Testing Bing, Part 1: The Search Results

My counterpart recently wrote an article on Bing.  The verdict?  “Bing is all hype.”  A few minor UI enhancements over the same shitty old search engine, just painting the pig.  I disagree.  I’m going to examine and compare Bing and Google (because let’s face it: nothing else matters) in the three core aspects that really matter: the results, the features, and the overall experience.

The first, and probably the most important, is the quality of the searching algorithm.  If the results suck, nothing else matters.  Google excels at this, and for years, no one else has even come close.  They’ve built an Internet empire around this, and for good reason.  It works.  It’s the backbone and starting point of the entire Internet, from a user’s point of view, and it does this better than anyone else.  If Google.com goes down, most people (myself included) really don’t know what to do.

But you know what?  Microsoft is catching up.  Bing is no huge leap forward in search results – in fact, I suspect it’s the same core search engine that was Live and MSN before that.  It’s still not as good as Google.  But it’s not bad anymore.  I know: I have Bing as my home page, Google as my default search provider, and I use both of them frequently.  I generally prefer Google, but for the most part, it doesn’t make a huge difference anymore.

And I have proof: some kind soul has set up a simple double-blind experiment where you can test results yourself:


Until it got popular and “some douche” started gaming the system, results were split surprisingly equally between Microsoft and Google.  The number of people who preferred Google’s results (remember, this is a blind test; they’re picking the results, not the brand) varied from 36% to 43%.  Microsoft had between 31% and 38%, and Yahoo had between 22% and 29%.  Remember, if all three were equally good, they’d all be 33%.  That 5% difference isn’t really too big.

Perhaps more importantly: Bing is getting better while Google is getting worse.  This is, perhaps, inevitable: it’s hard to stay on top forever.  Google is the target of every slimy hack out there trying to get a bit of cash from having a useless, ad-ridden site pop up on Google, and generally the sites with real content are more concerned about working on their real content or doing their real work than they are fiddling with search engine rankings.  By the way, don’t forget to check out our ads and affiliate links!

Sure, there are a few places where Bing really sucks.  For example, searching for a valid URL should always, always return that page.  Normal people don’t know or care if they’re typing in a URL field or a Search field; they just want to go there.  Even technical people work this way: I love Google Chrome’s combined URL / Search box.  There’s no reason a browser or search engine shouldn’t be smart enough to tell the difference between a URL and a search query these days.  But I’ve also run into queries where Google returns nothing but ads and useless aggregator sites while Bing returns exactly what I’m looking for.

So, while it’s pretty clear that Google is still the winner, Microsoft isn’t really that far behind anymore.  It’s the usual old Microsoft strategy: start late, start shitty, and keep throwing money at the problem until you’re winning.  Like or it not, that strategy usually works, and it looks like it’s in the process of working here, too.

So, in summary:

  • Google is usually still better.
  • Bing isn’t too far behind, for most searches.
  • Bing handles URLs horribly – a huge problem, but one easily fixed.
  • Both Google and Bing almost always return clearly obvious ‘best matches’ first.
  • For real people, both Google and Bing are now perfectly adequate, most of the time.
  • Google and Bing return different results.  If you’re not finding what you want on one, try the other.
  • If you still use Yahoo, it’s time to pay your final respects and move on.

My verdict: Google still has the advantage here, but Bing isn’t too far behind – and it’s slowly catching up.

Next time, I’ll talk about the extra features Google and Bing bring to the table.

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