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Revisiting the Bing Search Strategy

Posted in Internet and Search by Manas Ganguly on August 5, 2011

Microsoft’s leadership knew years ago that becoming a real competitor to Google would take patience as well as dollars.Microsoft is trying to beat Google at a different game. As against Search which is a list of options that the engine provides. Microsoft Bing is trying to help in terms of helping user making decisions faster and easier – a concierge like service which is why the monicker: Decision Engine as against a Search Engine

Bing’s consumer strategy has been around changing the game in search, they mean making search smarter. Today’s search, primarily finds topics, or noun phrases — a person’s name, a city, a product, a disease and so on.Search is still essentially a Web site finder.But the future of search is verbs — computationally discerning user intent to give them the knowledge to complete tasks. There is so little context in current search, and what Microsoft is trying to do is present users with context and structure, more a map of the world of information instead of just ranking it, especially in specific subject areas like travel and health

The phrase that Microsoft uses is “decision engine,” as opposed to search engine. New classes of information will help. Social network data, where Microsoft has an exclusive partnership with Facebook, and in May it included a feature for linking the “Like” tags of a person’s Facebook friends to that person’s search results in Bing. It is a first step, in including trusted opinions in search — and not just the popular ones that conventional search.

Location data, especially from the growing share of searches on smartphones, offers another rich stream of information. Knowledge of the user, his past behavior, his social circle and his location can add another layer of context and knowledge to the search.

The ability to write increasingly responsive, full-featured applications for the Web — using the new HTML5 programming language — should also make search more intelligent.The goal, is to connect to personal data — location, choices, lifestyle, past usage and then connect to real life connects such as bookings, reservations, linking friends, information of events and more. Thus search transcends a passive information mine into ability of “doing” more around search. The upside for Microsoft are the opportunities around monetization.

In short, the vision here is of a search engine that is part intelligent software assistant and part mind reader.

In Bing, the most visible evidence of the decision-engine concept is the ability to aggregate and present specific kinds of information in a search result. Microsoft has invested in travel services which also leverages the “doing” around travel.

Advertisers have noticed Bing’s progress. Microsoft’s share of its corporate clients’ click volume from search ads has grown to 24 percent, from 14 percent, in the last nine months or so. Bing is clearly behind Google, but now it’s a scale player as well

The progression is from data to useful information to knowledge that answers questions people have or helps them do things. Knowledge is the quest. Focussing in depth on a product category and expanding/augmenting the segment is a formula that worked in the past for Microsoft in PC software, with Windows and Office. But whether that game plan will work against Google is uncertain at best.

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Is it there yet?(Afraid not)-Bing continues to be drain money for Microsoft even while results are not as desired

Posted in Internet and Search by Manas Ganguly on August 4, 2011

2 yrs back, Microsoft launched an aggressive attack on Google’s search with its Bing search engine. It also put in place, an agreement with Yahoo powering the Yahoo search at the backend. 2yrs on, Microsoft is still at it, loosing loads of monies to the tune of $700 million a quarter. The costs for Microsoft, meanwhile, keep mounting. In the latest fiscal year, ended in June, the online services division — mainly the search business — lost $2.56 billion. The unit’s revenue rose 15 percent, to $2.53 billion, but the losses still exceeded the revenue.

While there are some results in terms of 14% of search market share in US, it isn’t as encouraging as Microsoft would have wanted it to be. Add the searches that Microsoft handles for Yahoo, and Microsoft’s search technology fields 30 percent of the total. It was always going to be difficult- Google was more than a search, it was a generic- a search behavior! (Read Launch notes of Bing, Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV)

Microsoft’s assault on Google in Internet search and search advertising may be the steepest competitive challenge in business today. It is certainly among the most costly. Trying to go head-to-head with Google costs Microsoft upward of $5 billion a year, industry executives and analysts estimate.

As the overwhelming search leader, Google has advantages that tend to reinforce one another. It has the most people typing in searches — billions a day — and that generates more data for Google’s algorithms to mine to improve its search results. All those users attract advertisers. And there is the huge behavioral advantage: “Google” is synonymous with search, the habitual choice. Once it starts, this cycle of prosperity snowballs — more users, more data, and more ad dollars. Economists call the phenomenon “network effects”; business executives just call it momentum.

