We have noticed, along with many other people, just how Google and bing are beginning to look a lot alike. Google seems to be adding features that in some ways look very similar to bing’s interface. There has even been indications that Google’s stranglehold on the US search market is starting to loosen just a bit. So what does this all really mean?
According to the New York Times, this race to match features is creating some real competition. An article from this weekend opens with an interesting scenario.
Edwin Perello discovered that Bing, the Microsoft search engine, could find addresses in his rural Indiana town when Google could not. Laura Michelson, an administrative assistant in San Francisco, was lured by Bing’s flight fare tracker. Paul Callan, a photography buff in Chicago, fell for Bing’s vivid background images.
Like most Americans, they still use Google as their main search tool. But more often, they find themselves navigating to Microsoft’s year-old Bing for certain tasks, and sometimes they stay a while.
“I was a Google user before, but the more I used Bing the more I liked it,” Mr. Callan said. “It’s more like muscle memory takes me to Google.”
In some ways I have to agree with the muscle memory assessment. For me personally, I have grown so comfortable with Google that it is very hard to break the habit with the idea that there may be an option out there that is actually viable. Throw on top of it that that option is from Microsoft and it gets even more bizarre to consider.
So has there been a real impact in this so-called “arms race”? comScore suggests in the following two charts that Google shouldn’t be circling the wagons just yet but any time you see a ding in the Google market share dominance it’s worth thinking about why it has happened.
Sure the gaps are still very significant between Google and the rest of the field but there may be a few chinks in the Google armor. As a result, Google is responding.
And while no one argues that Google’s dominance is in immediate jeopardy, Google is watching Microsoft closely, mimicking some of Bing’s innovations — like its travel search engine, its ability to tie more tools to social networking sites and its image search — or buying start-ups to help it do so in the future.
Google has purchased ITA Software that does the same functions as bing’s Farecast in predicting rates for air fares. It has also made cosmetic changes with a left-hand navigation on its search results features, updates to the image presentation and the somewhat infamous Google homepage image option. All of these things come off as looking like Google is actually playing catch up to bing.
Of course, Google last year made an average of over 1.5 changes per day to its search methodology which are mostly behind the scenes. The changes that actually face the user are the ones, however, that look like they are chasing bing to some degree. We all have to remember that despite what we really know, we still live in a world where perception is reality and the perception is to many that Google is playing catch-up to bing in some areas. Is that really the case? I don’t believe so. It is interesting though, how Google’s Marissa Mayer comes off looking a little defensive in the article.
Google’s new features have not been in response to Bing, said Marissa Mayer, the company’s vice president for search products and user experience. “A lot of these things have been in the works for a long time,” she said. “Left-hand navigation we worked on for almost two years. We wanted to make sure we had it exactly right.”
For example, in May, (Google) too added the left-hand navigation tools — though Ms. Mayer of Google pointed out that many of the tools had already been available, just not easily visible from the search page.
“Certainly there’s been increased competition in the space,” Ms. Mayer said of Bing. “When there’s more competition, everyone’s search gets better, that serves the users a lot better.”
So as we anticipate just what the whole integration of bing and Yahoo! will mean to the search world, it may be more important to really be examining the two horse race that is possibly in play with Google and bing. Don’t get me wrong, bing has a lot of work ahead of it to make a real run at Google but Microsoft seems to be willing to lose money in this area in order to make a dent. Lucky for them they can afford it.
So let’s hear your take on this. Is there really competition brewing between bing and Google? What do you see happening over the next 12-18 months in the search environment? Will we look back and say that the whole “bing as competitor to Google” thing was real or just something that we needed to roll out because Google was making it boring by crushing every competitor?