The Little Search Engine That Could

If you ask an SEO specialist about Bing, you might detect just the slighted upturn of their mouth, the merest hint of a condescending smirk as they reply “What about it?” Indeed, the SEO community has not given Bing a warm reception. With an emphasis on marketing and less on, well, search, Bing is at best a second choice for search marketing professionals.

Unfortunately for Bing, this opinion is largely shared by their potential customer base. Despite impressive statistics, like a 10% month to month increase in search on Facebook, a Bing partner, Bing is still struggling to gain relevancy months after its release. Some specialists in the field argue that Bing will never succeed, but at NeboWeb we have found areas where Bing is already strong or even has significant opportunities to move in.

All of the things that draw consumers to Google, like its standardized interface, highly relevant results, and brand loyalty, are areas that Bing can probably never compete in. Coincidentally, the areas where Bing is at its best are usually areas where it doesn’t have to stand toe-to-toe with Google or are areas where Google is comparatively weak.

Bing's travel experience (even if it is a Kayak rip-off) manages to stand out from Google's, and their ever-changing background images mange to stand out from the drone-like experience of the Google homepage. Bing has also innovated with its maps interface by introducing a beautiful, enhanced maps option powered by Silverlight, and by adding photos, live videos, and their very own photosynth technology to their maps results. While the usefulness of these features is debatable, they are certainly impressive, which is where Bing's strength lies. While Google may only be concerned with serving the user the most accurate results, Bing is taking active efforts to woo users with impressive feautures.

But Bing's biggest opportunity could very well lie more in their branding and less in their feature set or design. In 1963, the rental car company Avis hired creative legend Bill Bernbach's agency Doyle Dane and Bernbach (DDB) to help them reshape their brand, and there's a lot that Bing could learn from the result. After months of meeting and research, the agency produced a series of advertisements that dramatically changed their business. Within a year, revenue was up by 4 million, and the company turned its first profit in thirteen years.

The advertisements rested on one simple, honest statement and its coinciding profound conclusion -- respectively, “Avis is only No. 2.” and "We try harder because we have to." Like Avis, Bing has an opportunity to embrace being the underdog and find a way to become the spirited, counter-cultural alternative.

However, in light of this opportunity, Bing is still trying to play both sides of the street. Their highly visible relationship with Microsoft is an aggressive attempt to capture more market share by not alienating the Microsoft-loyal, but it could end up hurting them in the long run by watering down their opportunity to be the underdog brand.

In addition to Bing's current opportunities in search experience and branding, a big bet on future growth seems to be Bing's best chance to please the execs at Microsoft. In this respect, Bing has two major opportunities: the youngest generation who have yet to establish brand loyalty, and mobile users who are looking for a more image focused search format. Neither group will come easily.

The young generation may not have a history with Google, but it’s likely that their parents do. In the coming years, it wouldn't be surprising to see a slew of Bing ads aimed at youngsters, trying to sway them from their parent's tradition. In the mobile search arena, Bing has a chance to move into a space that has yet to be claimed by Google, but a fight here will be toe-to-toe, as Google is also primed to take advantage of this opportunity.

If Bing plays their cards right, they could have a bright future ahead of them, but only time will tell if the little search engine that could actually does.

Written by Emily Winck on March 19, 2010


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Written by
Emily Winck
Director of Engineering