The big news of the last few days has been the launch of Microsoft’s new search engine, Bing. Many people seem to think that Google has built an unstoppable machine via its domination of search, and that Microsoft should just focus on Office and its enterprise software business. I’d suggest that all our experience of the last 15 years tells us that this would be foolish.
Nothing can lose value quite so fast as an Internet brand, and Google are perfectly positioned to make a huge misstep at some point or another. If Microsoft can stay in the game, they should. Who knows what can happen, and in the meantime they still have a billion dollars a year in free cash from Office alone with which to keep pushing at the door. Which brings us back to Bing.
Key questions for affiliates are how advertising on adCenter is going to be affected and whether Bing going to gain market share from Google. The first question is easy, for now: Microsoft’s official position is that there aren’t going to be any immediate changes to adCenter. The algorithm has improved, but ad units, keyword buying and ad placements all stay the same. Volume will probably increase, if only because Microsoft has a record-breaking ad campaign planned around the launch.
So far as market share is concerned, it seems to me that Bing, while it’s not a Google-killer, is sufficiently different and sufficiently good that it will take back some ground from BigG. We have seen a number of comparisons between the two around the Intertubes, and most agree that the results returned are of equal quality to Google’s, but that the difference is in the interface, which is subjectively richer. You can compare for yourself the two side by side with this nifty little Google-Bing comparison page.
My takeaway is that Microsoft may finally have learned a lesson from Apple. Bing’s user experience is fresh, clean and modern. It feels as though it has been put together with design in mind. And Apple have proved that is worth a lot. Google is incredibly good at leveraging its algorithm expertise into new projects, but their design aesthetic is determinedly functional.
If Bing ultimately shows that Microsoft’s search algorithm has caught up with Google’s, and as a result proves that search functionality is on the way to being commoditized, then bringing design into the battle to make the user-experience more rewarding may yet provide Microsoft with a competitive advantage. For a while.
Full disclosure regarding this post: the Bing home page currently features a photograph of a village in the Cinque Terre. Since I went there on my honeymoon, I may be biased. If you haven’t been there, you should.
– Chris Trayhorn