Can Bing’s Tiger Make it Competitive with Google?

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Although the search engine news world has largely revolved around Google and its most recent algorithm changes for the last few months, the world’s fourth largest search engine – Bing – has been making some changes behind the scenes designed to improve its efficiency and relevancy. Could these changes make it more competitive with Google? Let’s take a look…

First of all, it’s important to understand the extent to which Google is dominating the search marketplace. According to Netmarketshare, web searchers used Google for over 80% of their search queries in the past year, with Yahoo, Baidu (China’s national search engine) and Bing coming in a very distant second, third and fourth place.

So when we ask, “Can Bing’s latest achievements make it competitive with Google?” this isn’t a small consideration. The changes implemented by Bing would need to be truly impressive in order to break even a chunk of users away from the stranglehold that Google currently has on the search landscape.

Does Bing’s Tiger update have a chance at bringing about this kind of upheaval? Let’s first look at what Tiger is, how it could affect Bing’s search results and whether or not these factors might enable Bing to gain traction against Google.

According to Microsoft, Bing’s Tiger isn’t an algorithm update in the same vein as Google’s Panda, although its launch does have the potential to reorganize Bing’s search results in a similar way. Basically, the company describes Tiger as an update to their back-end search indexing platform, making it more similar to the past Google Caffeine update, which aimed to improve search speed by as much as 50%.

The result of this update will be twofold, according to Microsoft – increased efficiency (resulting in reduced operating costs for the financially-beleaguered search engine) and better relevancy in the Bing SERPs. Summarizing the dual goals of this update, Yongdong Wang, general manager of Microsoft’s Search Technology Center in Asia stated:

“In Tiger, we not only look at improved efficiency but also look at new ways of processing queries. These new ways will enable scenarios where we can significantly improve the relevance of the results seen by users.”

Bing is achieving the increased efficiency side of things by shifting its data management to Solid State Disk (SSD) technology, which will allow it to check search queries against its existing index much more quickly. The added capacity of this shift also means that Bing can implement new indexing algorithms designed to make its results more accurate – an area where the search engine is seen as lagging behind Google.

According to Mary-Jo Foley, writing about the Tiger rollout for tech blog ZDNet:

“The evolving Bing crawling/indexing system (where Tiger fits in) is part of Bing’s “new system for web search backend that will be orders of magnitude larger and faster than anything that currently exists.””

No guesses needed there about who Bing is targeting with this latest update!

With the move to SSD technology, it’s pretty easy to see how Bing plans to compete in terms of search efficiency. Better servers equals faster processing times, which enables the engine to both index new and existing pages faster, as well as compare them and serve up results more quickly when search queries are carried out.

What isn’t quite as clear is how exactly Tiger will improve the relevancy of Bing’s search results, which will likely be the key to mounting any significant challenge to Google search in the future. It’s not that Google’s search results are that much better than Bing’s (although that embarrassing little snafu about copied results might have something to do with upstart Bing’s results coming in at a similar quality level as old-guard Google’s…). In fact, some studies suggest that Bing’s results may already be better than Google’s.

Consider the (admittedly small and limited in scope) study that Conrad Saam conducted over on Search Engine Land in order to compare the quality of Google’s and Bing’s SERPs. Saam created a list of search long tail search queries that were both highly specific in their desired result and potentially confusing to the engines, split evenly between transactional and informational queries. He then searched each term in both Google and Bing and assigned points based on the quality and ranking of each result on the corresponding SERPs.

Here’s what he found:

As you can see, in this particular instance, Bing comes out on top. And while this singular study can in no way, shape or form be considered conclusive evidence that Bing’s SERPs are of a higher quality than Google’s, Saam isn’t the only one coming to this conclusion. Analyses by PC World and Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan show weaknesses in Google’s SERPs quality as well.

Of course, as of now, it doesn’t really matter which search engine has the best quality results – you can argue until you’re blue in the face that Bing’s search results are best, but that’s not going to do much to change Google’s dominant position in the search marketplace.

It’s up to Bing to convince users to make the switch to its service, but is the Tiger update strong enough make a difference? That’s hard to say, as so little information has been released about the specific ways in which Bing might try to improve the accuracy and relevancy of their SERPs. The key might lie in Microsoft’s parallel development of Cosmos and SCOPE, described in a Microsoft job post as follows:

“We support the Online Services Division analyzing petabytes of data every day, operating at high scale and with high availability for data mining and business intelligence applications. As part of Cosmos, we build a highly parallel querying capability (called SCOPE) that allows front-end customers to focus on solving problems as if they are using a single machine.”

Certainly, more speculation will occur in the future as SEOs try to puzzle out how these new releases might play a role in reorganizing the Bing SERPs (along with assessments about whether or not they’ve been successful). However, it’s worth noting that the rollout of these services has been occurring since August, and that a month or two into the process, there’s been nary a peep about any dramatic improvements to the quality of Bing’s results.

At therein lays the problem. Realistically, if Bing wants to take on the King of the Search Engines, it’s got to do something big and bold that provides enough incentive for users to abandon Google. As we’ve seen, even though Google’s results aren’t significantly better than Bing’s or Yahoo’s, they’ve still captured the majority of the market – which, as most commenters in the Search Engine Land article referenced above agree, is likely due to the fact that there’s been no compelling reason to change.

Even if it doesn’t pass muster in SEOs’ surveys and studies, the public perception of the major search engines is still that Google provides the best results. And until Bing can assert itself by providing a significant value advantage in a way that resonates with web searchers, this prevailing opinion is likely to remain.

Image: michperu

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