Time to make a Bing impact

The trials are over and full service is ready to go. After just under six months and contrary to some speculation about delays, Microsoft is going live with Bing, giving marketers a new search service to place adverts and build brand awareness.

Joe Fernandez

With search currently being the most lucrative component of digital marketing, Microsoft will be looking to draw advertisers to its search service in a similar way to its display advertising. Its challenge is to tackle the dominance of Google but the difficulty to do this will be immense and the continuous cat and mouse games are bound to occur.

According to the bi-annual online advertising expenditure study from the Internet Advertising Bureau, in partnership with PricewaterhouseCoopers and the World Advertising Research Centre, marketers invested £1.1bn during the first half of this year on paid search, which equates to 62.6% of all online advertising expenditure.

With Bing, Microsoft says it has designed the service to “help people more easily navigate through the information overload that has come to characterise many of today’s search experiences.”

Its tools such as visual search, where brands can make their logos stand out, and its links with comparison service Ciao and mapping service Multimap may well achieve the initial design goal. It’s also teamed up with knowledge engine WolframAlpha, the European Search Technology Centre, Facebook and Twitter to serve results, which is seeing results in the US, at least.

According to online data service Experian Hitwise, Bing’s share of US web searches rose to 9.57% in October 2009, up from 8.96% in September. But it was still a distant third behind Google (70.6%) and Yahoo! (16.14%). Its relative success has been widely attributed to its TV ads raising awareness, playing on the “search overload” philosophy and making Bing “the cure”.

Yet. in the UK, its appearance has been much more discreet. Apart from an extension to a regional radio sponsorship deal and a presence across Microsoft products, such as MSN and Windows 7, it has not received the same marketing push by any means. Cedric Chambaz, marketing manager for Microsoft, has suggested that it may not be till next year that it does get this recognition (see story). Nielsen says it only has a 4% share of search in the UK at the moment – the company still has a lot of work to do.

Speaking at the IAB Engage conference this week, Microsoft’s managing director and vice president of consumer and online UK, Ashley Highfield, joked that he was determined to make “Bing it” as popular as “Google it”.

Search specialists tell me that though the look and feel of the site is well placed, its consumer appeal is still too low in the UK to allow for a significant search ad return. Indeed, some of the sponsored site results that appear on selected keywords differ hugely from Google and appear to have less relevance.

This may all improve when the search merger with Yahoo! is eventually all sealed and the quest to be the number two UK search engine is a realistic goal. But for now, Microsoft has to make a much bigger impact to make Bing the household name it wants it to be – the competitive impetus must well and truly begin.

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