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It Ain’t Over ’til the Fat Lady Bings
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It Ain’t Over ’til the Fat Lady Bings

Jon Stewart

When Microsoft rebranded their search engine, Yusuf Mehdi explained that they settled on the name Bing “because it sounds off in our heads when we think about that moment of discovery and decision making – when you resolve those important tasks.” Still in the early weeks of the launch, he is probably hoping that Bing resonates more like the sweet sound of trialability.

With only 22 percent of all active U.S. searchers using MSN/Windows Live on a monthly basis, user trial and acquisition is Bing’s first critical hurdle to overcome. And looking at the first week, there is certainly some promise.

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Bing kicked off with a bang on June 1, doubling the number of unique visitors MSN/Windows Live received on the previous day and nearly overtaking Yahoo! Search for the No. 2 spot. By the end of the week, Bing propelled a 6 percentage point increase in Microsoft’s share of search pages (among the top five search engines), going from 8.7 percent during the week of May 25 to 14.7 percent during the week of June 1.

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Redefining Search

It would be premature to think about whether Bing is already flaming out after a raucous start. However, Bing’s stagnation in daily visitors since its launch does make me wonder about the opportunity for significant growth in a mature search market with a well-established leader. While Microsoft’s expected $80 million to $100 million campaign will drive more awareness, raising visitor levels at least temporarily, what happens after that? Ultimately, Microsoft needs to be able to win over already satisfied searchers by providing a truly innovative alternative.

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If we think about Bing in terms of the Technology Lifecycle Adoption Model, where Everett Rogers illustrates adoption over time as a “bell curve,” then we may be able to get a sense for growth potential. With over 87 percent of the Active Internet Universe already searching, we’re presumably near the end of the curve. But if Bing can successfully redefine search from a tool that aids online navigation to one that helps make decisions, then perhaps Microsoft is carving out a new space where their product is in a different stage of adoption. Maybe the 40-50 thousand daily visitors represent early adopters, in which case Microsoft could expect that the current Bing audience represents only 16 percent of the potential market, allowing more room for growth.

I think that many of us can agree it is very optimistic to think of Bing as an entirely new piece of technology, but the point is that online search hasn’t really changed during the last ten years. So in order for Microsoft, or any other competitor, to pick up search share in this market they will have to redefine what people think of search.