There is some debate across the Web over whether or not Google’s decision to place a background image onto its search page for a few hours was a shot over Microsoft’s bow or a show of acknowledgment that Microsoft is starting to get to the search giant.
Of course, trying to determine Google’s motives are practically impossible. The company has little reason to worry about Microsoft, since it still commands a dominating position in the search market. But it also has reason to believe that that position could eventually lose such firm footing, now that Bing has gained more market share.
Either way, Google has little to worry about in the short term. The company’s search engine is still the world’s best, even though Bing is adding new, compelling features by the day. In the search market, becoming the better service isn’t always easy.
As Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has said time and again, the tech business is a long-term game. In the short term, a company might be losing. But with the right strategy and great products, any company can turn a market on its head and start dominating. That is Microsoft’s goal. But for the foreseeable future, it will be unattainable in the search space. Try as it might to be better than Google, Microsoft’s Bing just hasn’t achieved its goal yet. Here are the reasons why:
1. Relevance is everything
Search engines are usually judged by the relevance of their results. When it comes to relevance between Bing and Google, the former doesn’t compare. With simple searches, Microsoft’s search engine might perform just as well as Google. But tough queries set Google apart. A long, difficult query is more likely to yield relevant results in Google Search than Bing. That’s not to say that Microsoft’s search engine can’t handle difficult queries-it can-but it will take more time finding the right result in Bing than Google.
2. The Web services count for something
When it comes to Web services that go beyond simple search, it’s hard to bet against Google. Although Microsoft has Bing Maps, which is arguably better than Google Maps, Google adds in several more services, like Google Docs, Blogsearch and News, that easily best Bing’s Web services. And until Bing comes up with a StreetView-like service, it will have a hard time attracting those who want to use Google Maps to find out what a particular location looks like. High-quality Web services mean quite a bit in the search space. Microsoft must remember that.
3. Gmail is top-notch
Those looking for the best Web-based e-mail service will find it with Gmail. Google’s e-mail service delivers full integration with the company’s online Web services. And although it’s not the most popular social network, it’s also home to Google Buzz. In most cases, Gmail does a fine job blocking spam. It also gets an added boost from extra features in Google’s Labs. Gmail takes some getting used to for those who are accustomed to an Outlook-like interface. But over time, Gmail wins most over. Hotmail just doesn’t have it anymore.
4. Speed is a key factor
Google understands the value of speed. The search giant has made it clear with each revision to its service that it wants people to get to its home page, type in a query and get to their destination as quickly as possible. Not only does that cut down on the load Google needs to worry about, it also improves the experience for the user. After all, a search engine is just the middleman. Users don’t want to spend time with it. On the Bing front, Microsoft is doing a better job of increasing the speed with which users get to their desired result. But it needs to do a better job if it wants to catch up to Google.
Google Keeps the Focus on Search Results
5. Market share counts for something
Although the debate over features can go on for hours, it’s hard to bet against market share. The vast majority of Web users are still using Google to find their desired search results. And until more folks start seeing value in Bing, it’s hard to say why Microsoft’s search engine should be considered the better of the two. Yes, Bing might have some added extras that some folks like, but until the world starts moving over, Google can still wear the crown of the top search engine.
6. Google has been at it for longer–and it shows
Experience plays a significant role in Google’s and Microsoft’s ability to compete in the search space. Google has spent more than a decade tweaking its search to ensure that it adequately appeals to user desire. Microsoft, on the other hand, has only really been competing earnestly in the search space for a couple years. It was only a few years ago when Microsoft finally woke up and realized that if it doesn’t improve its standing in the search market, it could lose its profitability and be kept out of the Web. That lack of experience is showing with Bing. Although the search engine has come a long way in the last year that it has been available, Google, the veteran, is still far ahead.
7. It’s Caffeinated
Google announced recently that it has moved to a new indexing service, called Caffeine. According to the company, Caffeine offers “50 percent fresher results for Web searches” than its last index. That’s extremely important. Rather than waiting days, weeks and sometimes months for content to get added to Google’s index, it could now take minutes or hours. Not only will that help content providers, it will also improve the experience of searchers who want to find information on some of the news they heard about that day. Bing is still far behind when it comes to indexing speeds.
8. The focus is all wrong
The focus of Google and Bing couldn’t be any different. Google attempts to find the best solutions to improve its search for users. It realizes that if users are happy, its profits will soar. And its recent financial statements have reflected that success. Microsoft’s Bing search engine is much different. For one, Microsoft is focusing too much of its time and energy on what Google is doing. It also believes that the more content available in search results, the more people will like it. Microsoft must eventually realize that search is about users first and foremost if it wants to compete in that market.
9. Mobile integration
Google’s willingness to bring search to several mobile devices has significantly helped the company stay atop the search market. Google Search is the default service on the company’s mobile operating system, Android OS. Even better, it’s also the default search engine on the iPhone. In fact, only recently did Apple announce that Bing would also be offered as an option in the company’s mobile operating system. Google’s mobile integration has been extremely important to the company. Not only does it potentially expose more users to its service, it also keeps current users from trying out Bing. Until Microsoft makes a significant play for search in the mobile market, it will be hard-pressed to catch up to Google.
10. Information takes center stage
As mentioned, Bing spends too much time with extras. But Google Search is different. Google’s search page reveals everything users need to know about the company’s strategy: Simplicity and information must trump all. It works. Although Google is starting to add more features to its search, it’s still much simpler than any other service on the Web. Information matters most to Google, and its results-page design reflects that. Google is simply better at search than Bing right now. That doesn’t mean Bing isn’t worth trying out, but it does mean that from an experience perspective, it has a long way to go to match Google.