Is Google better than Bing? I asked Google and Bing (and got surprising results)

Microsoft is about to force Bing onto Office 365 Plus users. But does even Bing think it's better than Google? I asked each search engine five relevant questions to find out which is better. The results were fascinating.

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B for Bing and Better?

I'd rather forgotten it existed.

It was only last week when I was trying the new Microsoft Edge on my MacBook that I emitted a spontaneous chuckle when the browser immediately defaulted to Bing.

A few days later, news emerged that Microsoft is going to force Office 365 Plus users to wallow in Bing's glories. Would people tolerate this? Would they come to see what they'd been missing by using Google? Or would they form a Binging Resistance?

In any case, how could you decide which search engine is better? Is it just that most people use Google, which gives Google all the data it needs to constantly improve?

Moreover, what makes a search engine better? More varied results? More up-to-date results? It's not as if there's always just one right answer to a search. And then there are all those ads that populate Google Search and look for all the world like search results. Or is it that the search results now all look like ads?

In any case, I suspect most people think that by searching they're accessing some decisive truth. As Google's search liaison Danny Sullivan told CNBC a couple of years ago: "One of the big issues that we're pondering is how to explain that our role is to get you authoritative, good information, but that ultimately people have to process that information themselves."

In the spirit of Senatorial objectivity, I decided to try a little test. It wasn't scientific. It was just for my personal, information-processing edification.

I asked five seemingly relevant questions of both Bing and Google. Then I examined the results.

1. Is Bing Better Than Google?

Bing's results led to a Lifehacker analysis. It leaned toward Bing having certain superiorities, such as its apparent "ability to predict when a flight might increase in price." This analysis was from, oh, 2013. The second result was "5 Things Bing Does Better Than Google." Some bias here, perhaps?

But when I asked Google the same question, the same outdated Lifehacker article came up first. Moreover, it was in a large box, beginning with this sentence: "Bing's video search is significantly better than Google's. This is the biggest difference between the two (and why Bing has a bit of a reputation as 'the porn search engine')." I'd missed out on that. Had you?

The second result was a 2018 Wired story entitled: "I Ditched Google For Bing. Here's What I Found -- and What I Didn't." No bias there, it seemed. Indeed, it was only the ninth result that offered a favorably Googly Forbes 2016 headline: "Why Hasn't Bing Improved To Become Better Than Google?"

2. Is Google Better Than Bing?

Surely this would produce different results. Not on Bing. The very same Lifehacker article still dominated. In the next result, Bing offered me: "How and Why To Switch From Google To Bing." It was only the fourth result that offered: "10 Reasons Why Google Is Still Better Than Bing."

Oddly, Google offered me the same first two results as for the previous question. It was only the third result that came from a 2015 Medium article: "Why Google Is Better Than Bing and It's Likely To Continue That Way." It was time for a more qualitative question.

3. How Do You Judge Which Search Engine Is Better?

Well, it seemed like an objectively qualitative question. Stunningly, Bing threw up a bunch of videos, none of which even attempted to answer the question. Sample: "lemonsworld Episode #46. How To Sneak Your V8 Miata Past The Lemons."

Excuse me? How on earth could this have been even vaguely relevant? Oh, it was about engines, right? Bing, you need help.

This is where Google's response was markedly different. Its first result: "17 Ways Search Engines Judge The Value of a Link." Useful, you might think, even if it doesn't exactly answer the question. What was less useful was that the article was from 2009. The next result? "How Google Judges Quality and What You Should Do About It." This was from 2015 and certainly didn't answer my question. I was becoming a touch confused. Was either of these search engines any good?

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What?

4. Best Search Engine.

I didn't even bother with the question mark. I wanted to see what both sites would declare. Bing instantly offered a large box with this headline: "View or Change Default Search Engine In the New Microsoft Edge." Really? Beyond that, Bing offered various lists of the world's search engines. The first of these was a Lifewire article entitled "The Best Search Engines of 2020." It placed Bing third behind Google and DuckDuckGo.

How did Google's search engine answer this query? Well, with a large boxed list of the 10 Most Popular Search Engines In The World. This was from the famous Reliablesoft.net. It listed, gosh, Google at No. 1 and Bing second. Some might notice that "Best" and "Most Popular" often have little in common. Google isn't all ego, however. The next result was something entitled: "14 Great Search Engines You Can Use Instead of Google." 

I was beginning to find this whole search thing a little frustrating. My searches weren't all that hard, surely. Neither search engine seemed up to the task, however. So I asked one final question. This was a question that surely would polarize the results and offer definitive statements.

5. Is Microsoft Better Than Google?

Bing led with an article entitled: "Google vs. Microsoft." This came from Google Watchdog, which claims to have been "proudly resisting surveillance capitalism since 2009." A commendable, if hopeless, endeavor. The article didn't have a  dateline but did offer quotes from more than a decade ago. It also offered this thought: "Google remains too dominant, too powerful. It's turned into the very thing it originally stood against. Google has become a bully and a snoop, managing to be both ignorant and defensive at the same time." It also claimed Microsoft had "cleaned up their act somewhat because they're a massive, mature company." Of course.

How did Google answer this qualitative inquiry? It tossed up a large box answering this question: "Is Google Better Than Microsoft?" There was a quote -- from Quora -- that went like this: "Different, yes. Google is a large company (actually now a subsidiary of Alphabet) that owns, operates, and creates software-based services such as Google (the search engine), YouTube, Google Maps, Gmail, and more. Microsoft is very diverse in its business offerings. ... However, Microsoft isn't better than Google." Well, isn't that definitive?

The next Google result? A Debate.org analysis which concluded that precisely 50% of people think Microsoft is better than Google, while the other 50% think the reverse.

The Searching Conclusion.

This was merely a tiny experiment to see what each engine might suggest and how much it might splutter. I can't say I was delighted by either, even though Google has always been my preferred option. I didn't think my questions were so very hard. It's clear that neither Google nor Bing wanted to be drawn too far on such an emotional issue -- though Microsoft's desperate need to tell you how to make Edge your default browser was touching.

Google's Sullivan is right, though. Both companies might try to offer something authoritative, but you should always use your own judgment and realize the vast limitations and algorithmic biases of all search engines. If Bing works for you, be happy. If Google does, be happy too. In both cases, though, be wary. Can you cope with the responsibility?

One thing I did notice was that in Bing searches, the entries under the News tab were far, far more dated than those in Google. Yes, of course, I searched my own name. Don't you?