Have you seen the ads of Bing taking more shots at Google lately? You may (or may not) have also noticed that Google product search results (formerly Froogle – now called Google Shopping) seem meager since last October as well, and if you have, you’re not alone. Several months earlier, the search engine had announced a transition from natural results in the shopping tab to those that were purchased by retailers. However, the world’s most-popular search engine has taken this one step further. Competing search engine Bing, which is part of Microsoft, has retaliated with some straight-forward and scathing ads of their own.
The Truth According to Microsoft
It’s no secret Microsoft wants in on the search market. Bing launched the website Scroogled.com as a direct attack but understanding the why of Bing taking more shots at Google is not hard, it’s all about market share. The website points out that every product that shows up in search results is technically a paid ad, which Google has been open about. Of course, this means fewer products show up in overall search results, but the impact doesn’t just stop there.
When you’re searching for a product, like a “black lace cardigan,” you probably want something pretty specific. For this reason, you’ll order product results by relevance, which is actually the default order setting. You would expect for results nearer to the front to be more relevant, then. However, Google’s advertising scheme has skewed results because retailers that pay more for the ad space will show up on the front page. Ultimately, the option to re-order product results becomes meaningless because of this.
Is Bing Really Different?
While the search engine by Microsoft has always defined itself as better due to being different, the recent bout of multinational tech giants going straight for the jugular so abrasively has never been taken to this level. Apple and Microsoft took clever swipes at each other, and Apple made a statement with it’s “1984″ commercial going in on IBM, but this type of outward, opportunistic, ongoing attack campaign is reminiscent car dealers, not major technology conglomerates.
Initially, Microsoft advertised its “decision engine,” which let searchers find what they want by asking questions and using human language rather than the Boolean phrases that every other search engine uses. You could argue that the “decision engine” is like the text-based version of Apple’s voice assistant Siri.
In this way, Microsoft has attracted those who want simple answers rather than cluttered search engine results pages. Young adults often joke that only their parents use this search engine; although, this might not be far from the truth. However, a few years have passed since the advent of Bing, and it has progressed since then. It appears that advertising gimmicks have changed for the company, too.
Microsoft’s newest strategy is different, however. The Scroogled website uses colors that evoke the competition’s logo, so there’s no confusion about who the intended target is. You can assume that the intent of the Scroogled site is to offend searchers enough to make them switch to Bing — permanently. In fact, buttons to try the search engine or set it as your browser home page display prominently on Scroogled.com.
However, the message on this website might not be as honest as gullible searchers would want to believe. Microsoft has yet to comment on the fact that its product search tool also accepts fees from retailers as advertisers. However, Microsoft might only be slightly less guilty when you consider that organic, non-paid results show up when you perform a search for the next birthday gift or kitchen appliance that you intend to buy online.
Is Bing Gaining Ground?
The short answer is yes, but even as Bing has made small, incremental wins, as Dave Davies pointed out in September of last year, Bing is going to have to spend more time on actually making a superior product to take over any significant market share. Making good products is not something Bing’s parent company is all that great at, but I guess we will see.
The Bigger Picture
While the rivalry between the two tech companies is interesting, it leads to some other poignant questions. Google has made no qualms about scorning website owners that buy ad space on other sites because it manipulates a website’s position in the SERPs. According to the company and its search spam department, these are unnatural links, and the search engine has cracked down on this behavior, even going so far as to manually punish websites with unnatural-appearing links. 2012 saw the the Penguin algorithm update right around the same time that the search engine let the public know about the expected shopping search changes.
But is the company’s product advertising strategy much different? Retailers are paying Google directly to manipulate search results without involving any third-party websites, and the search and software business isn’t even being as transparent about it as most websites that sell PPC ad space.
Actions like these can push searchers to check out the competition instead, and as Bing continues to improve, some of those misplaced surfers might just stick with Microsoft’s search engine despite the fact that the Scroogled campaign doesn’t tell the entire story. When other search engines provide more results that are more honest, they become true competition.
Google will have to remember that organic results and transparent actions matter to the consumer to retain the power that it has accrued. The search engine has at least attempted to include a disclaimer on its shopping pages. This weakens Microsoft’s attack against the other search engine and highlights Microsoft’s own dishonesty in the process. However, this could change in the future.