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Historically, one of the truest gauges of the strength of a consumer brand is whether that brand name becomes synonymous with the product category. Two great examples of this phenomenon are Kleenex brand tissues and Jell-o brand gelatin desserts. After all, who puts “gelatin desserts” on a shopping list?
In the online space, a marketer knows they’ve made the big time when their brand becomes a verb. The noun “blog” was originally coined by Peter Merholz in 1999 as a short form of the term “weblog,” itself created two years earlier (also as a noun) by Jorn Barger to describe his process of “logging the web” as he surfed. Today, of course, “blogging” is a fully accepted verb meaning “to edit or add content to a blog.” I am “blogging” as we speak (but not “twittering”—never twittering!).
An even better example of the “verbing” of an online term is “to google.” As everyone on the planet knows, Google is the world’s dominant online search engine, with consistently over a 70% market share in the segment. Known for its simple interface and “Don’t be evil” corporate mission statement, Google rocketed past Yahoo! years ago by keeping its eye on the ball—namely, returning the most relevant search results possible in the shortest time and with the simplest interface. Today, job hunters are advised to “google” themselves regularly to make sure they don’t find any incriminating information or photos at which a prospective employer might look askance. Any “Yahoo!ing” those job hunters do will likely be on their resume.
Which brings us to Bing.com, Microsoft’s new entry in the search engine category. Launched with much fanfare this week, Bing replaces Microsoft’s MSN Live Search search engine, which was consistently a distant third to Google and Yahoo! in market share and was never going to gain sufficient traction with consumers (or advertisers) to change that. Microsoft bills Bing as “an entirely new search experience,” though some of its better features are actually inherited from MSN Live Search. These include (among others) infinite scrolling in image results, numerous ways to filter images, auto previews of video files and Instant Answers, which allows the user to type in a question directly and have the answer appear in the results.
The new features Bing brings to the table are generally focused on improving the relevancy and ease of use of search results, both for consumers and advertisers. To this end, Bing categorizes the results of some search terms by Web Groups.
So if you search for a celebrity, the results may be sorted according to biography, movies, images, etc. Bing also allows the user to pull up more information about many sites in the search results simply by mousing over a button which pops up on the right side of the results page. This feature is similar but inferior to the ability in Ask.com to preview the linked page by mousing over a preview icon. Of more value to searchers are cashback, which is essentially a rebate offered for buying merchandise from certain vendors through Bing, and Price Predictor, which aims to tells the user when to buy an airline ticket in order get the best price.
In terms of actual search results, a search of “popcorn seasoning” turned up about 568,000 results on Bing compared to about 370,000 on Google. The initial page of results seemed to be of similar relevance, and both engines included sponsored links to the right of the search results and in a shaded box at the top. Related search terms were displayed more prominently on Bing than on Google, while Google did a better job in this case of showing sub-links within the results. I found the mouseover pop-ups on Bing to be more of an annoyance than a help, though others may feel differently. Bing is also a huge improvement on Microsoft’s earlier user interface—gone is the clutter of headlines and banner ads that plagued MSN Live Search.
So will Bing make a serious dent in the online search market? Early returns are positive. Early results from Statcounter show Bing taking off in a big way. As of yesterday, Bing’s U.S. market share was at 16.28%, while Yahoo! hung out at 10.22%. Meanwhile, Google’s market share dropped about 6 points from 78.07% to 71.99%. These early results are likely just curiosity, since Bing has only been live since June 1st. The coming weeks will tell if Bing is going to truly catch on quickly and even become a verb of its own. As Microsoft says in the last line of their introductory letter, they “sincerely hope that the next time you need to make an important decision, you’ll Bing and decide.” We’ll see!