We’ve been reading a lot lately about how Microsoft’s Bing search engine compares to industry giant Google – and whether industry experts think that Bing has the chops to unseat Google from its top spot.
Certainly, there are some things about Bing that are promising.
In many cases, the user experience is better with Bing. Reviewers – ourselves included – generally prefer Bing’s page layout to Google’s. Bing seems to be able to put more information at the searcher’s fingertips than Google does, and it is more visually appealing. Bing’s results pages have more white space and a layout that is easier to follow and more pleasing to the eye.
Bing has also earned praise for its “Explore pane” with links to related searches, followed by the user’s recent search history, and an easy interface for limiting searches to a particular date range. We think many users will appreciate that last feature, because limiting searches by date can dramatically improve their relevance, and specifying date parameters is relatively difficult in Google.
Most of the search engine reviewers focused on more general searches. Of course, for iMarket’s clients, local search is key, so we did our own head-to-head comparison of the way the two engines perform in searches for local service companies.
iMarket’s home base of Burlington, Vermont, is currently experiencing record flooding, so we started with what’s currently top-of-mind for us: “plumber Burlington VT”. Then, for something completely different, we tried “furnace Vancouver Canada”.
As with our general searches, we preferred Bing’s visual presentation of the information for both searches. In both cases, Bing’s local listings appeared at the top of the page. In one case Google’s local listings were positioned below a paid ad for a national chain (Roto-Rooter), and in the other, they were interspersed confusingly with national listings. We also thought that Bing’s maps, which had numbered blue circles showing the location of each plumbing company, was easier to read than Google’s “raindrop” icons with letters inside them.
But what about the quality of the information? In general, it wasn’t very different. Both Bing and Google’s local listings for Burlington-area plumbers included phone numbers, addresses, and map locations. Google offered seven listings, while Bing had only five, but both provided a link that we could click to get more listings, and those extra listings were fairly comprehensive. For furnaces, Bing offered five local listings, with an obvious link to get more listings, while Google offered only four listings with a less obvious way to get more.
Bing’s much-touted “Explore” pane was no help at all for our Burlington search. The only links it offered were to touristy destinations in and around Burlington. If we’re looking for a plumber, chances are we live here and don’t need to stay in a hotel, and if our basement is flooded, we’re probably not in the mood to check out any upscale local restaurants. For the furnace search, the Explore pane was slightly more helpful, because it contained links to major national furnace brands.
There was one other important difference between the results presented by Google and Bing: Google provided links to reviews when they were available, while on Bing reviews were conspicuously absent on the search results page.
We agree with the online marketing experts who argue that Bing has to be significantly better than Google in order to woo searchers away from Google in large numbers. And so far, at least for local search, Bing and Google (in our view) are about even.
However, Bing isn’t done yet. It’s just signed major deals that will help it compete in two major emerging areas: mobile and social search. We’ll talk about those deals next week and how service companies should react to them.