The Search Implications of Windows 8: A Performics POV

Posted by Alex Johnson, Associate Account Manager

Executive Summary
•    Windows 8’s navigation is primarily based on Search—users are able to search within apps directly from the desktop. This holds vast implications for the future of the desktop and how marketers will be able to reach their customers in the coming years.
•    The Bing app in Windows 8 is a completely redesigned interface designed to be used with a touch screen. This new layout will have a definite effect on user perception of paid search ads.
•     As Windows 8 adoption increases, it is important for marketers to start thinking about the strategies that can be implemented around this innovative system.


    On October 26th, 2012, Microsoft released the long anticipated Windows 8. This new release is a real game changer for the software giant.  In Windows 8, the click is replaced with a focus on touch, the Start button is replaced with search navigation, and the Desktop full of static icons has been replaced with a Start screen built for customizable content discovery. The new interface is slick and is visually different from anything Windows has previously released before.

    The most interesting aspect of Windows 8 for search marketers is its focus on search and the system-wide integration with Bing. This POV will investigate the impact of this new OS on the search experience and the potential future impact on the industry.

Search Navigation In Windows 8

    The most immediately noticeable change in Windows 8 is the removal of the Start button which has long been the primary way to navigate the Windows OS. In lieu of this button, Microsoft replaced it with a side panel (pictured below). From this side panel, the user can search, share the current content they are viewing, and navigate to the Start screen or to the Settings panel. For most activities, a user has to search to navigate to what they are trying to find.

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    When a user clicks (or taps) the Search button, they are taken to a Search screen that displays all of their searchable apps, files, and settings (pictured below). From this screen, a user can tap any app and search for things within that app. For example, a user can tap on the News app and search for “Performics” to find relevant news stories within the app from this page.

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    Most traditional interfaces rely on browsing – a user is expected to tab through icons to find what they are looking for. Search is a secondary functionality. Traditional systems bury search in the corner of web browsers and treat it as a last resort for users to use when they are unable to find what they want through browsing. Windows 8’s reliance on search flips this mentality around and puts search at the forefront. This allows users to easily be able to find exactly what they want and where they want and minimizes the amount of time users spend wasting on ineffective browsing.

    The implications of this shift towards search for marketers are far reaching.  No longer will search marketing be solely about optimizing ads on the search engines, but as search becomes the primary method of navigation, advertisers will one day be able to customize messages based on user intent in a variety of environments. A user could be searching for a brand name within a Finance app, and they could be approached with an interactive brand experience (or ad) within the app. While the amount of targeting ability on the Windows 8 apps beyond the search engines is limited today, the potential is vast.  Marketers will need to adapt to all of this potential and ensure that their messages are speaking to user intent and that their targeting is strategic across all channels.

The Bing App in Windows 8

    The primary search app within Windows 8 is Microsoft’s own Bing.  Users have the ability to download other search applications such as Google from the Windows app store, but because Bing is the default, it will likely be the most heavily used search app in Windows 8 (at least at first). If Windows 8 is able to ramp up and become a primary operating system for desktop, tablet, and even mobile, this could be a search industry game changer as Bing could gain further ground against Google.

    The layout of the Bing search app results page (pictured below, also view the video experience here) is radically different from the web-based version. The app attempts to optimize the experience for touch screen users. Rather than use a vertical layout (as all other search engines do), the Bing app uses a horizontal view. This change in layout makes it easier for touch screen users to scroll for more results by swiping across the screen.

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    The most notable change in this app from a paid search perspective is the change of sponsored ads positioning. Rather than being in the featured position above the natural listings, sponsored ads in the app are embedded along with the rest of the listings and they are likely not the first part of the page the user sees. The green background color of the ads is also a quick identifier to the consumer these are ads. On the desktop version, the color blends in much more with the background of the page.

    At first glance, it seems that the SERP in the Bing app puts advertisements at a disadvantage. By taking them out of the preferred position of the top of the page, this likely will lead to less user attention and lower click through rates. In a sense, yes, this does put ads at a disadvantage. But, it could also lead to better performance as well. If the ads are not the first thing a user sees, then they have the opportunity to see all of the natural listings as well. If they have the opportunity to view all of the listings on the first page side by side (including natural and paid), they will likely click on the link that seems most relevant to what they are trying to find. If that paid ad is most relevant to their search, they will click and will probably have a higher likelihood to convert. So while this app may lead to lower click through rates, it may lead to greater efficiency. The pressure will be on the advertiser to deliver more relevant advertisements that speak directly to user intent. Performics will be monitoring these trends as the use of the Bing app scales to understand how it impacts performance.

    Seeing a SERP so radically different than what we are accustomed to is a bit shocking at first. It’s hard for us to imagine a search engine that looks so different from the Google layout the search industry has been based on since its inception. However, this is a tactically smart decision on Microsoft’s end. This move is an attempt to experiment with a potentially more consumer and touch friendly interface and it is a big differentiator. It’s exciting to see Bing’s interpretation of what a search engine can be and it will be fascinating to learn how this performs.

Windows 8 Implications

    In this advanced environment of customizable discovery, there are many potential opportunities and touch points for brands and consumers to interact. Windows 8 has opened the door of possibility for how an OS can influence the way a user interacts with his or her digital environment. As marketers, we have to stay on top of this technology so that we are ready to engage interactively with potential consumers at all relevant touch points.

    There are still several important questions that need to be addressed over the coming months and years to come:

•   How does search-centered navigation affect how a brand can speak to its customers?
•   Which touchpoints are relevant for brands to speak to their consumers?
•   In what apps will Windows 8/Bing allow advertising? How granular will the targeting be?
•   How can we collect the data across all the touchpoints in order to fully understand the user’s path and how a user interacts with a brand?
•   How will this all affect performance?
•   How can we test the performance of ads on the Bing app?

    Performics will continue to monitor the trends and continue to more fully understand this new technology.

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