Google Results, One of Bing’s Ranking Signals

Danny Sullivan has a story about Google’s claims that Bing copies Google search results. Google noticed that there’s an increasing overlap between the top results at Google and Bing, so it suspected that Microsoft was using Google’s results to improve its search engine.

To verify its suspicions, Google set up a sting operation. For the first time in its history, Google crafted one-time code that would allow it to manually rank a page for a certain term (code that will soon be removed, as described further below). It then created about 100 of what it calls “synthetic” searches, queries that few people, if anyone, would ever enter into Google.

These searches returned no matches on Google or Bing — or a tiny number of poor quality matches, in a few cases — before the experiment went live. With the code enabled, Google placed a honeypot page to show up at the top of each synthetic search.

The only reason these pages appeared on Google was because Google forced them to be there. There was nothing that made them naturally relevant for these searches. If they started to appeared at Bing after Google, that would mean that Bing took Google’s bait and copied its results.

This all happened in December. When the experiment was ready, about 20 Google engineers were told to run the test queries from laptops at home, using Internet Explorer, with Suggested Sites and the Bing Toolbar both enabled. They were also told to click on the top results. They started on December 17. By December 31, some of the results started appearing on Bing. (…) Only a small number of the test searches produced this result, about 7 to 9 (depending on when exactly Google checked) out of the 100.

Microsoft’s engineers probably thought that Google’s results were pretty good, so why not use clickstream data from Internet Explorer and Bing Toolbar to monitor the results picked by Google users? It’s a clever idea, but not when you’re using it to artificially add results from Google. Bing’s team says that they use “collective intelligence” to improve search results, so we can assume that a non-negligible amount of intelligence comes from Google. When you’re including results just because Google does it, you’re trusting Google too much and you implicitly admit that Google offers better results.

Update: Google’s Amit Singhal says that “some Bing results increasingly look like an incomplete, stale version of Google results – a cheap imitation” and implies that Bing shows “recycled search results”. I think that’s an exaggeration and Microsoft has every right to use all the information it has, including analytics data, Bing Toolbar’s clickstream, Facebook’s popular pages and Twitter’s trending topics. Bad mouthing competitors doesn’t help Google in the long run.

New Stuff on Bing– Sharing, Map Apps

Today at SES New York Bing shared with attendees its plans to begin testing some new Bing features as to start to move into the next wave of innovation which will be rolling out later this spring and summer.

Their Our focus remains consistent – they want Bing to be the best place to help you make better decisions. When they launched last June, one of the ways is to help customers get to better decisions was by providing a more visual, more intuitive, and more organized experience. This spring Bing will continue this evolution by making some changes to user experience and providing new experiences throughout search.

To start Bing wanted to focus on doing more to help users with the tasks they turn to search to help them with. The research showed that 42% of sessions require refinements, searching sessions are getting longer, and  see that many of those refinements happen when trying to complete common tasks. At launch, Bing introduced Quick Tabs in the Explore Pane (left rail) to give customers 1-click tools to help refine queries and help them go from question to decision. For example, when planning a trip, Quick Tabs anticipate the intent of the task a customer wants to accomplish and provide shortcuts for key planning activities such as weather, events, and maps. These quick tabs adapt based upon the user intent, and match the things you would expect when looking for a travel destination. The goal is to help you make a more informed decision with less time and effort.

This feature drove a lot of customer engagement, and was really popular with customers. But we are constantly looking for ways to make the experience even better. Jeff Henshaw, GPM of our user experience team put it well, “We have a vision for Bing to serve as a vital assistant to your online decision-making. In these latest designs, you’ll see a lighter, cleaner presentation of results that highlight key actions that will efficiently guide you toward your goal. Every day, Bing gets more intelligent about tasks that are important to people like you and me, so we continue to streamline and polish the Bing experience in ways that let you tap into that intelligence.” So over the next few months, we are going to test some new design concepts moving Quick Tabs functionality to the top of the page for 1-click access to our most robust, visual, and organized pages. We think this approach is a better way for Bing to anticipate user intent and adapt both the page and the results to help make faster, more informed decisions.

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We’re also helping with everyday activities as well, such as staying up to date on news and information. One of the most interesting information sources we see on the web today is real-time data. But search for these real-time signals using traditional search is challenging, so we have been doing work with a bunch of partners like Twitter to bring that data into the search experience. Last October, we shared our www.bing.com/twitter experience, and this week, we will test new experiences for real-time results. For example, when you search for a publication such as the New York Times, Bing not only gives you quick access to specific sections of the destination website, but also provides the most popular shared links from that publication.

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Another area in search that has been growing far more quickly as web search is the ability to get better local information by visualizing information on maps. We’ve been doing a bunch of work here to bring interesting experiences to customers on top of the mapping canvas with a relatively new feature called Map Apps. Map Apps enables Bing to bring relevant data from partners to this spatial search platform. Today we previewed a cool new map application, which brings real time data from foursquare into our Silverlight maps experience to give customers a real time sense of what’s going on as they plan activities in their own neighborhoods or while on the road.

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The foursquare map app is a powerful combination of the spatial canvas that Bing Maps provides, combined with foursquare’s user reputation service ability to see who has unlocked specific badges, where and who has been crowned mayor of certain locations making it easier to explore any city in the world as if you were a local.  Let’s say you’re travelling to New York City for the week, but you don’t know what’s hot in Greenwich Village. Selecting the foursquare Map App in Bing Maps, and zooming into to Greenwich Village will get you tips that show you what locals are saying about the hot spots in that area. It’s like an interactive day planner, designed to help find the best things to do in that area. And if you have questions, you can always contact users through foursquare to get the inside scoop.

You’ll see some of this roll out as we begin our testing, and there is more to come as we move into the spring. We are at the beginning of this journey, and are excited to see what you think. Thanks for using Bing for all your decisions, and keep the feedback coming.

Todd Schwartz, Bing