Making the Switch to Bing
My name is Paula, and I’ve switched from Google to Bing.
Last week was a bit mind-blowing for anyone watching the search industry. Google’s new feature announcements kept coming, fast and furious. It started with their policy change to track and personalize search results for all users, which they sneaked in past the Eastern close of business the Friday before. Monday morning’s Web Search Evolution event cranked the fire hose up to full blast as Google demoed real-time search, Google Goggles, real-time language translation, voice recognition-powered “What’s Nearby” searches for mobile users, and so on.
Normally I would think, “Woohoo, more search power! Free stuff! Go, Google!!!” But their no-warning expansion of personalization had left me with an eerie feeling that this gift horse might be trying to eat my shoes. When Google CEO Eric Schmidt explained away people’s need for privacy on the Internet, I was glad for the decision I’d made: to switch my default search engine to Bing. (Note: I wasn’t the only one.)
Here are a few of my observations and criticisms as a new Bing user.
Getting Used to the Bing Interface
Bing gets five stars for aesthetics, in my opinion. The photos rotated daily on Bing.com are always beautiful and intriguing, though I generally search using the Bing search engine box on my navigation toolbar. Once inside the search results, the beautiful layouts and graphics show that Microsoft has put some serious money into design.
The interface is full of value-adds. The left-hand column of links was a little hard to get used to, because my Google-trained eyes are accustomed to looking far left for the results. But the links Bing provides there let me see related searches (without scrolling beneath the fold) and my recent search queries, which I’m finding useful.
I also liked the ability to mouse over any result and read more from the page:
Blended search on Bing could be better. I ran a search for [birds of southern california] and the first page of results contained 10 Web listings and a row of six image results (see above). That was a few days ago. Strangely enough, today the same search displays a row of video results instead of the images!
Note that Google provides a row of six image results midway down the page and three book results at the bottom for the same query. I do prefer Google’s way of interweaving the blended results into the Web listings so I can see images, videos, etc. without scrolling.
Results Look Better But Aren’t As Relevant
Ahh, here’s the rub. While Bing often provides the results I am looking for, I have to sort through some junk to find them. Here are a few specifics.
- Descriptions – For my search, both Bing and Google show the same top result, a page that uses the same phrase (“Common Native Birds of Southern California”) for the Title, Meta Description, Meta Keywords and Heading tags. Both Google and Bing replace the description with text from the page, but Google’s version does a much better job matching the search query:
- Titles – Similarly, Bing’s choice of title text sometimes differs from Google’s. Google recently revealed that they sometimes change the title shown in a SERP listing and don’t display the page’s actual Title tag when the search engine feels some other text is more appropriate. Here’s proof that Bing does this, too.
Google’s result shows the actual Title tag, which in this case is a better title for the entire page:
Bing’s result replaces the Title tag with the first heading, which does not describe the whole page but only the first section. Also note that the description text and even the expanded description showing a “contact” e-mail address are less than helpful in addressing my original query:
- Top 10 Results – Bing’s choice of Web results for the front SERP was about 90 percent satisfactory. Half of Bing’s top 10 results were also on Google’s first page for my search query. Only one of Bing’s top 10 Web search results was completely off-topic: a grisly news story about a family found dead in “Southern California”. (Shudder.) So other than the less-than-helpful wording choices for some of the titles and descriptions, Bing’s results gave me the Web sites I needed.
- Image Results – Bing’s image search is where low quality of results contrasts most strikingly with the high quality interface. You would think a search for [birds of southern california] would give you some beautiful pictures of birds, right? Bing apparently thinks football players, weddings and maps might be more on-topic:
These irrelevant images may have matched the “southern california” part of the query, but Bing really missed the sense of the query as a whole. They just were not relevant.
On the positive side, Bing’s image search has some time-saving interface features. Images initially show on a clean canvas, without text captions. Zoom icons in the upper right let you click to redisplay the image thumbnails in three different sizes, or with the text turned on. Hovering over any image enlarges the picture and gives you the file name, size info and Web site.
The best part about Bing’s image search is the virtually unlimited number of image thumbnails you can view on one page. As you scroll down, the window downloads the new screenful of images. My search found over 40,000 images; scrolling to the very bottom showed me up to 996 of them, without pagination. Note that this feature is so user-friendly that Google is currently testing it themselves and may copy Bing with their own “infinite scroll” results. [Both Google and Microsoft have been playing with infinite scroll since 2006. Personally, I can't stand it. I like pagination because I'll often repeat queries and know which page I need to be on. --Susan]
Google Needs Bing
In the final analysis, a search engine is about helping you find things you’re looking for, and Bing still has a ways to go here. Granted, I’m using a research-oriented query with [birds of southern california]. Could Bing call itself a “decision engine” because it’s really only geared for helping consumers choose a product or service? That cannot be true. Since people usually begin their decision-making process by learning about a subject, Bing must also handle research queries or lose that future decision maker early in the game. So Bing, I’m counting on you to continue to refine your algorithm and bring relevance up to the level people expect.
Down deep, I switched search engines because I know that Google must have competition to stay healthy. Competing search engines protect the search industry, protect the public, and ultimately, protect Google from itself (“absolute power corrupts absolutely”). By using Bing I can be one user, one miniscule but nonetheless real support for search independence and privacy.