Google is the world's largest search engine, but an unlikely competitor, Microsoft Bing--the industry's scrappy "underdog," as Mark Zuckerberg called it--is fast catching up. A new report from Experian Hitwise shows Bing-powered searches now account for 25% of the market. Google still dominates with its 70% share. But are there downsides to being the dominant player?
"The larger you are, the more you have to worry about disrupting your user base," says Lisa Gurry, director of Bing. "As a growing player in this space, it's less of a concern. Certainly we're the underdog within the industry. For us, it's more about disrupting the existing search landscape to attract new users to Bing."
Gurry's comments reflect the oft-repeated sentiment expressed by Zuckerberg ("When you’re an incumbent in an area … there is tension between innovating and trying new things versus what you already have"), and that innovative spirit is why the Facebook CEO says he chose to partner with Microsoft--not Google--for social search. Microsoft and Facebook recently rolled out a slew of new features to integrate social elements into Bing, including the ability to see what your friends have "Liked" within search results.
Google's search team, meanwhile, is unimpressed by the partnership and irked as to why Zuckerberg would consider Google less innovative than Microsoft. Bing launched social search? Well, Google launched social search two years ago, the company says. And real-time search? That's just Twitter's search engine at a different URL. Google has long indexed tweets itself.
But Gurry says Bing's latest round of features--incorporating Facebook "Liked" data and other social annotations--will help distinguish its engine from Google's.
"Twitter is one example, but Facebook is another huge opportunity for us," says Gurry. "Through our partnership with Facebook, we see opportunity to make Bing the search engine for anyone who is a Facebook fan. These are unique features only on Bing. We are working on a lot of other areas to make our partnership more powerful."
The company has also introduced a variety of features that Google has incorporated into its engine, from side-bar menu items to scrolling image search. When Google added its background image option, Microsoft cheekily tweeted: "We've lost a background image, if found please return to bing.com."
"What's that saying? Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery," says Gurry. "Of course, we're paying attention to what our competitors are up to as well, but I think what we're seeing is the landscape begin to shift a bit, where customers are recognizing there are multiple options for search."
Still, Google has been innovative too. In the past year, it launched Google Instant, one of the largest overhauls to its engine in years, as well as hundreds of other new features. Does Bing have any plans to launch its own results-as-you-type Instant?
"We think both companies (Google and Microsoft) are focused on improving performance," Gurry answers. "Our approach is different. It's about the speed of getting things done--not about the speed of getting a high volume of results."
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[Image by Andrew Hur]