Posted by Matt Miller, Director, Vertical Solutions
Upon Bing's global launch on June 3rd, searchers will immediately notice Microsoft’s efforts to differentiate their new search engine by the move away from the clean white results page in favor of one with more color and visualization, a cleaner UI and “better results.” In addition to spicing up the UI, the Microsoft team is attempting to change the search value proposition. On most search engines, searchers look at listings and then navigate off the search engine results page (SERP) to get their answers/information. Generally, search engine success is measured by how fast the engine can refer the searcher to a relevant listing. Positioned as a “decision engine,” Bing is designed to reduce the number of repetitive searches through improved navigation and greater exposure of content on the SERP. In other words, for informational queries, Bing’s goal is to give searchers more of the information they’re looking for right on the SERP rather than force them to click on a link for more information.
The new features and functionalities of Bing are meant to help users decide on the right content to dig into before navigating off the SERP. Mousing over a natural search listing displays a preview of the content on the landing page. This provides much more content than users can see from the Google SERP. Bing also categorizes results in an effort to group content to display on the SERP. Microsoft takes the related searches concept found on most search engines a step further by grouping results thematically. For example, a search on “Hyundai Sonata” will display links in the left hand navigation for reviews, features, video, etc. Searchers clicking on the video category will find functionality similar to Live Search’s existing features, including the ability to watch a video directly on the SERP simply by mousing over it. Microsoft has been quietly rolling out additional features like Instant Answers, which provides real time answers on the SERP. Try searching for a baseball game to see up-to-date results.
Content alone won’t change the game. Great search engines with different approaches have launched over the last couple of years only to fade into the background with little to no search share. Microsoft is making a big splash with an $80-$100 million campaign to promote their new search engine. Their goal is to expand market share by 30-40% in the next year. If successful, the strategy of serving up more content in the results could disrupt the way publishers monetize their content. For example, publishers with video content may move toward allowing indexation for video previews while holding back the full content for searchers who click through to the site.
Outside of a general effort to differentiate from Google and Yahoo!, Microsoft has invested in improving results around key verticals including travel, local, shopping and health. In the travel vertical, Bing is integrating Farecast, Microsoft’s travel search engine, into the search experience. Users are able to use all the features of Farecast, like comparing airline prices, right on the Bing SERP. Consumers are redirected to a 3rd party to purchase flights or hotels since Farecast doesn’t actually sell flights or other travel products. This can serve to disrupt the shopping experience, forcing Internet travel aggregators like Orbitz, Expedia and Travelocity to rethink advertising and content strategies.
In the local vertical, Microsoft is layering in location identification to bring local information to the SERP instead of waiting for searchers to request local info. Try searching for sushi restaurants on Bing to see a list of fine establishments. Bing is exposing more information than the old Live Search, including phone numbers, reviews and Web sites.
In the health vertical, Microsoft has partnered with companies that provide premium content to ensure that Bing is giving preference to high quality health content. There’s a lot of health information on the Web and it’s sometimes difficult to see what site has the most valid information. While there’s no seal of approval or certification to denote trusted content, Microsoft has given preferential treatment to this premium content. This ensures that searchers are exposed to trusted content alongside other relevant information. Similar to health and travel, Microsoft is placing an emphasis on exposing other Microsoft content in the search experience.
In the shopping vertical, Bing puts a greater emphasis on Microsoft Cashback. Bing brings more content into the SERP to give searchers enough information to get them to the right place to purchase, but consumers can’t make purchases from the SERP.
Implications for Advertisers
Bing’s goal of giving answers on the SERP is ideal for informational queries and will save searchers time, limiting the number of times a user searches or hits the back button after clicking on a listing. As mentioned, this could result in lower ad impressions on publisher Web sites, though the flipside should be better qualified users, resulting in longer time on the site. Bing’s features also impact natural and paid search for all advertisers, not just publishers. Mouseover previews may change how SEOs create content for Bing as a user no longer has to click to see what a page is about. This increases the need for landing pages that are relevant and compelling to the user’s query. It’s not enough to convince Bing that your landing page is most relevant for a certain query; you’ll also have to convince the user before you get a click. This speaks to the need for natural search keyword research and optimization strategies that focus on discovering/optimizing for keywords that your qualified consumers are using on the engines. The more visibility a searcher has into your site from the SERP, the more relevant your site has to be to their query. Another implication of the preview is that it pops up over some of the paid search listings, effectively covering the listings from the searcher. Advertisers should monitor paid search traffic in the weeks after Bing’s launch to see if this may be having an impact.
Bing’s Farecast integration also changes natural search in the travel vertical. Some travel aggregators may be pushed down/moved off the page to make room for the Farecast functionality. The verified direct-relationship health content also pushes non-partner health sites down the SERP. Travel aggregators and non-partner health sites will have to rely on paid search with compelling offers/copy to drive traffic from the Bing SERP.
What Bing Means for Microsoft
It’s no secret that Microsoft has some catching up to do. Due to their late entrance to the marketplace, Live.com didn’t live up to promises. Microsoft knows that Bing must deliver a quality user experience in order to provide an alternative to Google and Yahoo! All the features of the new Microsoft engine are consumer based with the goal of growing Microsoft’s share 30-40% year over year. It’s a long term investment that couples the new UI with a massive ad campaign to grow share.
Marketers should expect to see changes in search behavior as consumers adapt to the new “decision engine.” In the short term, CTRs may decrease as searchers learn how to use the engine. In the long term, Microsoft is betting that they can deliver more users to their advertisers. Marketers will continue to use adCenter to advertise on Microsoft’s search properties, so there are no major changes there. However, the new search experience also opens doors for different ad units. We’re certainly excited to see if Microsoft can evolve the search ad unit while maintaining relevancy and competitiveness in the marketplace. As performance based marketers, we are champions of innovation and believe that healthy competition brings out the best in marketers pursuing better business outcomes.