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Technology: Does Bing have the search engine bling to topple Google?

Microsoft’s new search engine is similar to Google’s, but it must employ strong marketing if it wants to challenge its competitor’s dominance

By Gareth Murfin  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

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In June Microsoft released a new search engine named Bing, which is available in a beta version for Taiwan. Already, reports are suggesting that Google might be running scared — but does Bing really have the search engine bling to topple the titanic Google?

It strikes me as quite obvious that if Google has made all of its money from a search engine, why can’t others? Why aren’t there more competing search engines from huge companies like Microsoft, Apple or Sony? The main problem is what people perceive as your core competence these days, and only Google seems to be synonymous with search. To be fair, this reputation evolved very quickly: before Google there were AltaVista, Lycos, WebCrawler, Yahoo, Excite, Hotbot — just to name but a few — but Google completely destroyed the competition in less than two years by being able to get more relevant search results for its users using a more advanced search algorithm. Before long, word of mouth had almost everyone using Google.

However, if Bing were actually better than Google, one would assume that in the long run, after a period of competition, Bing would evolve as the dominant search site, exactly as Google did. Of course, history is littered with examples of better technologies that failed to prevail: Beta Max vs VHS, Qwerty vs Dvorak, Amiga vs PC. The fact is, now that the majority of people are Net savvy and search engines are no longer the exclusive tools of geeks, being better does not automatically mean commercial success. Things like advertising, strategic marketing and management play just as heavy a role as the product itself.

In this respect, Google employed a shrewd business plan: It didn’t spread itself too thin in its early stages by claiming to be anything other than a search engine. It only began to expand once it had literally become synonymous with search — to the extent that “google” has replaced “search” in our vocabulary.

However, whereas “google it” can now be used without further explanation, “bing it” is still meaningless. Google became involved with search in its infancy, back in the days it was almost impossible to see an ad for a search engine, so word of mouth was the best advertisement and being known as the “search guys” worked. Since then times have changed, people are hungry for more and there is room for more search engines — but people need a reason to swap. Firefox, for example, offered a better browsing experience than Internet Explorer.

Marketing is almost certainly going to play a big role in whether or not Bing succeeds. Nowadays, Google spends around US$25 million on advertising per year. Microsoft is planning to spend up to US$100 million to promote Bing, according to reports.

So what makes Bing any different? It appears to be almost identical to Google in every way, inspired by Google’s years of research into sparse user interfaces. The main visual difference is a background image that changes daily (I personally find that Bing’s background and logo make it look less professional than Google, but that doesn’t really matter if it’s more competent).

Apart from different backgrounds and logos, the most obvious distinction is the way Microsoft is marketing Bing as a “decision engine.” This strategy is obviously Bing’s unique selling point, as articulated by the catchphrase: “When it comes to decisions that matter, Bing & Decide.” But aggressive marketing and buzzwords like “decision engine” and “Bing & Decide” do not a better browser make.

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