Bing’s gains have not come at the expense of Google. Its two-thirds share of the market in the United States — Google claims an even higher share in many foreign markets — has remained unchanged in the last two years. The share losers have been Yahoo and smaller search players.

Even while Microsoft is a big, rich company, investors are growing restless at the cost of its search campaign. The inability to make effective inroads into Google’s Search stronghold is seen to be a failure in Ballmer’s strategy. While the gas tank of investments at Microsoft is an seemingly an endless pit, the lack of results (as desired) on the Bing search engine and the drain on investments is beginning to show up in terms of Investors, Analysts questioning the path, intent and approach. Challenging Google in real terms on search is a long drawn battle and it all depends on how long is Bing ready to bleed as against how quickly does Bing get measurable real results for investors to approve the spends.

Revisiting the Bing Strategy (Contd)

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State of Search and Bing’s Challenge to Google!

Posted in Internet and Search by Manas Ganguly on June 30, 2011

Google still rules the Search Kingdom by a few hundred furlongs.Latest reports from IgnitionOne, show how Google commanded 81% of all US search advertising spend in Q2 2011. This figure is actually up slightly from the previous quarter and a 17.7% increase from Q2 2010. Meanwhile, Yahoo/Bing spending dropped 7.7% from Q2 2010.Bing, increased its US search market share about 75%, from 9.7% in May 2010 to 17% in May 2011. Meanwhile, Google lost 14% of its search market share in the same timeframe. The combined Yahoo/Bing also saw YOY declines in other key metrics, with cost-per-click (CPC) down 11% and effective CPM (eCPM, or effective cost per thousand views) down 9% year-over-year. Yahoo/Bing clicks (3.6%) and impressions (1.4%) grew slightly year-over-year. However, Google’s rate of growth in these two metrics was approximately nine times greater for impressions (12.8%) and five times greater for clicks (17.6%).Google’s AdEx saw nearly 230% growth in spend year-over-year on a same client basis, despite a 20.5% decline in CPM.

Search is going social, and so Bing’s partnership and integration with Facebook – the world’s biggest social network – could potentially materialize into a big advantage over Google. Furthering the social connect, Bing has enhanced the way it takes and uses data from Facebook (such as Likes and interests) to create personalised search results.

Quoting Qi Lu, director of Microsoft Online Services: Bing and Facebook are collaborating to create a search experience that doesn’t exist at the moment. What’s missing from search is the trusted opinion of people you value.

There are still industry debates about whether Likes do add a level of trust and whether they’re all that valuable in the context of search.

1. But if social is going to play a role in search, then having access to Facebook’s data (which Google doesn’t have), gives Bing the advantage of being able to try new techniques and models for marrying the two areas.

2. Android is activating around 500K devices every day. That is 15 million Android’s in a month which means Google is going full steam at the Mobile Search. Bing is not sitting it out there and has partnerships with RIM, Nokia, Verizon to make Bing the default search engine. Bing is thus not too far behind Google, if not abreast, in providing best vertical searches on mobiles.

3. Bing’s iPad app is hailed as a more complete experience than Google’s equivalent app and really maximizing the benefits of the high resolution touchscreen device. This is significant because Apple makes Google the by-default search engine on its devices. By holding a “better experience” Bing makes itself a better alternative to Google on Apple’s devices.

4. A tighter data privacy than Google, may give Bing an advantage. The issue of data privacy is growing in importance as people wake up to the wide range of information that is available about them on the web. Google has not been able to convince users wholly about the efficacy of its data privacy policies, yet.

5. Microsoft’s Xbox is much more than a games console. For many users it acts as the gateway to the internet from their living room, making it a central part of their online experience. And Bing powers the experience from these gaming consoles.

Google has been way ahead for quite some time now – and has done so many things right, that it’s difficult to say whether Bing will ever be able to catch up. And it’s worth noting that Bing has only been able to gain some critical market share in the US so far (where Bing plus Yahoo – which is powered by Bing’s search engine – jointly have around 30%), while Google has a very dominant 90% + share in most European countries.

