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Search Supplement – September 2017

Tony Mok

Following on from our look back into how YouTube has evolved from a user & advertising perspective. This month we’ll be looking into Bing and how the search engine has developed since its launch in 2009.  This will part of a series of special Search Supplements that will take a closer look at the development, status and current offering of various Search related Media Owners.  Bing will be discussed as part of a wider sphere, as it has expanded into areas such as AI and digital assistants. Lastly, we’ll explore how Bing is improving the platform by drawing feedback from advertisers and incentivising its user base.

The return of the Bing

Since its inception in 2009, Bing has come a long way and has continued to grow in market share. Its PC market share is now 25% in the UK. Although Google still dominate the market, especially when taking mobile traffic into account, the release of Windows 10 in summer 2015 allowed Bing to begin chipping away at Google’s user base. To maintain Bing’s growth, Microsoft has introduced Bing in more of its services such as Office and Cortana.

Bing there, done that

Alongside this, Bing is expanding their reach as an advertising platform. Slowly moving into the native ads space using MSN to compete with other native platforms such as Yahoo Gemini. According to Bing, the targeting of Native Ads is primarily done through user intent to remain relevant, thereby allowing advertisers to reach prospects outside of search. Bing Native Ads will be fully integrated within the search platform to provide advertisers with a streamlined workflow. Moreover, it will also have the capability to use site remarketing lists and other targeting from search. This product is currently in beta throughout the US and although there is no specific date for roll out in Europe it could start testing in the UK soon.

Apart from solely using Microsoft’s digital offering, Bing is also reaching users across other digital partners. Bing has given assurances that these are high quality partners, and that you are able to have greater control as you can breakdown performance by partner. Some of these are more prominent sites such as Gumtree and AOL whilst others are smaller, more vertical specific sites thus allowing advertisers to appeal to more targeted audience. It will be interesting to see how this expansion competes with Yahoo Gemini and the Yahoo network of partners in terms of performance for a Native platform.  

If you like it then you should’ve put a Bing on it

Windows 10 provided a boost for Bing when it first launched. With Windows 10, Bing is readily available on the desktop on the bottom left corner and can be accessed with just a touch on your Windows key. Microsoft’s approach ensures that users are able to search as efficiently as possible. Bing is also powering searches in other Microsoft offerings such as Office and the Xbox One.

Since Microsoft started to develop its own hardware through the Surface line-up, users on their devices are given Bing as their default browser. Where there used to be no restrictions on using other browsers there are with the new Surface laptop which uses Windows 10s rather than Windows 10. The OS restricts users from installing Chrome claiming to offer better security as users are unable to run executable files whilst Bing is set as the default search engine.

The Bing and AI

In a further bid to gain market share Bing has continued to develop their capability for recognising voice search. Microsoft claims that 25% of their searches are now voice searches and this behaviour is propelled by the rise of personal assistants such as Cortana and Siri.

If you have an iPhone, you have probably used Bing without noticing it, when you asked Siri a question. This is one of many ways that Microsoft is trying to increase its mobile market share. Microsoft understands the importance of mobile and knows that it will be an uphill battle trying to compete directly with Google on mobile search. With over 70% of market share, Google is synonymous with search. It has achieved this status by putting user experience at its forefront and by leveraging the Android OS and other Google products, it was able to appeal to the majority of mobile users.

Similar to Google, Microsoft is recognising that user experience is monumental to its products. At Microsoft Build 2017, Satya Nadella said that the “user experience itself is going to span [on] all your devices.” Nadella became the CEO of Microsoft in 2014 and he has shifted the culture at Microsoft from being inward looking to one that is expansive. Whilst this is not directly relevant to PPC, with Cortana being available on both the Android and iOS, it is an example of how Microsoft is improving its machine learning capability through other devices. A study in the US conducted by HigherVisibility has shown that users think that Cortana is the most accurate personal assistant. As voice search becomes more popular, Bing’s proficiency at this will be pivotal going forward.

Being able to understand what we are asking is a small part of a much bigger picture towards an AI first strategy. In 2016, Microsoft merged its Bing, Cortana and Research division into a single AI team to facilitate this. It has experimented with 2 AI chatbots: Tay in the West which had to be shut down; and Xiaoice (Which means “Little Bing” in Chinese) in China. The latter was proven to be much more successful. Both of these demonstrates Microsoft’s eagerness to advance in this area. AI still requires a lot of research and can be a sensitive area, Facebook’s AI for example, had to be turned off because it created its own language. Nonetheless, AI is already playing a role in our lives as digital assistant as well as providing business solutions and for Microsoft, Bing is the foundation for their AI first initiative.

Binging the A-Games

Bing had a rocky start when it first entered the search engine space, however Microsoft has invested a lot of resources to entice both advertisers and users. For advertisers, Bing has bolstered its product support by setting up the Bing Partner Program – a three tiered program (Partner, Select & Elite) that is based on advertisers’ investment and other criteria. Depending on the tier, partners are able to get training, insights as well as dedicated support.

On top of the Partner Program, The engineers at Bing has also been very receptive to advertisers’ feedback and worked with them to improve the workstream and the functionality of Bing Editor. For example, many advertisers criticised the creation of additional workload when using Bing. As such, Bing has introduced the ability to import campaigns directly from AdWords to reduce workload. As the majority of Advertisers are most familiar with AdWords, Bing will need to ensure that their product is as good as if not better than Google’s and at the moment continues to work towards the functionality given to advertisers on AdWords.

Alongside working with advertisers, Bing has been working on engaging with users as well. A recent example of this is the launch of Microsoft Rewards where users are rewarded with points for using Microsoft products (e.g. searching with Bing). These points can be spent on the Xbox, Windows Store or be used to enter competitions. Looking at Google Trends, there has definitely been a surge in interest for this over time.

However, as this is a reward system, it is potentially open to abuse, Microsoft needs to be wary of people abusing the system, which could lead to irrelevant searches for advertisers. Bing will need to provide a better user search experience than Google in order to ensure that users do not switch back once the programme finishes.

One Bing to rule them all

Nadella saw value and breathed new life into Bing by aligning it with multiple products within Microsoft’s spectrum. Although Bing has been in a better position to challenge Google since the launch of Windows 10, that initial growth has since slowed down. Microsoft will need to maintain this momentum by continuing to work with advertisers and retain users by enhancing the user experience. A key area that it needs to focus on is on mobile as over 50% of all searches are now mobile based and Google currently dominates this device. A final challenge is ensuring that it continues to innovate in the AI space as it is not just Google that is they are competing with.

Sources

Bing launches: https://www.wired.com/2009/05/microsofts-bing-hides-its-best-features/

Bing market share https://advertise.bingads.microsoft.com/en-gb

25% of Searches on Bing are voice queries: https://www.mediapost.com/publications/article/275167/bing-one-quarter-of-searches-are-voice-search-que.html

Bing on Xbox One: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=swOeauRW-EY

Bing Native Ads: https://advertise.bingads.microsoft.com/en-us/solutions/ad-products/bing-native-ads

https://advertise.bingads.microsoft.com/en-us/blog/post/july-2015/bing-native-ads-native-ad-experiences-targeted-to-user-intent

Voice Search Study: https://www.highervisibility.com/resource/research/how-popular-is-voice-search/

Satya Nadella http://uk.businessinsider.com/microsoft-ceo-satya-nadella-intelligent-cloud-build-2017-2017-5