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18th September 2012
By Matt

Microsoft’s search engine, Bing, recently came up with a way that people could blind test Bing v Google (It’s since been taken down). Through Bing it on, you could enter a search term, and it would show you a Google and a Bing results page side by side, only without any site templates, advertising or any identifying features (except for a few small giveaways which won’t escape the trained eye). You could then decide which results page you prefer or whether the two were tied and, after five searches, the final Bing v. Google score was revealed.

It was a neat idea, and spat out a perhaps surprising 3 – 2 score in favour of the big G for me (I thought Google would score a 5 – 0 whitewash). Further still, as of August, Google UK holds 91.37% of the search engine market share (according to StatCounter), so at first glance, it was maybe surprising that Bing’s research showed 57.4% of people chose their engine more often than Google.

Some important things to consider

Firstly, Bing carried out their research in the US, where they have a 15.7% market share (in July, according to comScore). Our friends across the pond view Microsoft’s search engine more favourably.

Secondly, I’m always somewhat wary when a company performs this kind of test on one of their own products when it’s so clearly advantageous to present themselves in the best possible light. Who’s to say Bing didn’t carry out a whole raft of tests and this was the only one that returned favourable results? That the “Bing it on” engine has recently been taken down suggests that all is not right.

Finally, it’s arguably not a fair test to simply remove all of the features that make a search engine identifiable. For example, Google’s riposte to this research could be that they provide a more competitive pay per click market, meaning the paid ads are more relevant and higher quality. They could also argue that they integrate social signals into the Serps in a more measured way than Bing. Google’s Doodle logos that mark special occasions are also a highly popular touch that reinforces the brand in the public consciousness and gets people talking.

The crux of the issue

Bing’s argument is that people use Google habitually, and almost without any consideration:

“[people who use Google] are responding based on their habits rather than the facts.”

I think there’s a reason for this. People’s habitual use of a particular search engine is a signal of quality and usability, as well as familiarity. So the reason 91% of people in the UK use Google instead of its competitors is as much because it’s better than the others, as well as being what people are used to.

The best Bing could have hoped for here is that users gave their Bing it on blindfold test a whirl. Even if I’d turned up a 5 – 0 in their favour, I don’t think anything would’ve changed the next time I opened a search engine.