So part of Google’s global success is partly down to its commitment to investing in international versions of its products and quick penetration of countries outside the US. Bing will definitely need to add internationalisation to its plans if it is to get closer to its rival.

But at least the intense competition between the two is fuelling innovation and change and is great entertainment for industry watchers.

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Bing adds a social layer to search: Search goes Social

Posted in Internet and Search, Social context, media and advertising by Manas Ganguly on October 18, 2010

In 2007, Microsoft paid $240 million for a 1.6 percent stake in Facebook. Since then, the two companies have worked together to introduce advertisements on Facebook and incorporate Bing Maps into Facebook’s location application, called Places. Facebook and Microsoft appear to be forming a united front against Google, a rival to both in several ways. Despite heavy investment by Microsoft, Bing still greatly lags Google in terms of market share. Google has made several attempts to strengthen its social networking offerings and compete with Facebook.

As expected the Bing event announced the partnership of Facebook and Bing to fortify the Bing search domain with inputs from the social networking giant. The Bing Social Layer is more than a strategy to take out Google in search; to me, it is an evolution process.To many it is the coming true of the adage “ enemy (Facebook/ Bing) of the (common)enemy (Google) is a friend (Bing/Facebook)”.The common denominator here is Google, the common enemy. However to me it is the evolution of the internet from being search led to social led. At stake, analysts say, is the ability to know more about users, and to charge more for ads that are more effectively aimed at those users. Making search more social is ultimately going to drive more targeted advertising, a service and ability that marketers are willing to pay a huge premium for.

Bing’s new features now allows users who use Facebook to see Bing search results that incorporate information from their friends, like restaurant recommendations.

1. Bing now integrates information on recommendations and “likes” made by the users’ social circle. Thus Search result makes its transition to a Search Optimization Model to a more Social model. When a user searches for something like a movie, place or product on Bing, information about how many of their friends “liked” that item on Facebook and related links they have shared will appear alongside the results.

2. Bing also integrates people searches based on Facebook profiles and the mutual friends data. I am most familiar with this kind of data from the Linkedin Profiles. Adding this layer will add a certain element of sociability to the internet search domain.

Heres the video explaining the Bing Social Layer:
http://www.facebook.com/v/10150298090235484

Bing is therefore going to introduce the power of social networks to Search. And it will be interesting to see how the search space plays up with the dash of socialization that Bing has injected into it. It is time for Google to react and for one a lot of people around think that Google should now acquire Twitter to counter the Bing-Facebook challenge.

Bing and Facebook can spell problems for Google and Foursquare

Posted in Internet and Search, Social context, media and advertising by Manas Ganguly on October 13, 2010

October 2007: Microsoft takes a 1.6% stake in Facebook for $240 million.

November 2009: Microsoft integrates Facebook Feeds into Bing search results.

October 2010: Fingers crossed as Facebook and Microsoft are due for a big announcement at the Bing Event tomorrow. It is expected that tomorrow’s Bing event is about bringing Bing and Facebook even closer together. It is reported that Bing may employ Facebook “like” data to make search results more personally and socially relevant. Here’s the example of search going social.

Whats at stake? Checkmate Google and Foursquare

That could be a huge blow to Google, whose relevance ranking algorithm is the company’s crown jewel and the main reason why it still dominates the search market. Google guesses what users are interested in based on their past behavior. Facebook knows what users are interested in because they’ve entered the data right there on their profile pages and news feeds. If Bing can get that Facebook data, that’s an advantage.

Another possibility is integration between Facebook Places and Bing Maps. Imagine signing into Bing Maps using your Facebook name, then seeing the location of all your Facebook friends who’d also checked in. Facebook certainly could use help getting people to use Places. Facebok places is yet to find traction after launching in August 2009.More and more users are signing up for geo-location service Foursquare.

Possibly this will bring more search traffic Bing which has been able to make about marginal gains even after its association with Yahoo Search.

Lets watch this space then.

