Microsoft's Bing Launch: The Advertiser View

  |  June 26, 2009   |  Comments

The search engine is a work in progress, but its consumer and business focus is good for advertisers.

Even though Microsoft's timing and coordination in launching Bing left a lot to be desired, it's done a pretty good job of delivering a user-focused product. The jury is still out as to whether consumers (and, for that matter, businesspeople) will make the switch to Bing from their favorite search engine. Of course, Bing could still be a success if it becomes the second -- or fall-back -- search engine accessed when searchers are unhappy with the results at their top choice. Particularly for some highly specific long-tail or e-commerce-oriented searches, one often can improve overall satisfaction by checking the SERP (define) of more than one search engine.

Regardless of whether Bing manages to dramatically increase its share of search queries, advertisers should have adCenter accounts running. The level of competition in adCenter is far lower because fewer marketers have opened accounts (this situation may not persist for long). Additionally, the click quality on Microsoft's search properties is very good because it's virtually undiluted by syndication partners that can cause divergence in click quality and predictability of conversion. Microsoft is serious about catching up on both the searcher and advertiser side of its business. Its management recognizes that to get advertisers excited about opening and maintaining adCenter accounts, it needs to get query share up and, more important, it needs to increase commercial search volume (since commercial searches are the ones we all want to bid on).

Because Microsoft wants more commercial searches, it's actually put far more development effort into some of the more important industry segments where results could be improved. For example, within the travel segment Bing floats a fare predictor into results when it's clear someone is looking for a flight. For local searches, Bing's architects have taken guidance from Google by embedding a map in the SERP. Unlike Google, the results within the local portion of the universal results include sponsored listings from AT&T's Yellowpages.com and reviews from Citysearch (an IAC company), Yelp, and in some cases even specialized review sites, such as RestaurantRow.com. Still, if you have a local business, it's important that you include your info in the Bing Local Listings Center (renamed from Live, I think). Within the Local Listings center, you can also select your categories (up to six in order of importance). In addition to integrating reviews from other sources, it appears that Bing is looking to build its own review content as well.

Further evidence of a focus on improved commercial results (particularly those that are also popular with searchers) can be found if you do a search for a specific new movie or even more than one movie. Results for popular products such as the iPod have a significant mix of images (linking to shopping results) and paid listings. Bing is clearly a work in progress, but its consumer focus is good for advertisers too, because in the long run, consumers consume ad content along with editorial content and as long as this information is relevant we have an opportunity to sell to consumers and influence their buying decisions.

If you have faith that Microsoft will at the very least not lose search share as a result of the Bing launch and its upcoming ad campaign, then you owe it to yourself to have an adCenter campaign running along with your Google and Yahoo campaigns. Of course, you can get either of my two most recent books, "Search Engine Advertising" or "The Truth about PPC Search Advertising," and get a $200 adCenter coupon (U.S. new advertisers).

How quickly is Bing growing? ComScore reported that in its first week, Bing raised its searcher penetration from 13.8 percent to 15.5 percent of the total U.S. market, and its share of SERPs went from 9.1 percent to 11.1 percent. At my firm, we haven't seen nearly as much of a gain in search spending, and neither have the other SEM agencies I've talked to (even if there has been a bit of a lift in CTRs (define)), which leads me to conclude that much of the searching being done within Bing is curiosity-driven searching and may not have the same mix of keywords and commercially oriented searches, and that the increased screen real estate for ads has made a difference.

The focus on query share and on search user experience may be misplaced, because it tends to cast Microsoft in Sony's role in the classic "Betamax vs. VHS" format wars of the 1980s, and it is late to the party. So the question is this: how does Microsoft change the game and become analogous to DVD or streaming video?

Many SEM (define) agencies and certainly almost every client I talk to is rooting for Microsoft to become as significant a player in search as it is in display. While its initial launch missteps with Bing in its first few days likely resulted from having too many cooks, Microsoft's only major failure was having nothing live on the site when its name was announced. This situation reminded me of Microsoft's occasional failure to keep the 301 redirects (define) on its old sites pointing to succeeding properties. Perhaps you remember http://www.msnsearchandwin.com/, which was a fun promotion in its time. Unlike most regular marketers, who would use the 301 status code to redirect the URL if they changed their mind about the site, Microsoft just let it go dead (I've mentioned this to many Microsoft people, but no one seems to know who was in charge). Microsoft isn't the only large corporation to abandon a domain that had inbound links. EBay was going to run a media auction business and had registered admarketpilot.com, which I stumbled on the week of expiration. So for nostalgia purposes, I bought it.

Do you think Bing has a real chance in unseating Google as the world's preferred search engine? Will its growth continue or hit a wall at some point? I'd love to hear your opinion.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kevin Lee

Kevin Lee, Didit cofounder and executive chairman, has been an acknowledged search engine marketing expert since 1995. His years of SEM expertise provide the foundation for Didit's proprietary Maestro search campaign technology. The company's unparalleled results, custom strategies, and client growth have earned it recognition not only among marketers but also as part of the 2007 Inc 500 (No. 137) as well as three-time Deloitte's Fast 500 placement. Kevin's latest book, "Search Engine Advertising" has been widely praised.

Industry leadership includes being a founding board member of SEMPO and its first elected chairman. "The Wall St. Journal," "BusinessWeek," "The New York Times," Bloomberg, CNET, "USA Today," "San Jose Mercury News," and other press quote Kevin regularly. Kevin lectures at leading industry conferences, plus New York, Columbia, Fordham, and Pace universities. Kevin earned his MBA from the Yale School of Management in 1992 and lives in Manhattan with his wife, a New York psychologist and children.

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