Bing -- Early Estimations in Local Search

Microsoft has a tough road ahead trying to win market share with its revamped search engine, Bing. It's not good enough to be slightly better than Google or Yahoo to succeed in the search engine wars. As one of my clients, Naijia Huang, aptly put it last week, "You have to be so good and have more meaningful features that a person would actually stop using Google."

This is a pretty tall order considering Google now has more than 65 percent market share of the search engine usage, according to comScore.

Will Bing make a difference for Microsoft this time? Considering that Bing's launch is supported by an ad campaign in the $80 million to $100 million range, they certainly intend to make it successful. Early indications are somewhat positive; comScore just released the following numbers:

comScore Numbers

It's way too early to say Bing is a success, so let's just say that initial trials are favorable. Will these trials turn into market share growth? We promise to keep you posted.

Stakes Are High, Especially in the Local Search Space

What we know, however, is that major engines continue to try and move their search domination into local search. As discussed in previous articles, local search represents a large relatively untapped revenue source. Depending on whose estimates you believe, the local search industry could eclipse $15 billion dollars in the next several years, so it's certainly worth targeting.

Today's local search landscape is relatively fragmented to include major search engines, Internet yellow pages, city guides, and more. When just viewing local searches on the major portals, we see Google taking the lead.

Share of Local Portal Searches

comScore Numbers

Source: TMPDM/Comscore Local Search Usage Study, Q2 2008

Both Yahoo and Microsoft had declining local search shares between 2007 and 2008, while Google's local search share increased. If Microsoft wants to compete, they'll have to take some pretty big steps to master the local search space.

How Does Bing Stack up in Local Search?

The most obvious would be that the results page looks very similar to Google's. Bing even has an 8-pack (local listings surrounded by a map) to compete with Google's 10-pack. You won't notice a significant difference until you click through to a local business profile page. Here, you'll find the first evidence of why Bing calls itself a "decision engine."

The profile page includes similar features to a profile page on Google, but also some unique features that separate it from the rest of the pack. The layout seems much more navigable in terms of generating a purchase decision about a specific business. There also seems to be a bit more content within each feature:

  • Business Listing: No great innovation here; content is fairly consistent with what's on Google and Yahoo. Information includes address, phone number, hours of operation, reviews, and a Web site link for the business and different features on the profile page.

Bing Maps

  • Map: Bing provides predetermined or "one-click" directions from different corners of the city. In some cases, this would be more convenient, especially if the searcher is already familiar with the area.
  • Nearby: Links included under this feature are for other services or places of interest in the area. While it's simple, the added convenience will go a long way for searchers planning an outing.

Bing Nearby

  • User Review Scorecard: This section provides a summary of the user reviews and organizes them into categories for quick reference. Clicking on "Show Reviews" provides more insights relative to specific categories. At this point, these appear to be only in the restaurant category, this could be a great differentiator if Bing could build out these categories specific to other verticals.

Bing Scorecard

One area where Bing excels is the integration of local results that include Yellowpages.com advertiser listings at the top and bottom of results pages. Content is vital to help searchers make informed purchase decisions, and this integration helps provide Bing's users with purchase forming criteria, beyond a map and a link to the merchant's Web site.

To see if this integration was actually having any effect on performance, we looked at the source traffic going to YellowPages.com as indicated by the Hitwise ClickStream tool. The last two weeks ranked Bing and Bing Local as the top 10 and 12 sites driving traffic to YellowPages.com.

The percentage of clicks coming from each for the week ending June 13 was 1.09 percent and 1.04 percent respectively. From May 16 to 23, Live Search (Microsoft's previous search engine) was ranked 20th, responsible for only 0.45 percent of upstream traffic. It's obvious that online users are finding this integration favorable and are making use of the information.

Predictions Please

Overall, Bing is on the right track as it relates to local search; results are comprehensive enough, page usability is equal, if not superior, and integration with Yellowpages.com is positive. However, it's not enough to pronounce Bing a "Google killer" as some may have believed.

Naijia's perception is right; unless Bing makes a great leap forward, there's nothing here that will make people want to switch from their existing local search favorites.

Submissions are now open for the 2009 Search Engine Watch Awards. Enter your company or campaign before July 17, 2009. Winners will be announced at SES San Jose.