Bing’s baby steps to No.2 in Search and Yahoo’s uncertain gamble.

Posted in Internet and Search by Manas Ganguly on March 11, 2010

In the battle of Search Engines, Yahoo! seems to slowly loose its steam even as Bing is beginning to take baby steps towards the No.2 Search Engine Position. The Bing strategy seems to get to a threshold level after which it would launch a frontal attack on Google. This is as per latest data from comScore on US markets. Bing’s gains are aided by the company’s aggressive marketing and there is a question mark on Bing’s ability to sustain traction. The Microsfot agenda however looks like they would keep buying out the share gains as long as Bing doesnot get a 20%+ figure consistently for a quarter or so. Then they would slowly scale down the marketing dollars.

Bing’s efforts at more relevant search results are catching attention of users globally. The sidebar feature alows the user to cut the chase down pretty quickly. However, Bing lacks in specialist products such as the Google Scholar. It appears to be the vertical searches–such as autos and health–helping Bing, which has been its strategy to differentiate itself from the Google juggernaut.

For Yahoo, which is almost voluntarily stepping down from the No 2 position, the gamble is still very unclear. In an earlier post, i had discussed Yahoo’s new strategy which was about re-positioning Yahoo to make it more relevant to users. Yahoo was in effect trying to re-create its 2000-2005 era of success, which looks pretty tough in an age where domains are getting neatly domained (Facebook for Social networking, Twitter for Micro-blogging, WordPress, Zynga on Facebook and more). I am doubtful of sustainability of Yahoo’s efforts in absence of a very clear positioning plank. It might have got the numbers with a big budghet marketing plan, but i am not sure if they can create stickiness (a la Facebook).

Here is the quick update on the Search Market results for February:

1.According to the data, total US core search volume increased 10.4% Y/Y in February, below the 12.4% growth in January. The total growth in the first two months of 1Q decelerated to 11.4% Y/Y from 4Q’s 15.8% Y/Y growth.
2.Google domestic core search market share was 65.5% in February, up slightly from 65.4% in January. Google grew February core search volume by 14.3% Y/Y, behind 16.7% growth in January. Google domestic core search volume growth of 15.5% Y/Y in the first 2 months of 1Q is below 4Q’s 19.9% Y/Y increase.
3.Yahoo! domestic core search market share dropped to 16.8% in February from 17.0% in January. Yahoo! February core search volume was down 9.8% Y/Y vs. an 8.9% Y/Y decline in January. Yahoo!’s first 2 months of 1Q domestic core search volume’s decline of 9.3% Y/Y underperforms 4Q’s 0.5% Y/Y decline.
4.Microsoft sites domestic core search market share increased to 11.5% in February from 11.3% in January. Microsoft sites grew February core search volume by 55.4% Y/Y, up from 49.6% Y/Y growth in January. Microsoft sites’ domestic core search volume was up 52.4% Y/Y in the first two months of 1Q, ahead of 41.9% Y/Y growth in 4Q.
5.Ask Network domestic core search market share dropped slightly, to 3.7% in February from 3.8% in January. Ask grew February core search volume by 0.7% Y/Y, down from 15.5% Y/Y growth in January. Ask Network domestic core search volume was up by 7.8% Y/Y in the first two months of 1Q vs. 8.8% Y/Y growth in 4Q.
AOL February domestic core search market share stayed flat at 2.5% in February. AOL February core search volume declined by 29.3% Y/Y vs. a 27.8% Y/Y decline in January. AOL domestic core search volume was down 28.5%

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Measuring Success: Microsoft Bing

Posted in Internet and Search by Manas Ganguly on July 14, 2009

3 LogosMicrosoft Bing has been on air for some time now. It has created some flutter and some clutter as well. This post examines how successful has Bing been in its long term approach in its quest to break from third place behind Google and Yahoo!

 June is the first full month the Bing “decision engine” has been live. Microsoft positioned the Bing as Decision engines meaning that its search results would allow depth of knowledge and information rather than width.Microsoft said Bing is aimed at online shoppers and will initially focus on helping people make buying decisions, plan trips, research health matters, or find local businesses.

