It’s has been amazing to watch the torrid of information and critical analysis floating around the web relating to Google and Bing – Microsoft’s New Search Engine product. I have read numerous articles and have reserved comment on all of them, instead waiting until something particularly erked me enough to write a post and pass my judgement. Interestingly, it was a New York Times article and the respective comments which really provided the passionate to write this post.
So, a few months ago Microsoft released their new search product – Bing – into the wild without a great deal of fanfare on launch. The product was initially demonstrated at the AllThingsD conference where Steve Ballmer was generally excited about the product but withheld the expectations that Microsoft was placing on the success of Bing – accepting that Google was a significant force in the market. Of course, the natural succession to the launch of Bing was the comparison to Google and whether a paradigm shift would occur with users willing to change from Google to Bing, and whether it would adversley affect Google’s bottom line. The initial reaction from the numerous articles I read was that generally internet consumers thought Bing was good – but it did not provide users with enough incentive to change. Articles and commentary appeared that presented an underlying connotation that Bing was a great product – but presented too late in the game to make a difference. Microsoft were also criticised about the effectiveness of their $100 million dollar advertising campaign to promote the product.
Soon after, several separate impartial engines were established which contrasted the results of Yahoo, Google and Bing together on the one site and asked consumers to generally pick the best results before revealing which search engine was responsible – here is one such experiment called ‘BlindSearch’. Such experiments significantly changed the basis on which technology enthusiasts reviewed the search engines and I think, surprised a number of people with the quality of results from Bing in comparison to Google. Of course, this lead to some influential technology journalists and bloggers writing increasingly positive articles about the search engine and how they were more willing to give Bing a go – and this is probably where the situation currently resides.
Of course, my opinion on the whole matter relates most specifically to who provides the best all round consumer experience. In my mind, this tends to be heavily influenced by where ones brand allegiance lies. I do not believe the issue is based entirely on the delivery of the best results – it was increasingly apparent from my testing that the results illustrated were both fairly similar. This is not to say Google was always better than Bing, or indeed, that Bing was better than Google – both returned varying degrees of satisfaction in the searches I conducted. The search terms I entered ranged from extremely easy subject matter right down to overtly abstracted searches relating to all sorts of weird and wonderful law and medical terms. Of course, over time it is expected that this is going to significantly improve as both Google and Bing continue to build out their products – but all in all, my testing provided me with the information that I needed to write this article.
I think the issue in this whole debate rests on brand power as opposed to who provides the better results. It is evident in the short-term future that both Microsoft and Google are going to have solid search products – solely from the sheer volume of money being poured into search from both sides of the fence. The purchase of any technology which will significantly improve search will be hotly contested by both Google and Microsoft and so will the human capital that is actually able to continually engineer and build out both products – after all, a company is only as good as the people it has working for it. But I digress, the point of this article is to focus on the flawed comparison of why one is better than the other – I believe this is non-argument. Google is of course a better engine – solely from the abstracted basis that it has invested all of its resources in the last 10 years to building an extremely successful search engine – Microsoft has not. Microsoft is now starting this process – and in my mind, has started significantly well with the Bing offering – but it’s going to be a long-term project to dint Google’s market share and I believe Microsoft also acknowledge this.
Importantly – Google, as a product, has been drummed into my generation as the pre-eminent search engine since the company was founded in 1998 and since I started using it in late 1999. Their culture, the effectiveness of their results and the entire Google story was something that related specifically to my friends and I – and pretty much everyone else. Of critical importance however, was that the product exceeded so many other search engines available at the time in scouring the Internet, finding and returning the information that was keyed into it – nothing else offered even came close to Google. It is therefore a fruitless, and down right pointless argument, to suggest that Microsoft is going to make significant in-roads into a product that has been relied on by people for the last 10 years on the Internet because natural bias will win through to Google’s corner. A similar analogy would be expecting the majority of consumers to just change to a new operating system after using Microsoft for more than 10 years – it just doesn’t happen that way. Brand power is an incredibly powerful thing – and the trust, faith and continual delivery of great results resides well in a lot of consumers on the Internet who correlate search to Google. In fact, Google as brand is so powerful that many people now even correlate Google as a browser – as witnessed in this video.
The point of my argument is that Internet users tend to very brand loyal consumers. If you check out the top sites you visit – it is more than probable that you have a list of no more than 5 to 10 sites that you visit regularly on a daily basis. For me, this would include Google, Gmail, Google Reader, Facebook, The Age, Digg, New York Times, Stack Overflow and of course our company’s product websites. This generally would infer that I am a loyal Google user and this absolutely rings true – because the only real search engine I have consistently used in the last decade has been Google. Furthermore, Google has successfully cross-promoted their products and I am also a regular user of Gmail and Google Reader products. The code and continual feature roll-outs in these products far exceeded anything that Microsoft offered in its Hotmail – now Windows Live – system and so the change became more of a Darwinian takeover as opposed to any associated choice decision equation. The converse is also true – I have never used anything except Microsoft Operating Systems for the last 10 years and would be very resistant to change. While it’s true that I own a iMac – I only realistically use it for Photo Editing and Movie creation as the products offered in iLife are extremely user friendly and I could not find any PC related software that exceeded the offerings by Apple at a similar price.
So for now, when I read an article – such as the one published on the New York Times – and see the majority of comments include words such as trust, faith, relevancy, monopoly, market domination, advertising, speed, bias media, paid reviews, MS copying other products and all the rest – I pretty much laugh. I find it very difficult to believe that the majority of this is driven from anything other than pure brand allegiance and genuine belief that Google is a company that “does no evil”. Most of the non-tech populous does not even know about the huge struggles that each company is going through to beset the other – generally, they just want a product that works and want to trust the company that provides it – something Google has succeed with on the web. Of course, this is pure marketing genius and the power of the Google brand – as opposed to the reality of the situation regarding the actual data privacy concerns that majority of the world holds over Google. Consumers trust Google and do not trust Microsoft to the same degree, and it is this trust that emanates so wildly in the passion that is stirred up in any Google vs. Bing, or indeed Google vs. Microsoft debate. This infers that Google’s search product will continue to dominate over Bing – until Microsoft is able to breakdown the resistance that Consumers have built up towards Microsoft. Generally, becoming a more open and transparent company, creating more ads like these that consumers generally find ‘cool’, listening more intently to consumer desires and responding faster to feedback, and continuing to deliver more products like Bing is going to have a serious impact to the trust argument that consumers place in Microsoft. It’s an area that Microsoft really need to work on if they are succeed as spectacularly online as they have in the server and operating system market. Perhaps a good place to start would be attacking Googles data retention policies, making consumers aware of just how much information Google holds and changing their own policies to pass control to the user would be a very good place to start in my mind.
The flip side to all this – is that while consumers trust Google, businesses trust Microsoft. It is absolutely true that businesses are responsible for driving Microsoft’s bottom line – an area that I believe Google has the exact same problems that Microsoft has in the consumer space. Many businesses are extremely wary of trusting Google because of the advice they have received regarding Google privacy policies and the overall data retention policies that Google holds. Each company would actually be wise to analyse the positions of the other in each respective competitive field and I think they would find they have more in common than each actually believes. The key to all of this ? Listen to consumers, implement features they want and go out of your way to provide them with a great product – this builds trust and ultimately – this builds success in the online world.