After Four Lonely Years, It’s Time to Give Bing a Chance

Microsoft’s search engine really, really wants you to give it a try.

Bing is the kid who gave you his Doritos during snack time. Or the girl who invited you to her birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese’s even though you didn’t invite her to yours. Bing just wants to be your friend. And yet, after four lonely years, Bing is still the new kid in school sitting alone at lunch, and you can’t even lift your head to wave hello. You’re mean.

Won’t you give Bing a chance?

To be sure, Microsoft’s web search engine is still young (it was unveiled in May 2009), and it has made huge strides toward its goal of putting a dent in Google’s massive market share. According to the June comScore rankings, Bing is second behind Google in core search share, with 17.9 percent—an increase of 2.3 percent from June 2012. The original “Bing It On” challenge, which launched in 2012 and asked 1,000 random people on the street to blindly compare Bing vs. Google search results, revealed that a surprising 57 percent of participants preferred Bing over Google. In a few areas, Bing is inarguably better—flight searches, for example—than its “do no evil” rival.

And yet, the public just hasn’t been ready to give Bing a chance—not, at least, in a way that would justify the massive amounts of resources Microsoft has poured into the engine. (The company has lost $11 billion on the product, by one estimate.) An aggressive war on Bing exists, and it doesn’t have to do with statistical information, or Google for that matter.

In other words, Bing has a bad reputation—it’s not “cool.”

Its marketing team is well aware of the issue. Karen Starns Edwards, general manager of consumer marketing for Bing, refreshingly admits it’s more than just Google that’s been an obstacle. “We’re trying to get people to step away from all of the negative thoughts they might have about Bing.” Bing knows it’s the underdog; it knows it’s being picked on.

But Queen Bee Google isn’t the one spreading rumors—it’s all of us. We’ve become Bing’s biggest threat. If you search “Bing” on Twitter, you’re likely to find jokes about Friends character Chandler Bing or an overwhelming amount of people pleading “Stop trying to make Bing happen.” When Bing sponsored the VMA’s "Most Share-Worthy Video" award in 2012, one viewer suggested it hurt MTV, tweeting: “the fact that this is sponsored by pepsi, bing, and freaking state farm isn't doing much for its cool points. #vmas.”

“Bing is actually a good search engine. It doesn’t deserve to be a punchline,” says Sam Biddle, editor of the Silicon Valley gossip blog Valleywag. “It’s just that ... if I tell you that I’m using Bing, you’re either going to think I’m an idiot or that I’m some sort of ironic hipster guy. It’s an image thing. It’s totally unwarranted.”

Meanwhile, there’s no ignoring Google’s dominance over the web. “Over the last decade, Google has become synonymous with web search—like Kleenex with tissues. Getting people to think of something else is really hard,” says ABC News technology editor Joanna Stern. “Most are conditioned to just ‘Google’ something, but it's also often times the closest door to the web. For me, it's about that convenience.”

Chris Gayomali, science and tech editor for The Week, has a similar reason for staying clear of Bing. “Bing’s great. I love Bing. But because I’ve already conceded most of my online identity to Google—Gmail, Chrome, and the like—it’s more efficient for me to stick with what’s familiar. Those milliseconds clicking around add up, and since I do most of my searching alt+tabbing through the Chrome URL bar, I figure: Why change?”

Over at Bing headquarters, Edwards knows Google is her biggest competitor, but she believes her obstacle is not about Google being a better quality search engine. “It’s about habit and about getting people to break that habit. The first thing you have to do is break through and confront it, like smoking or other vices,” Edwards reasons. “Just like brushing your teeth every morning, it may not be something people are putting a conscious effort in doing, so we know we need to keep up.”

The “Bing It On” challenge gave Bing the attention it was seeking. “It was the first time we were able to start a conversation about Bing with consumers,” Edwards said., the online destination for the campaign, has reached more than 25 million visits. This strategy is what’s driving people toward Bing, Edwards said. “If you go out and tell people something’s better than Google they’re going to say ‘No way.’”

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But for many, it’s not just about Bing being better than Google—it’s become much more than that. It’s a sense of comfort to know that on Google other people are seeing the same search results as you are. Google’s search engine has become the “cool kid” community, and people feel left out if they look elsewhere.

“If you Google yourself and see what the results are, that’s your public portrait online,” Biddle says. “If I use Bing, it’s almost like I’m not using the same Internet as everyone else and that can feel alienating.”

It doesn’t have to be that way forever. If high school has taught us anything, it’s that it only takes a small group to start a new trend. Knowing this, Bing has been gently, though strategically, inching its way into the inner circle. In 2012, the social media analytics site Klout announced that searching through Bing will influence Klout scores. (Klout is more or less the forgotten stepchild of the social media bunch, but it was a start.) Facebook is using Bing as their internal social search tool. Recently, Twitter unveiled a translation tool that uses Bing and splashes a “Bing translator” label. And in what might be the winning strategy, Apple integrated Siri with Bing Search, meaning those iPhone users who enjoy the painful yet thrilling back and forth with Siri will be automatically directed to Bing.

If you shadily head to when no one’s looking, you would find that there are cool things to be seen. Highlights include rollover video preview, where you can view a video without having to click on a link; a daily crystal clear homepage image; autosuggest; translation features; and so on.

“I actually find some aspects of Bing very useful, especially their travel booking,” says Anthony De Rosa, editor in chief of the news app Circa. “There's a way to see if it's a good time to buy a ticket or to wait as prices tend to drop at the time of year I am booking.” While De Rosa hasn’t seen an incentive to completely switch to Bing, a change isn’t entirely out of the question. “I've been willing to give Bing a chance because Google needs a real competitor to keep them honest.”

Bing isn’t obnoxiously chiming in on your conversation or showing up at your parties unannounced. It’s not even aggressively trying to be your “best friend.” It just wants a chance to hang, and it’s about time the hazing period came to an end.

“And anyway,” Edwards suggests, “Not to pick on your friends, but sometimes the friends you’ve had for a really long time, they might not be exhibiting the same values and behaviors that you do. As you grow as a person, maybe they grow in a different direction.”

Can’t argue with that.