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Will Early Big Buzz for Bing Mean a Search Boost for Microsoft
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Will Early Big Buzz for Bing Mean a Search Boost for Microsoft

Jon Stewart, Research Director, Technology & Search, Nielsen Online

It’s safe to say that expectations of search capabilities and delivery have risen over the years, and Microsoft is betting that this will translate into widespread adoption of their new and improved search engine, Bing. In anticipation of its debut this week, Microsoft posted a teaser video and allowed select individuals to preview the tool, resulting in some substantial pre-launch buzz.

The Early Verdict on Bing

To understand how the buzz on Bing has unfolded over the last few days, we watched commentary—specifically reaction and sentiment—of social and traditional media site users as they discussed Bing. So far, sentiment towards Bing has been generally favorable, although most people appear to be neutral on the topic. However, more than half of top bloggers–those associated with the most influential and high-reaching blogs– expressed an opinion, with the result being more positive than negative.

So how can we interpret this? In order to understand sentiment, it is helpful to know which keywords are driving the opinions.

Keyword Topics Driving Bing Sentiment

Interestingly, those topics that drive negative sentiment for some people are the very same ones that drive positive sentiment for others (such as comparisons to other search engines, quality of results, and the reaction to the brand). The good news for Microsoft is that the balance is tipping toward positive, especially among influential individuals, and some of the negativity will be moot once Bing goes live (such as the video demo).

Making a Dent in Search Share

While I’m sure that there are many critics who are willing to weigh in on what the future holds for Bing, the real question is are people are willing to switch to Bing from their current search engine? Maybe so.

Although Google has typically been the top dog in the search engine battles, searchers are a little less loyal than you might think. Around one-third of all searchers, and 72 percent of heavy searchers (the top 20 percent of searchers that generate 80 percent of total searches in the U.S.) use three or more search engines per month. These heavy searchers are the ones that Microsoft will want to attract, since they drive the majority of search activity on the Web.

Furthermore, 30 percent of Google searchers also use MSN/Windows Live, accounting for 30 percent of all their non-Google search activity. So this relative disloyalty means that Microsoft may initially have a smaller hurdle to overcome in the battle for search share than one might assume. Meaning, they don’t necessarily need to get non-MSN searchers to switch from Google (or Yahoo!) to Bing – they just have to get people that already use MSN/Windows Live to use Bing more often. And from the glimpse that we’ve seen so far, they seem to be doing just that by focusing specifically on Travel, Shopping, Health, and Local search. Gaining these vertical specific searches to grow overall share isn’t going to be easy, but it seems like a better, more innovative approach than simply trying to make a better Google.