Chasing Bing: The Truth Behind The Hype

In recent weeks, we’ve noticed a surge in clients calling us to ask questions like “what’s up with Bing?” Or, “are you optimizing for Bing?” Even “are you taking advantage of Bing?”

In other words, people want to know that their search engine optimization company is taking special steps to ensure adequate representation on the newly created, much hyped search engine. And to answer the first question, what’s up is MSN’s umpteenth attempt to create a search engine that garners a significant amount of market share from its more formidable rivals — namely Google and Yahoo!. Microsoft has not been shy to promote the new engine; the current advertising campaign is estimated to cost around $100 million.

How is it going so far? It depends on who you listen to. The metrics vary wildly, depending on the source you consult. In a recent analysis of statistics, Hitwise ranked Bing as the seventeenth most popular Web site out of 450,000,1 while StatCounter noted that the engine was in third place behind Google and Yahoo!. ComScore’s ratings showed that Bing increased MSN’s average daily searcher penetration by 1.7% (from 13.8% to 15.5%). These numbers and ranking criteria are enough to make anyone’s head spin. But, when you get down to it, the event everyone is looking forward to is what will happen when the budget runs out, and the promotional period ends. Will searchers remain loyal or return to Google and Yahoo! and never look back? Nobody can really tell if any positive results are sustainable over a long term period.

Most reviewers put Bing in a good light, noting its ease of use and searching options, and some are even scrutinizing the accuracy and relevancy of Google and Yahoo! results against Bing. In the June 08, 2009 edition of B to B magazine, for instance, one reviewer appreciated the shopping comparison tool while another stated that searchers seeking refined results will be more likely to take advantage of Bing. Admittedly, the engine’s clean, streamlined look is pretty exciting; the home page features a new, interactive image each day; searchers click on certain parts of the image and trivia, facts, or additional links pop up. But after that, a simple search will provide users with results similar to its counterparts — images, video, maps, news, and the like.

Another Iteration — This Time with a Pretty Bow

But there are a few reasons not to get so excited. Number one — we have no idea where the market will settle and if the market share for Bing will continue to grow. Without this data, there’s no way to say if tailoring a Web site specifically for Bing is worthwhile, especially if it negatively impacts existing Google and Yahoo! rankings. Number two — no matter which stat you look at, Google still owns the lion’s share of the search market; add Yahoo! to the mix and Bing is dwarfed. Number three — Microsoft has no track record of success in the search world; its developers and visionaries have tried many different search iterations, so far to no avail. The company is banking on two things: the quality of the engine and a willingness to spend money to promote it.

And, finally, number four is a byproduct of MSN’s past explorations into search engines; the brand name is construed by many as a liability that carries a somewhat negative connotation. Possibly, a good option would be to take the MySpace/NewsCorp route. When MySpace was bought by NewsCorp in 2005, business went on as usual; MySpace was just MySpace. NewsCorp understood what made MySpace ‘cool’ was its reputation of independence. Yes, it was crushed by Facebook down the road, but that’s a different story. Microsoft chooses to end every Bing commercial with blatant ‘by Microsoft’ wording and logos as if this is a positive — I’m not sure that it’s necessary or even wise.

In light of this information, what’s a search engine optimization company do?

Two Ways to Approach the Situation

Irresponsibly:

  1. Optimizing for Bing at the potential expense of other engines that have long-term records of market share is foolhardy. At the end of the day, Bing may be new and exciting, but it still possesses a tiny amount of market share in comparison. A prudent search engine optimization company will likely recommend waiting until the numbers stabilize before charting a course of action.
  2. Compromising for Bing at the expense of Google and Yahoo! is not wise. A search engine optimization company can certainly optimize for Bing, but hopefully not at the sacrifice of current rankings on more popular engines.
  3. Assuming that Bing will have a static algorithm is foolhardy; if Bing does indeed gain market share in the coming weeks and months, black hat practitioners will try to “game” the system, meaning that we can expect the algorithm to change and evolve rapidly. What works on Bing right now may not work in a matter of weeks.

Responsibly:

  1. However, a forward-thinking search engine optimization company can be prepared by creating test sites that are optimized specifically for Bing and learning as much as they can about the algorithm.
  2. If ideal rankings are achieved, then your search engine optimization company can determine how these rankings translate to Google and Yahoo!. Obviously, it will be important to follow these statistics closely to see if Bing can gain and maintain ratings or if it will mimic Microsoft’s history of poor engine performance.
  3. Your search engine optimization company should also locate specific pieces of the Bing algorithm that do not compromise rankings in Google and Yahoo!, but that may help rankings in Bing. Finding attributes of the Bing algorithm that can be applied to your Web site that will garner higher Bing ratings is obviously in the best interest of the site; we just want to make sure that existing rankings aren’t compromised on the road to success.

The Proof Is in the Pudding

Not surprisingly, this is not the first time we’ve had clients calling us because of some new search engine. And like any other search engine optimization company, we’ve certainly seen this hype before. There was a time when people were asking us if we were optimizing for the search engine iWon. (Anyone remember that? Didn’t think so.) To a lesser extent, when Ask.com launched a media blitz a couple years ago touting its new features, many of our clients asked (no pun intended) what our course of action was. With a historical 3% market share, the answer was “not much.” We watched as the numbers blipped upwards for a very brief, but stellar moment, and then fell back to previous levels. Of course, any good search engine optimization company will follow these types of numbers closely, but they won’t take the reliable engines that they’ve been driving for granted.

© Medium Blue 2009

About the Author

Scott Buresh is the founder of Medium Blue, an Atlanta-based search engine optimization company. His articles have appeared in numerous publications, including MarketingProfs, ZDNet, SiteProNews, WebProNews, DarwinMag, ISEDB.com, and Search Engine Guide. He was also a contributor to The Complete Guide to Google Advertising (Atlantic, 2008) and Building Your Business with Google for Dummies (Wiley, 2004). Medium Blue has local and national clients, including Boston Scientific, Cbeyond, and DeKalb Medical, and was named the number one organic search engine optimization company in the world in 2006 and 2007 by PromotionWorld. To see how we can help you achieve your online marketing goals, please contact Medium Blue.

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