Microsoft Bing Beats Google but Users Stay Loyal to Google

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2009-06-26

Microsoft Bing Beats Google but Users Stay Loyal to Google

Microsoft's new Bing search engine beat Google in design and search results, but Google has fostered enough comfort and loyalty to retain users, according to a small study conducted by Web design firm Catalyst Group. See the study slides here

Eight out of 12 subjects who were regular Google users and had never used Bing said that Bing's design was more attractive than Google's presentation, and that Bing's initial and refined search engine results were more useful than those found on Google's search engine.

More users felt Bing's features, such as the explorer pane and related searches options, were organized better, and that it was easier to find and use Bing's refine and shopping results sections.

However, those who elected to remain with Google said they ultimately would stick with Google because the search results were similar. Further, the users were already familiar with Google's Web services and Bing's "decision-making" and visual improvements were not enough to sway them to Microsoft's $80 million effort to take search engine market share from Google.      

"Bing generates interest, but it's hard to take me away from Google because I'm so comfortable with it," the subjects who chose Google told Catalyst researchers. "The differences are very small [between the two search engines]. They're too small for me to switch to Bing."

Catalyst said users were split into two groups of six people, with one group performing a hotel search and the other conducting a shopping search for digital cameras on Bing and Google. Catalyst had the two groups run both searches on one site and then do the same queries on the other site to mitigate any bias effects. Results in the study hail from the first search each group did.

For the camera ad, the six users spent an average of 4.9 seconds looking at the top ad on Bing, compared with only 2 seconds looking at the top ad on Google.

Microsoft Has Long Road vs. Google

Catalyst said all users looked at the top ad area, but only half of these users looked at the right ad, considered a secondary ad. Those that did look at the right ad glanced at the right ad on Bing for an average of 1 second, compared with an average of 0.6 seconds on Google.

However, the second group doing the hotel search yielded markedly different results among users looking at the top and right ads. Those who did a hotel search on Google looked at the top ad for an average of 2.7 seconds compared with just 1.7 seconds for those doing a hotel search on Bing. Again, three of the six users looked at the right ad, to the tune of 2.9 seconds for Google, and 1.5 seconds for Bing.

What does this prove? Not much. Bing did better than Google on the camera search, but Google beat Bing on the hotel search. The camera and hotel ad results were a wash.

Similarly, in a classic case of different strokes for different folks, several users liked the photos used as the background of the Bing homepage, but others found the photos distracting and thought that it made Bing feel like a travel site, according to Catalyst.

That may ultimately not be such a bad thing. Microsoft envisions users doing searches and getting directed to e-commerce sites to make purchases, whether it's buying cameras or booking hotels or airline flights. If Microsoft can generate lots of cash from advertisements and help consumers make purchases (and make money themselves from Bing Cashback), the company will have a valuable proposition.

Greg Sterling on Search Engine Land sees how both Google and Microsoft can take comfort in, and be wary of, the Catalyst results.

It is true 12 people is hardly a solid foundation on which Google or Microsoft can build a case for which search engine is better. Does it matter? Google's search engine market share is a daunting 65 percent.

According to the 2-1 ratio in the Catalyst study, that's a lot of users that remain comfortable with not only Google search, but its other Web services, such as Gmail and Docs. Unless more users begin to get uncomfortable with Google, Microsoft has a long road ahead of it.

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