Is Bing really as good as Google?

Microsoft has invested a lot of money (like, $100 million kinds of money) into marketing their online search tool, Bing. (Or was it MSN Search? Windows Live Search? Just plain Live Search? I can’t remember anymore…) This nine-figure marketing push, coupled with a few videos taking pot shots at their chief competitor, Google, has raised a pretty clear question: is Bing really ready for Prime Time, or is its bark bigger than its bite?

Google vs Bing Comic

Well, we know what the internet cartoonists think…
(Image credit: owlturd.com – yes, you read that right.)

The short answer to today’s question is “no.”

The long answer is “not by a long shot.”

How do I know? Well, I’ll give you two reasons, but I’ll challenge you to investigate both for yourself.

Reason 1 – The blind “taste test”

Microsoft is so intent on getting people to switch to Bing that they’ve actually made a site where you can try the two out side by side, with the search results stripped of anything that would identify their source. You just type in a search term, and you get Google results on one half of your screen and Bing results on the other half. But they look exactly the same. You investigate the results, then choose which one you think was better. After doing this a few times, Microsoft tells you which search engine you secretly prefer.

Want to try it out? Head on over to the oh-so-cleverly-named bingiton.com. Or, watch these totally-not-cherry-picked-by-Microsoft video results:

My experience with this little head-to-head competition actually surprised me. I’ll be honest – I went in sort of expecting that Google was going to win, but I had also never used Bing at the time, so I decided it’d be worth seeing how things really shook out. I tried to be unbiased (though, it’s a blind test, so I don’t really know how I could have been biased). And I conducted five real, live searches for information I actually needed to complete my work at the office one day. I picked the Google results 5/5 times. In a blind test.

Now, it’s possible that happened by chance. But it’s not very likely. Suppose Bing is just as good as Google. No better, no worse. In such a situation, I’d expect to choose Google 50% of the time and Bing 50% of the time. The chances of choosing Google 5 times in a row? 50% * 50% * 50% * 50% * 50%. That’s right around 3%. Not good odds. So far, things were not looking good for Bing.

Reason 2 – I’d do anything for money… but not that

Did I mention that Microsoft is so intent on getting people to switch to Bing yet? In fact, they’re actually paying people to search on Bing. I kid you not. Microsoft is so desperate for Bing users that they’ll give you what amounts to about $5 a month in gift cards of your choice to use their search engine. Free money. Just for using Bing instead of Google.

Federal Reserve Building

#econhumor
(Image credit: AgnosticPreachersKid on English Wikipedia)

Obviously, the prospect of getting money just for doing something I do anyway (like web searches) is pretty enticing. So, for an entire month, I used Bing for all my searching needs. I set my default search engine in Chrome to Bing. I set my default search engine on my phone to Bing. I was all in.

Unfortunately, I was completely underwhelmed. I was hoping that, over time, I would start to get a “feel” for how Bing handled my queries and could start to make better use of the tool. No such luck. Even by the end of the 30 days, I was finding myself regularly frustrated by my inability to find an answer to relatively simple queries. Often, I was heading over to Google so that I could finally dig up the needed information. And, more often than not, I had what I needed within a few seconds. It was brutal.

So, in the end, I got my $5 Amazon gift card. And I immediately switched back to using Google. You literally couldn’t pay me to use Bing.

Don’t think I’m being fair? Give it a try yourself!

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