Steve Ballmer’s view on gaining search share with Bing

Steve Ballmer’s view on gaining search share with Bing

29th September 2010

Microsoft’s Bing is gaining search share. They have been gaining search share ever since the launch of Bing on June 3rd, 2009. Since last august they are the number two search engine in the US. Even though Google is still by far the largest search engine in the US, Bing is slowly but steadily sneaking up behind them.

Steve Ballmer is convinced that Bing can be a major competitor for Google. Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt (referring to Facebook and Apple) pointed out that “Absolutely, our competitor is Bing. Bing is a well-run, highly competitive search engine.” So Google knows Bing is on its way.

In an interview with The Seattle Times Steve Ballmer explains the three steps Bing has to take to keep gaining search share.

1. Cover the basics

“It’s about the product and quality of innovation. We break the world into three buckets. There are things we just have to do that [the] competition is doing — table stakes. Every day the Web gets bigger, you’ve got to index and be able to search more of the Web. …”

Since the launch of Google’s Caffeine update pages are indexed much faster. There are reports of articles being indexed in just a few seconds. Bing seems to stay behind here. There are several complaints about the slow indexation of websites in Bing in comparison with Google. Microsoft even admitted to this. It’s obvious Bing needs to work on their indexation performance. However, they are trying to communicate better with webmasters through their webmaster tools with Index Explorer, a tree-view that enables webmasters to see at a glance all of the crawling and index data for their website. Still there’s a lot to work on here.

2. Differentiate and experiment

“There are places where we’re just differentiating left and right. Our maps are better, our images our better, our picture is different. And Google keeps responding. In a sense, because we have lower share, it’s almost easier for us to try new things. They have to sort of stay conservative, they gotta make a lot of money. If they change anything, the position on the page, maybe people won’t click on their ad the right way. Boom, boom, boom, boom, we’re just moving, floating, differentiating. … They’re starting to look at the stuff we’re doing and copying it back. What is it? Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

Bing is right about their better maps, their better images and about Google trying to copy this (at least with image search). Understandably, they are flattered by this. They are also right about their larger freedom to experiment. Google is under a microscope, every little change they make gets analyzed intensively because much more people use it. But staying conservative does not sound like Google at all.

Every innovative change Google makes also gets much more coverage. How many of you have heard of Microsoft’s Street Slide? Possibly a better alternative to Google Street View. It was announced almost at the same time as Google’s new image search interface. So which one was more innovative and which one got more coverage do you think?

3. Fundamentally change the game

“There are things we need to do that just fundamentally change the game — by betting on new devices, by betting on new business models. … That’s our job to be the disrupter in this business, and we’re going to work hard at it.”

My first question: does this include changes like Bing’s reward program? Seriously is this the way you want to gain search share?

Indeed, the most effective way to gain search share is to fundamentally change the game. But it’s definitely the hardest. How often has Microsoft fundamentally changed the search game? The most fundamental changes they’ve made were in their name.

There are several opportunities search engines are facing at this moment. The most important are the roles of social media and mobile in search. If they can fundamentally change search with a great integration of social, mobile and location they might have a chance. And possibly they need more partnerships for this than there alliance with Yahoo!

So where do you think the biggest chances are for Microsoft to keep gaining search share?


Written By
Jeroen van Eck is a consultant search engine marketing at the online marketing company E-Focus in the Netherlands.
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