 Microsoft is reportedly spending 80 to 100 million dollars marketing Bing but has not publicly disclosed its promotional budget.

 Achievement till date: The number of people that used Bing in June for online searches was eight percent higher than the number that used its predecessor, MSN Live, in the same month last year, according to Microsoft. Google’s share of the US online search market was approximately 74 percent.Yahoo! remains the second most popular search engine with about 16 percent of the US market, and Bing is third with 6.5 percent, according to Compete. Figures released in recent weeks by industry analytics firms reveal mixed data, leaving it unclear whether Bing is doing much to close the gaps with Yahoo! and Internet search king Google. Other Internet-tracking firms report different figures, with the ranking remaining constant but conflicts emerging as to whether Bing is gaining, holding, or losing ground.

 It’s really too early to tell how Bing is doing; the numbers are really mixed. Microsoft does deserve to pat itself on its back a bit. Bing seems to have had some lift but it is not an extraordinary amount. An increase in visitors is not surprising given the marketing they are doing.

 Analysts believe Bing is more likely to lure users away from Yahoo! than Google, which is woven into people’s lives so thoroughly that the company’s name is used as a verb to express the act of searching the Internet.

 The next big goal for Bing is not to beat Google, but to beat Yahoo! If they can’t get to number two, then getting past there is much harder.

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Is Bing the sound of search? (Part IV)

Posted in Internet and Search by Manas Ganguly on June 13, 2009

binglogo(1)google-homepage

Do we need another search Engine?

I have to wonder whether users are really crying out for a new search engine.

The only real answer for that question would be to provide a search engine that would actually be worthy of using instead of Google — one that would be so compelling that we’d want to change our habits to use it.Bing isn’t that search engine. It’s just another nice Web site. If it wasn’t Microsoft that was launching it, you’d probably never even hear of it. Not because it doesn’t have good ideas. It’s just not earth shattering — and that’s what it would take for most people to break their Google habits.Although Microsoft is positioning Bing as a decision engine, it actually plays like a bunch of individual applications, each with interfaces that are together and sometimes look and feel similar.

Will $ 80 Million buy Microsoft Traction?
Microsoft will spend $80 million to get us to try its new search engine, to be called “Bing.” Could that possibly work? (Well, at least it’s not caught in the confusing branding world of “Windows Live” . . .)
Consider.
We all used to use Yahoo or AltaVista until we switched to Google. We stayed with Google because it was better.
Now Google is more than just habit. Google has our IDs, customizes our searches, searches our desktops and our email and delivers neatly integrated Maps, reviews, and video searches. It works. There is every reason to stay and no reason to leave.
But $80 million buys enough impressions to get people to try something new.
For this to make the slightest dent, here’s what has to happen.
First, the search has to be better.
Second, the search has to be qualitatively different. Not just better search, but “holy cow this is different.” Like it was when you first tried an iPhone, or first saw TiVo. This could be a better way to organize different media. It could mean connecting with social applications. It could mean searches that get better at understanding meaning so we all don’t have to think in Boolean logic. Frankly, if I can imagine it, it’s not different enough. So it has to blow all of us away.
Third, it has to integrate with everything else, better than Google does.
And finally, it has to work equally well on all browsers, all devices, and all PCs, even Apples and Linux machines.
Thus from what it looks like, Bing will bring in some new features to the game and the search ineterface but even with its $80-100 million moneys on advertising, it will be far before it does something radically different to outmode Google totally. That too at a period of time, when Google itself is innovating so furiously all over. Unless Bing has more to it than we have seen till now, it is destined to the same fate as .NET, Zune and Vista…..

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Is Bing the sound of search? (Part II)

Posted in Internet and Search by Manas Ganguly on June 13, 2009

binglogo(1)

The Differentiators

Even though Bing is differentiated than Google in some ways, by Ballmer’s own confession, Bing is no Google killer and Microsoft isn’t positioning it that way.

The differentiators by Bing offers several new features intended to help people perform faster, better searches with less poking around on Web pages they find through the search engine.

