Only if it plays its cards right. If there ever was a time when Bing actually could take over search from Google, this is it. But it’s not going to be easy to convince people to switch from something they are so familiar with.
One of the reasons why Google is so powerful is force of habit. People are used to “google” something, and they will not switch to “binging” – not so fast, not so easily, and not just for search. When Bing launched, Microsoft pumped $80 million in a PR and advertising campaign of monumental proportions. Back then, I didn’t think “Bing” was a very inspired name for the search engine, but it somehow worked. If you repeat it long enough, it finally sticks.
So Bing has the brand, and the time is finally right to “go the internet.” Because Google is making some powerful enemies, making a harsh transition from a search engine to a content destination. If you read Danny Sullivan’s linked article, you’ll learn just how Google changed focus, becoming a feared empire. I find this particularly interesting:
Paranoia, ambition, whatever you want to put the blame on, I feel like Google has been walking through a forest, chopping down individual trees that have been in the way. No tree is chopped for a “bad” reason. There’s always some user interest that the company feels is being defended. “We’ve got to remove this tree. Everyone will benefit!” But after all this chopping, Google doesn’t just lose sight of the forest for the trees. It doesn’t see the forest at all, because it has chopped down all the trees.
When Google couldn’t partner with a company, or buy it, it simply copied its service and launched its own. Some were successful, some (like Google Offers, the direct competitor to Groupon in the US) still struggle. Chrome is a strong competitor to Internet Explorer, Android is a strong competitor to Apple’s iOS, and the list could go on. The problem is that Google is trying to compete in all niches, against all businesses, and many times not through innovation, but through imitation. I bet Groupon, Expedia, Facebook, and a wealth of others, are not really flattered. If Google plays dirty, how can online businesses cope and thrive, especially when Google is pushing all its services in search ahead of competition?
That’s where Bing could come in, capitalizing on this momentum, when so many businesses complain against Google. Although it says to be impartial in search results, and to be focused on users, Google is, in fact, trying to take over in many niches: travel, shopping, social media, etc. Bing needs to take over search, by making it fair and useful again. But it also needs to offer users incentives to make the switch.
Google’s AdSense determined publishers to feature “ads by Google” on their sites – a powerful way to stick the brand on some of the world’s most popular sites, and a great way for Google to capitalize on content. But the problem with AdSense is that it encouraged web spam, and site that were only “made for AdSense” (MFA) that infringed upon copyrights, and populated the internet with duplicate content, or low value content, crafted with SEO in mind: content for pennies. Clearly, AdSense is not the way, and Bing stays away from a practice that almost killed search.
Bing could sponsor publishers to use Bing as the default search engine on their sites. It already partnered with the likes of Facebook, foursquare, Twitter, LinkedIn and Quora to deliver better, more reliable results, and these partnerships should go forward. This is a smarter, and fairer, strategy, than copying their business model in an attempt to take away their users. This is a positive aspect, that will create good will among users of these social networks, but is not enough.
Already Bing’s search results are better, more relevant than Google’s. But this is not enough to determine users to make the switch, because not many people know it. In July, Google Sites still led the U.S. explicit core search market with 66.8 percent market share, followed by Microsoft Sites with 15.7, according to comScore. It’s hard to predict what happens in August, but I don’t expect a huge change, although the number of searches performed on Bing last month were up 4 percent compared to June, 2012.
So while the timing is right, does Bing have the marketing tools and PR intelligence to capitalize on this momentum? The jury remains out on whether Shift Communications and Rogers & Cowan, Bing’s PR firms can generate more buzz.