Can The New Bing Compete With The Old Google?

Posted by · May 10, 2012 4:37 pm

Earlier today, Bing announced significant updates to the design and functionality of their search engine results pages (SERPs), most notably in the area of social search.   Instead of the cluttered multi-column design with links on the left and right sidebars, Bing has cleared the left sidebar, replaced the tabbed header with cleaner links at the top of the page and added more subtle—yet awesome—social integration.

Rather than clutter the SERP with people’s likes and Google + profiles like Google does, Bing’s social search functionality is nothing more than a gray sidebar (closed by default) that shows information from your social networks that is relevant to your search.  Unlike its Mountain View counterpart, Bing does not exclude websites from its social search.  If you choose to turn social search on, you will see information from people you’re connected with on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Quora, Foursquare and—wait for it—GOOGLE +!

There’s no denying Bing’s new SERPs are more aesthetically pleasing than Google’s, but let’s be honest, a good user experience is only part of the “which search engine should I choose” decision.  The true test of whether people will start jumping the Google ship is how Bing’s search results compare to Google’s.  I’m planning a trip to Los Angeles this weekend, so I decided to see how Bing’s search results for hotels, shopping and places to eat stack up against Google’s search results.  To be clear, I have social search turned off on both Google and Bing. (Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan compared social search functionality if you want to check it out.) Here’s what I found:

Round 1: Hotel deals in Los Angeles

The first thing I searched for was the term “hotel deals in Los Angeles.” Bing returned all the sites I would expect to see in search results for that term: TravelZoo, Kayak, Booking.com, Expedia and Trip Advisor rounded out the top five results with websites like Travelocity and Orbitz rounding out the first page.  Paid search ads and related searches were confined to the right column; and I’ve chosen to keep social search off for now (though if I wanted to ask my Facebook friends for their input on where to stay in Los Angeles, I can post a message directly to my Facebook wall from the Bing search results page).

Over on Google, Living Social, Booking.com (I’ve never heard of that site, by the way), Room 77.com, Trip Advisor and the LAX website were my top five results and the first four were paid advertisements (and yes, there are more paid ads in the right column).  The rest of the search results page gave me a list of specific hotels in Los Angeles, though none of them are currently running room specials; and in the top right corner of my Google search results page is a map for hotel deals in Los Angeles, which takes me to yet another list of LA hotels that are not running deals.

Search results round ones goes to Bing.

Round 2: Best boutiques in Beverly Hills

My next search was for best boutiques in Beverly Hills.  The first results on Bing were listing of actual Beverly Hills boutiques with their addresses.  Lacoste, Giorgio Armani and St. John were among the boutiques listed. So far so good.  Unfortunately, Bing’s results fell apart further down the page.  Halfway down the page were links to news about the best boutiques in Beverly Hills in which the first listing was about some random celebrities taking their children out to lunch in Beverly Hills.

Google’s search results for best boutiques in Beverly Hills was much more promising.  They returned a Frommer’s Guide and other tourist websites with guides to shopping in the city.  The only erroneous link was one to The Avalon, a Beverly Hills hotel, but since that’s probably more a testament to The Avalon’s SEO team than anything else, I’m gonna go ahead and give search results round two to Google.

Round 3: Best sushi restaurants in Los Angeles

I wish I could say the either Bing or Google emerged the leader in this tie-breaker.  However, both company’s search results pages looked almost identical for this search.  Both SERPs gave me a list of four star sushi restaurants in Los Angeles (most importantly, Koi, my all-time favorite LA sushi restaurant was on both lists).  To round out the first page of search results, both Bing and Google also returned numerous articles with the title “Top 10 Best Sushi Restaurants in Los Angeles.”  So, round three is a tie.

The Google versus Bing tie breaker

Obviously, three searches are far from a comprehensive study, but Slate’s Farhad Manjoo ditched Google for an entire week and came to basically the same conclusion that I did: When it comes to actual search results, it’s a tie between Google and Bing.  However, the one thing Manjoo pointed out—and I wholeheartedly agree with—is that while you can go a week, a month or even a year using Bing without noticing a difference in search quality, it would be difficult to quit using Google products altogether.  Try avoiding YouTube, Chrome or Gmail for an entire week.

Since Google does such a good job of interlinking its product ecosystem, it just makes more sense to choose Google over Bing as your preferred search engine.  That way, you can easily toggle between Google products after you’ve performed a Google search.

So, while Bing’s new search interface and social search features are better than Google’s and their search engine is relatively the same, I still see no reason to switch to Microsoft’s search engine.  Here’s hoping Windows 8 and some of its promised applications and computing ecosystem can change my mind.