Does Bing Have Wings?
Research from comScore suggests Microsoft's new Bing search engine is gaining market share in its first month of existence. Though it commands only a fraction of a market still roundly dominated by Google, Bing's growth may be a sign that Microsoft has scored a hit. On the other hand, the growth may come from curious searchers who try it only briefly before going back to their Google or Yahoo habits.
Some positive reviews and a humorous (and expensive) TV ad campaign have helped, but online measurement service comScore is providing Microsoft's new search engine even more wind beneath its Bing with new statistics indicating gains in Microsoft search sites' penetration and their share of search results pages.
ComScore's search penetration figures show Bing and other Microsoft sites standing at 16.7 percent last week, compared to 13.7 percent for the week of May 25 -- the week before Bing was made widely available. Microsoft sites also accounted for 12.1 percent of all search page results, compared to 9.1 percent in the week before Bing came onto the scene.
"It appears that Microsoft Bing has continued to generate interest from the market for the second consecutive week," said comScore Senior Vice President Mike Hurt. "These early data reflect a continued positive market reaction to Bing in the initial stages of its launch."
How much of that is sampling, and how much represents a real threat to Google, Yahoo and AOL? Has Microsoft truly figured out a winning formula after its tepid performance with MSN and Live Search, or do the early signs of life represent a high-tech novelty act that may wear off soon?
Starting From Zero
"Consumers are interested in new things right now," Yankee Group analyst Josh Martin told the E-Commerce Times. "There are new mobile platforms that consumers are adopting, new devices, so you expect them to adopt or be interested in a new search engine. That makes sense. With Google being the big dog for so long, something new and fresh is expected to generate interest."
Thanks to the anemic performances of MSN and Live, there was nowhere to go but up for Bing, Martin said -- but he allowed that Microsoft may have finally latched onto something that responds to the desire for changes in search technologies that consumers are demanding.
"They put different things in their search engine by adding travel data and other aspects -- the travel trackers so you can see when prices are going up or down," Martin said. "It's not about the 'blue links' anymore, as Yahoo put it. Contextual search is what people are looking for."
Does Bing Have Legs?
Despite buzz about "Bing fear" at Google's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., Martin doesn't think Google is shaking in its boots. However, a minor skirmish did break out Wednesday when Microsoft claimed a new Google Apps feature that lets users sync with Outlook disables the latter's search capabilities. Google admitted the problem and said it was working on compatibility.
Recent Yankee Group consumer survey findings show how high the Google mountain is for Bing to climb, simply because going to the No. 1 search engine has become second nature to so many Web surfers. Seventy percent of those surveyed in the research said Google was their primary, first-choice search engine.
"It's going to be tough to sway those [consumers]. They are primarily using Google as their go-to engine. Once the novelty [of Bing] wears off, will they go back to their reliable search engine? It depends on how reliable Bing becomes. It may be easier for Microsoft to pick off AOL or Yahoo -- that's lower-hanging fruit -- but they obviously don't need to go after everybody. This early data is important, but they're not taking on Google yet by any stretch, and I don't know that they need to do that."
A key test will come when all search engines develop mobile versions that take advantage of the consumer shift to smartphones and other mobile devices, Martin emphasized. "You have location-specific and location-aware search, and with that brings a lot more advertising revenue potential. Local search is actionable immediately. If you get someone hooked on the PC on Bing, maybe they can bring that experience to the mobile device."