SurveyMonkey last month released some surprising insight from a study they recently did comparing users’ search preferences.
The result? It turns out people prefer Bing over Google, but only if you label them Google results. Actually, if you correct for the Google brand, people outright prefer Bing.
Why does this matter? Because it means Google’s search quality is actually inferior to Bing’s. If you look at the preference graphs, this is obvious because Google slightly edges out Bing when the labels are correct, but when the labels are swapped, Bing’s results shoot WAY ahead. However — there are a couple nuances we can’t get into here. For example, it’s not clear if Bing is universally better over the set of all queries, or if they managed the trivial task of optimizing the most common ones. Anecdotally, my experience is that Bing is fairly good at long tail queries, although I have sometimes had to switch to Google for very specific and obscure searches about narrow subjects. Unfortunately, nothing in SurveyMonkey’s blog post gives us any further clues on this.
This should be a major coup for Bing, but it’s not clear what they do with this information: after all, they’re still Bing. Basically, it’s not clear whether the problem is that they’re not Google, or that they’re Microsoft. I suspect it’s probably a mix of both: old habits die hard, and Google is good enough for most people. You’re not going to get an order of magnitude improvement in relevance like Google was over the old search engines. And even though search theoretically has very low lock-in, the incentives to switch are actually fairly low: marginally better results in exchange for changing a well-practiced workflow, and admitting that an iconic search engine is no longer the best. Never underestimate the human affection with rationalization.
In addition to many people instinctively having a grudge against Microsoft, they also have a fairly terrible marketing department. Remember, these are the guys who came up with the name “Windows Phone 7 Series” and insisted that was the official name. Also recall that Bing in some Chinese dialects sounds a bit like “disease” or “sickness.” That’s not exactly the kind of connotation you want with the world’s fastest growing internet population.
It’s interesting to note that SurveyMonkey was not commissioned by Microsoft to do this study; in fact, Google is an investor in SurveyMonkey.
Survey results here: