Posted April 11, 2011 1:32 pm by with 7 comments

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Bing is looking to make some waves in the local pool that has been dominated by the problem riddled Google Place Page effort. All I can say is that it’s about time that someone gives Google a run for their money so that all ships can truly rise with the rising Internet tide.

If my discussions with Bing’s Director of Search, Stefan Weitz and Andy Chu, Director of Product Management, Bing for Mobile are any indication, Bing is looking to take a serious shot at it with it’s brand new Bing Business Portal which will replace the existing Local Listing Center.

Of course, the success of any effort like this is completely dependant on how many people know about its existence and who amongst those folks will utilize it. It’s my hope that Bing will do more than a press release, talk about it for a while and then ‘let it do its thing” approach especially considering currently being a distant second in search share to Google.

So what makes this new offering better over the previous one? Here are a few highlights that were mentioned to me:

– Quicker verification for business listings via phone (mail option available as well)
– Improved interface to make it easier for SMB market to use
– ‘Cartoon’ format making it easier for businesses to follow the process
– Deals integration with Facebook
– Support (rumored to be real people using those antiquated phone things) with help forums

Bing is giving some special attention to restaurants as noted in the post from the Bing blog

Restaurant and bar listings can include menus – either by creating one in the Bing Business Portal or by providing a direct link to an existing menu or PDF file. You also have the option of creating a mobile menu that is designed to be viewed by consumers on their mobile devices. Plus, you can edit specialties and enter up to six additional categories and key words, to provide a more accurate view of what your business offers.

Of course, Bing is very interested in the mobile aspect of all things local. Right now, Google completely dominates the mobile search game and Bing has its work cut out for them. Some estimates of that domination say 97% of mobile searches happen with Google. According to the Bing team, with 50% of mobile searches having a local element to them there is great interest in making inroads in this rapidly growing space but with Google’s initial lead can it be done?

To help SMB’s see how this listing can be helpful in all areas of an Internet strategy, the business portal does a nice job of allowing businesses to preview the variety of ways their listing will appear including desktop and mobile. They can create a mobile site and a QR code as well. Below is a screen shot of the window sticker preview which will get customers at the point where you want them which is when they are closest to a purchase.

In addition, Bing will be incorporating its Deals offering heavily into the business listing as well as the mobile and desktop search experience.

And the cartoon mentioned earlier to help SMB’s see how this all works? Here is a sample of it below as it relates to Deals.

So for now, the Bing Business Portal will be in beta. I joked with Weitz and Chu if they would adopt their competition’s technique of leaving a beta tag on products for years on end and I was assured this wouldn’t be the case. Since there is a lot to this expect many tweaks moving forward as more SMB’s experience the new Business Portal experience.

As far as I can tell, the best way for this to move out of beta to really challenge Google is going to be something that Internet players are notoriously awful at which is hitting the streets to evangelize and sell their offerings the old-fashioned way. Sure, we all like to think that every SMB owner / marketer is online every minute of every day and just knows how all f this works intuitively. That’s just not reality.

If Bing is to win in make real progress against what Weitz refers to as the “Google habit”, they are going to need to embrace the SMB at their level. They will have to come down off the tech mountaintop and mingle amongst the commoners to show them what they do and how it will help them. If they adopt the “Well, we put it out there so they should just get it!” approach they will fail in tremendous fashion. Even Google is seeing the value of this approach as they have promoted what used to be Hoptpot (now integrated into Google Places) in local markets like Portland, OR, Austin, TX, Charlotte, NC and Las Vegas, NV. How successful they have been is being debated so Bing has its work cut out for it if they go this route at all.

Bing needs victories to truly move the needle in the search game and to prove that they are a good alternative to Google for search, mobile and local. Many SMB’s are already using Microsoft products so the recognition is certainly there but these can’t be grouped and sold together. Internet marketing is a separate deal when it comes to the SMB crowd. These people treat marketing very differently than larger organizations and the winner in this local game will be the company that finally gets this fact and starts hand holding the larger market who is not predisposed to self-service Internet marketing offerings.

Right now Bing is the only game in town that has a chance of putting a nick in the Google search armor. Can it be done? Sure, but this is going to need to be a door-to-door, leave not stone unturned effort that gives the SMB the feeling that Bing is different. It’s actually a two-fold effort because by asking SMBs to get on board with the Bing Business Portal you could even help them change their personal ‘regular’ search habits as well. Since SMB’s are influencers in their families and in the communities if they start singing the praises of Bing you never know what kind of habits might be broken. Will it happen that way? Who knows?

In one of my first conversations with Bing’s Weitz he said that he loves being the underdog because it allows for more freedom to try different things. In order for this effort to truly take root Bing is going to need to be very different. They have poured so much money into traditional advertising and partnerships with the likes of ESPN to get the brand recognition (which they claim is 70% currently) now it’s time to reach deep and spend money educating people (i.e. SMB’s) on the value of adopting Bing and how that adoption can applied to win more business for the local player. In other words, the SMB’s need to see that Bing will make them more money. That’s not so hard to understand, right?

In the end though, if not enough people are using Bing to find what they need what incentive does the SMB have to truly get on board? This is a chicken and egg scenario that is tough to navigate because even if the SMB ultimately likes the Bing Business Portal over Google Places but not enough people search on Bing to find stuff all of this won’t matter. The SMB will concentrate where the business is.

Can Bing do it? Heck, people quit smoking all the time. Quitting a search engine would be a lot easier if someone knew there was real value in changing. The Google habit is a tough one to crack though, especially when you are like Bing who appears to always be playing catch up even in areas where they are ‘innovating’. It’s a tall order for sure.

So what do you think? Does Bing have a chance in the local and mobile space to unseat Google in the local / mobile space before it does in the traditional search space? Does this announcement make Bing more of a local player in your eyes?

  • Cynthia Boris

    This looks good but it is funny how hard it is to break the search engine habit. I used Google mobile twice this weekend and it took me longer find what I needed than it should have. I thought about how I had tested (and then deleted) the Bing mobile engine and looking back, I think it would have gotten me where I wanted to be with less moves. Might be time to bring Bing back to my phone.

  • And the are providing businesses with a mobile website for their business, products and services – and at no extra charge. Really interesting stuff – let’s see if they change the game.

  • It’s about time they updated. A little competition only make the internet a better place for everyone. I hope Bing can get businesses out of the dreaded review status faster than with the old local listing center.

  • Very true Drew! healthy competition will delete the monopoly of a particular engine and will certainly open up many aspects that we are still unable to see, or are paid. I also support competition growing for google, but there hasnt been much, this time it looks like Bing is growing slowly but steadily… good for all of us!

  • Frank Kockritz

    We’re all familiar with the concepts of “inflection and tipping” points. Is this an inflection point for Bing? I believe the answer resides in the user experience. Perhaps an A/B test, side by side on both PC and Mobile can provide this insight. If you figure that 20% of all searches have local intent and Bing has a market share of say 10% (give or take a few pts), then yes, there is always a potential tsunami that can shift inertia to momentum and in this case, market share.

  • Jon

    Does the beta version support international local businesses?

    • Not sure. Will have to check on that one.