My Bing experiment: Can it be the default search engine?

Summary:Google CEO Eric Schmidt has said that it's easy to switch search engines so the company really has no power that should upset regulators. Microsoft has introduced Bing, a search engine that has been well received and could take market share.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt has said that it's easy to switch search engines so the company really has no power that should upset regulators. Microsoft has introduced Bing, a search engine that has been well received and could take market share. Where does the truth lie?

Somewhere in the middle. I've been using Google search for as long as it has been around. It has been the default all of my browsers---Firefox, IE and, of course, Chrome. With the introduction of Bing, I made the search engine my default in Firefox. I didn't go completely cold turkey on Google, but it was pretty close. Why? I wanted to test a few theories:

  • Could I use Bing as my default search engine?
  • Would I miss Google?
  • Is search really just a commodity where loyalties are chosen by brand not necessarily functionality?

In my little Bing experiment I really wanted to get at that last question. If Bing could be my default perhaps Microsoft's campaign to get folks to try its search engine wouldn't be a waste of marketing dollars.

Here's my diary:

Day 1: I didn't notice anything different from Google as far as search results went. Generally speaking, I used Bing quite frequently and came away pleased with the results. I didn't encounter anything that forced me to use Google. The photo search on Bing was especially handy. Maybe switching is easy.

Day 2: This day featured a lot of news searches as I went fishing for material. Specifically, I was wondering about General Motors much ballyhooed IT department in the automaker's bankruptcy. If you follow the IT industry you know that GM CIO Ralph Szygenda is quoted constantly about aligning technology management with business and being a big proponent of outsourcing.

Bing's GM results were ok, but the search seemed much more focused on telling me the automaker was committed (as if I want a government owned vehicle) and downplaying news. If I was in the market for a GM auto though Bing may have been more handy.

When I checked Google, the results were roughly the same (except news was at the top).

In the end, I had to refine my search. However, there was a trust issue with Bing and I. I felt like I had to verify my Bing results with a Google search. Bing was my default in the browser, but the trust wasn't there. Microsoft's challenge is pretty clear: Marketing may get you to try Bing, but will you trust the results? Simply put, any lingering Bing buzz I had wore off.

Day 3: A few searches yielded decent results, but Bing's results for finding my old posts left a little to be desired. What I'm finding I miss the most is the news integration with search. On Bing it's a bit clunky. However, Bing did localize news nicely. Notice the Pennsylvania stories on the right. The problem: The stories come from an Allentown paper. Allentown is way to the west. Yahoo hits my zip code.

Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz said that Bing will get attention at first, but folks will go back to their old habits. On this day, I'm inclined to agree.

Day 4: I used Bing repeatedly, got the results I wanted and didn't feel any compelling need to use Google. Perhaps switching just takes some time (but who will give it that time?). It still feels odd not using Google. Is this brand affinity strange? I can't quite put my finger on it. Habits are hard to break, but using Bing full time does feel odd. However, there's no need to swap back right now.

Day 5: An entire business week with Bing as my default has been completed. The novelty---and shock of not using Google---has worn off. Overall, I'm pretty convinced that search is a commodity where brand loyalty is what counts. The problem: I don't have a lot of loyalty in any one direction. Can I put the Firefox default search box on rotate?

Bottom line: Bing is going to get some folks using it just based on buzz. And it'll probably keep those customers. However, unless Google seriously screws up it's likely that most users will gravitate back to the search giant. The good news is that the bar for Bing is set low; It can definitely poach market share from Yahoo.

More reading: Microsoft’s Bing: Powerset’s role, market share, brand (and other burning questions)

Topics: Enterprise Software, Google


Larry Dignan is Editor in Chief of ZDNet and SmartPlanet as well as Editorial Director of ZDNet's sister site TechRepublic. He was most recently Executive Editor of News and Blogs at ZDNet. Prior to that he was executive news editor at eWeek and news editor at Baseline. He also served as the East Coast news editor and finance editor at CN... Full Bio

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