Microsoft’s Bing search engine is emerging as a challenger to the dominance of Google after capturing a near-11 per cent share of the market in little more than three months.
The latest statistics from Nielsen, the research firm, show that Bing, which went live in June, is now the fastest-growing internet search engine in the United States. Its market share leapt to 10.7 per cent in August, from 9 per cent in July — a rise of more than 22 per cent.
While Google retains a huge lead, with 65 per cent in Nielsen’s survey, its share increased by only 2.6 per cent in the same period.
Similar studies have also seen a boost in Microsoft’s search business. An August report from ComScore discovered that Microsoft’s share of the global search engine market lept 41 percent from July 2008 to July 2009.
Stefan Weitz, director of Bing, said that another update to the service was due in the autumn. He told The Times that Microsoft was examining ways to make Bing more relevant for its markets in Europe and more responsive to users, rather than trying to make them conform to the design of the engine. “We don’t think that the ten blue links is always the right model,” Mr Weitz said.
Microsoft, he added, was investigating how to tailor Bing for different national audiences. For example, British users of search engines tended to look for news more than other users.
This week Bing unveiled another twist, with a feature that allows users to search using image galleries instead of text links. Visual search will concentrate initially on travel, health, leisure and shopping.
Microsoft is aiming to add features that are not yet generally available on Google. “All the companies are really investing heavily in innovation,” Mr Weitz said.
Forrester, the research company, estimates that, in the US alone, the search and associated advertising market will grow by 15 per cent a year to more than $30 billion (£18 billion) in 2014.
The UK search market is worth up to $2 billion and, at 90 per cent, Google has an even stronger grip on this market. Microsoft has a share of about 6 per cent of online searches in Britain, although the figure was above 10 per cent briefly after the launch of Bing. Microsoft acknowledges that the slide in its share shows that its innovations must overcome consumer inertia.
Next year Bing is likely to receive another boost under a search technology deal between Microsoft and Yahoo!. In late July, the companies signed a ten-year deal under which searches on Yahoo!’s websites will be generated by Bing. Microsoft will license Yahoo!’s search technology, allowing the software giant to integrate certain aspects of it into Bing. AdCenter, Microsoft’s advertising search product, will replace Yahoo!’s equivalent service.
The Yahoo! search engine has about 16 per cent market share in the US, according to Nielsen.
American antitrust regulators have requested more documents as they look into the arrangement, but the companies are confident that the deal will go through as planned early next year. European antitrust regulators are also talking to them.
While Google and other engines also provide image searches, Microsoft’s service breaks new ground by offering a more “graphical way to search and discover information”.
Microsoft, in a blog post, said that its own research had found that consumers could process results with images 20 per cent faster than with text-only results. The feature, still in testing mode, will offer galleries in nearly 50 categories from consumer products to travel destinations to films to music. A search for “digital cameras”, for example, returns a gallery of thumbnail pictures of cameras that can then be filtered by manufacturer or by price, displaying a new set of images.
At the launch of the visual search feature at the TechCrunch50 start-ups conference in San Francisco, Ron Conway, the veteran investor who has backed Google and PayPal, the internet payments service, in the past, said: “Competition breeds innovation and this nice little battle between Google and Microsoft is having a huge benefit to consumers.”
Google is also rolling out new search features. At the same TechCrunch50 conference, it stepped up its efforts to woo newspaper and magazine publishers with a search service that displays results in the style of a “virtual magazine”. Its Fast Flip software will feature content from The New York Times, The Washington Post and the BBC.