These include:

A set of navigation and search tools called an Explore Pane which includes a feature called Web Groups. These organize search results in the pane and in the results.

Related Searches and Quick Tabs features that provide a sort of table of contents for search results.

Best Match highlights the engine’s top pick and Deep Links shows off more of the resources on a Web site in the results.

Quick Preview offers a preview of search results during a mouseover so people can decide if they want to leave the search page and click on a link.

On the surface, Bing has a distinct gloss. The home page features a rotation of stunning photography, for instance, which can be clicked on to produce related image search results. But the most significant changes are under the covers. “We have taken the algorithmic programming up an order of magnitude,” says Microsoft senior vice president Yusuf Mehdi. Each search result page is customized according to what type of search you do (health, travel, shopping, news, sports). The algorithms determine not only the order of results on the page, but the layout of the page itself, concluding what sections appear. These sections can include anything from guided refinements and a list of related searches in the left-hand pane to images, videos, and local results.

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“I’ve been playing around with a preview version of Bing for about a week. It is designed to be “more of a decision engine,” says Mehdi. Bing helps people make decisions through guided search and a focus on task completion. In a time when a new Website is created every 4.5 seconds, information overload is becoming a real problem. ” People are getting hundreds of thousands of links but not getting what they want,” says Mehdi. Bing tries to alleviate problem by offering up different experiences depending on the search. It also acts more like a destination site for certain searches. Travel and product searches bring in comparison pricing, reviews, images, and more. Hulu videos can be played within the video search results. Bing pulls in data from other Web services when it can so that you often don’t have to leave to get the information you want.

Refer for all blow by blow details: http://www.techcrunch.com/2009/05/28/bing-microsoft-prepares-for-war-with-a-revamped-search-engine-screenshots/

Bing features a full-screen picture on its home page that will be updated daily – rather like Google’s regular logo changes.

Bing also lists related search terms on the left, not at the bottom of the page like Google does.

Once results have been displayed, a column on the left hand side suggests further related searches.

Bing also keeps a record of recent searches even if the user isn’t signed in to a Windows Live account, and allows people to e-mail links from that search history or post them on Facebook.

For some types of queries, Microsoft is positioning Bing as a destination rather than a quick gateway to other sites.

Shopping with Bing, for example, is a bit like shopping on Amazon, with ways to narrow results by price, brand and the availability of free shipping, without leaving the search page.

Head to head comparison of results: http://searchengineland.com/microsofts-bing-vs-google-head-to-head-search-results-20006

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Is Bing the sound of search? (Part I)

Posted in Internet and Search by Manas Ganguly on June 13, 2009

binglogo(1)

Microsoft’s search solution has meandered a long course with no definitive direction. From MSN search to Live Search, Microsoft’s efforts have preliminarily been non starters of sorts. With Bing a.k.a Kumo (in its developmental days), Microsoft is trying its best to arrive at its best Search Solution till date. Launched formally on June 3rd, 2009, Bing is Microsoft’s latest attempt to step into the search domain where they have been minnows for a while now. Google rules the search kingdom with a 64.2% market share followed by Yahoo at 20.4% and Microsoft owns a miniscule 8.2% market share. Google’s search dominance translates in $4.7 billion revenue where as Microsoft’s attempts have seen it incurring losses in the online ad business. To mount a credible challenge to Google, Microsoft tried taking over Yahoo last year. But after Yahoo rebuffed its $47.5 billion offer, Microsoft turned its attention to improving its own Live Search.

Bing helps people make decisions through guided search and a focus on task completion. In a time when a new Website is created every 4.5 seconds, information overload is becoming a real problem. People are getting hundreds of thousands of links but not getting what they want. Bing tries to alleviate problem by offering up different experiences depending on the search. It also acts more like a destination site for certain searches. Bing pulls in data from other Web services when it can so that you often don’t have to leave to get the information you want.

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Bing’s search result page is customized according to what type of search you do (health, travel, shopping, news, sports). The algorithms determine not only the order of results on the page, but the layout of the page itself, concluding what sections appear. Microsoft is positioning it to be “more of a decision engine”.

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