you would choose. Select say ten of them. You are presented with randomised results from Bing, Google, and Yahoo placed in a three-column set. You don’t know which one is which at this stage until you make your choice. As a test, take a look and select the one you think delivers the best results.

I tried 10 searches for terms I’m not at all familiar with and Google came out on top in all but one. It did surprise me after my original test on my own search terms that Bing was very close on all of them.

For Matt Cutts to comment as he did in the wake of Bing’s launch, I don’t think Google are too comfortable with Microsoft’s re-emergence into the search engine marketplace. For me, though, I am much happier to accept Google’s results as the test bore out. Others may be switching to Bing already but I am not.

I then looked for commentary – they’re ubiquitous these days – and found had run the headline: “Bing vs. Google: Consumers Can’t Tell a Difference”. Oh, but I think they can, I thought. While it’s true that on wider, more unfamiliar search terms the two are very close indeed (my own findings were “seo consultant” – Google, but Bing very close; “manchester city t-shirt” – Google because it returned MCFC official site; “polar ice caps melting” – Google again but Bing almost identical; “bank bonuses uk” – Google, as it had reports from BBC, Guardian, etc. but Bing again very close), Bing still has its teething problems.

So as I read the plethora of reports and opinions being spun as to whether Bing is better than Google, I wonder what drove them to that conclusion. Like that of the forum moderator, perhaps? But I’m sure he was being honest with himself about his choices. It’s just a matter of why he would choose a different set of listings to me. It can’t be just because he’s a closet fan of Microsoft; the three engines are hidden until one is selected and I can vouch for his integrity.

However, Bing’s campaign, or spin, however you look at it, seems to me to be communicating that in order to get “relevant” information, they should choose Bing over Google, with its grandiose promise of being a “decision engine”. Which is what, exactly? Another one of Microsoft’s tricks to decide matters for me? As if Word wasn’t frustrating enough at doing that already.

Maybe the differences are far too subtle for me to notice. Or just maybe the Luxor Bangkok the Egyptian Design Hotel is not the place I would go to find a web designer in Bangkok. But the moderator, of course, had the final say: “I was a big Google fan for a long time, but increasingly I find myself going to Bing first and only to Google if Bing doesn’t deliver the goods. There’s no question that Google still has more web pages indexed than anyone else. But if they can’t find better ways of sorting through them they are going to crash. They can’t count on brand loyalty forever. For those of you old enough to remember Alta Vista, I am reminded of their rapid and total fall from grace when Google launched. Nothing is forever on the net.”

My findings are that they are very similar and certainly not enough to make “Google crash” just yet. Personally, I don’t believe this is yet Bing’s time until they tighten up their results. I agree with Mr Cutts that just now Bing is just too, how do you say again, “spammy”.

V9 Design and Build ( produce tasteful web design in Bangkok, Thailand, including ecommerce shopping cart solutions, with functionality that allows owners to set up and maintain their online stores.