I am 100% pro non-Google search engines. I am pro competition, I am pro options, I am pro a constant struggle by all major search engines to improve their algorithms and the user experience. For that reason, I am pro Bing success. I truly want them to gain market share and become profitable and be a viable competitor to Google. But according to this TechCrunch article, that’s going to be harder than it sounds.
The article suggests that Bing’s plan involves a few key points, and I want to talk about some inherent problems I see with this plan:
#1) Microsoft wants searchers to ask Bing questions in natural language. Sure, I get plenty of question format key terms showing up for a visit or two apiece on most all of my sites. But even in aggregate, those question format queries make up a tiny minority of searches that’s barely a fraction of a fraction of my organic search traffic. I think by trying to steer searchers away from the “caveman speak,” as Online Services boss Qi Lu called it, the noun-based queries we all naturally use when using search engines, you’re asking searchers to change the very way that they search. You’re asking them to change their second nature search behavior.
Granted, searchers do evolve, so I suppose it’s not entirely out of the question that searchers would change the way they think. Most of us have learned to know better than to just enter “dogs” into a search engine if we really want to know “how to stop my beagle from licking the furniture.” I know that in real life we may ask out loud, “How do I stop my walnut-brained beagle from licking my brand new microfiber furniture?” but searching online is a whole different universe. We’ve been using search engines since the early 1990s, and we’ve had some time to learn a thing or two about a thing or two. Most of us who are looking for a specific piece of information just enter as many relevant keywords as possible into the search bar in hopes of getting the most specific, actionable answer possible as quickly as possible. I guess what I’m saying is – Bing, you’re trying to fix what ain’t broken. I don’t think this is where your problem competing with Google lies.
#2) Is it just me or does this whole “ask Bing questions in natural language” thing sound very Wolphram Alpha-y? Yeah, that went well. (Don’t get me wrong, it’s novel and it has its place.) It just doesn’t mesh with what Bing says it wants to do.
#3) The article says, “From there, the results will be less of a links list and more of a set of options, from which you can choose which direction to take your search.” Shouldn’t you be spending your effort trying to detect searcher intent from their already existing search behavior. To me that sounds like adding an extra step into the process. Just give me the answer I am looking for so I can move on with my life. Unless they mean using the different filters based on the content in the search that they mentioned. In that case, I’m on board. I like the filters for different types of searches. Delivering different kinds of information for barbeque versus Kansas City Chiefs searches. Something that very likely answers my question right off the bat – like a list of barbeque restaurants near me, or a list of upcoming Chiefs games I can buy tickets to. But giving me “directions to take my search” sounds like more time, more clicks, more work.
But all of these things are not going to bring the searchers over from Google, who last I checked still capture a behemoth 83% of search engine market share. This is not a case of “If you build it, they will come.” There was a brief moment when many SEOs and other website marketing professionals were all abuzz about Bing being the first viable competitor to Google really since the engine started to blow up in popularity around 1998-99. I asked myself why that is… and the best thing I could think of is because of the buzz that Bing created around itself, including with traditional media. Remember the “Cure for Search Overload” Bing TV commercials? I think Bing may have taken for granted that we’ve all happily used Google by default for the better part of a decade, and they still have some branding and awareness kinks to workout before expecting us to leave Google in droves for their search engine that is arguably mostly the same thing to the average searcher, except prettier.