Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Could Bing Search Ever Surpass Google?

Bing Search has made a wide array of improvements recently

Bing, Microsoft’s (MSFT) Internet search engine, is the second largest in the U.S., accounting for slightly more than 20% of all organic searches.

Bing Search surpassed the 20% mark in March, consistently inching up from 10.7% at the end of 2009, to 15% at the end of 2011, to 18.1% at the end of 2013.

Microsoft has struggled to capture market share from Google (GOOGL, GOOG), the undisputed king of search, for more than a decade.

Through a partnership with Yahoo (YHOO) that began in 2010, all searches conducted on Yahoo sites used Bing algorithms and displayed Bing ads. The arrangement was a last-ditch effort by Yahoo to remain relevant in the search engine war after Google’s seemingly overnight success and rise in popularity.

However, Bing’s recent increase in popularity likely has little to do with Microsoft’s arrangement with Yahoo, as the Bing logo appears nowhere in Yahoo search results and its only mention is the tiny, unlinked “Powered by Bing” text at the very bottom of the page.

In what could ultimately be a damaging blow to Microsoft’s efforts to increase revenue from Bing, Yahoo announced in April the amendment of its arrangement with Microsoft, specifically that only 51% of desktop searches will use the Bing algorithm and mobile searches will soon abandon Bing altogether.

Microsoft Beefs Up Bing Search

Just this week, several updates were made to the Bing video search, making the service much more user-friendly and interactive. In fact, the updates were apparently so impressive that Ian Paul of PCWorld said, “Bing’s new video search puts Google and YouTube to shame.” Larger thumbnails and brief video previews, as well as additional information about the videos, were enough to sway at least one tech writer.

Microsoft has taken aim at Google Search and is willing to modify the service to stay in the running. Last week, MSFT announced that Bing will soon begin to automatically encrypt search data — something Google has done since 2011.

Earlier this year, Microsoft execs devised a plan to bribe users to search with Bing by creating the Bing Rewards program. Attempting to capitalize on the growing need for cloud storage, Bing Rewards members earn points for using Bing Search, which can be redeemed for up to 100 GB of free cloud storage on Microsoft’s OneDrive. As long as members continue utilizing Bing Search, that storage will remain active.

Bing Search Has Potential

Despite the myriad of challenges faced over the years, it appears as if Microsoft has made Bing relevant. Plus, with the massive campaign touting the upcoming release of Windows 10, Bing is likely to continue gaining momentum, even without the full support of Yahoo — an estimated 1.5 billion Windows users will be offered the chance to upgrade to Windows 10 for free.

Bing search has also increased in popularity with advertisers who recognize the potential of marketing to the other third of web searchers. Bing’s ad prices — on average 49% less expensive than Google — have also been a boon to Microsoft’s ad sales revenue, which is expected to continue climbing as Windows 10 is rolled out and adopted worldwide.

Still, even if Microsoft achieves its goal of 1 billion Windows 10 devices, it’s unlikely that the mere presence of the new OS, the improvements to Bing video search, and bribes of free cloud storage will ever knock Google Search off its pedestal.

For more than a decade, Google has been synonymous with Internet searching, so much that the company has had to defend the genericization of its trademark in court. That alone will keep Google at the top of the search engine charts, as its singularity as a household name is likely to endure for many years to come.

Bottom Line on Bing Search

Patience is a virtue, and it would seem, then, that Microsoft is as virtuous as they come. Late last year, Stefan Weitz, Microsoft’s director of search, admitted that, “We can’t compete with Google on pure search.” Instead, the company’s plan is to slowly expand the reach of Bing Search using smartphone apps and other mobile search applications.

Microsoft’s digital assistant, Cortana, is one beacon of hope for the future of Bing Search. Ryan Gavin, Bing general manager, said, “We fundamentally believe that as search evolves, it will move well beyond the point where I launch a browser and type a query into a search box.”

When Cortana is eventually available on Android and iOS, Bing Search statistics could see marked improvement if enough smartphone owners install and use Cortana, rather than Siri and Google Now. But, to further that scenario, Microsoft would have to launch a massive campaign asserting Cortana’s benefits.

So while Bing search might not be poised to overtake Google search entirely, Microsoft is beginning to reap the rewards of its slow-but-steady progress.

Article originally appeared on InvestorPlace (06/23/2015)

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