Today Microsoft unveiled its latest attempt at arresting its decline in Internet search with an enhanced Live Search rebranded as Bing:
Microsoft Corp. today unveiled Bing, a new Decision Engine and consumer brand, providing customers with a first step in moving beyond search to help make faster, more informed decisions. Bing is specifically designed to build on the benefits of today’s search engines but begins to move beyond this experience with a new approach to user experience and intuitive tools to help customers make better decisions, focusing initially on four key vertical areas: making a purchase decision, planning a trip, researching a health condition or finding a local business.
The result of this new approach is an important beginning for a new and more powerful kind of search service, which Microsoft is calling a Decision Engine, designed to empower people to gain insight and knowledge from the Web, moving more quickly to important decisions. The new service, located at http://www.Bing.com, will begin to roll out over the coming days and will be fully deployed worldwide on Wednesday, June 3.
The "decision engine" approach seems to be an an attempt to sidestep the Internet search titans of Google and Yahoo by claiming to provide a different service and experience. Don’t expect general decision making assistance however:
Microsoft’s research identified shopping, travel, local business and information, and health-related research as areas in which people wanted more assistance in making key decisions. The current state of Internet search isn’t optimized for these tasks, but the Bing Decision Engine is optimized for these key customer scenarios.
The areas identified are also ones where a lot of ads can be sold too, of course, and Microsoft can also rope in some of their other properties:
Microsoft’s mapping platform, Virtual Earth, will now be branded as Bing Maps for Enterprise. More information can be found here.
Technology from Microsoft’s April 2008 acquisition of Farecast is now a central part of Bing Travel. More information coming soon.
Microsoft’s popular cashback program, now dubbed Bing cashback, with more than 850 merchants and more than 17 million products available, will be fully integrated into the Bing Shopping experience.
While all this lucrative decision making assistance is swell, what will elevate Bing above a mere shopping site will be the way it handles day to day search queries for average Internet users. There have apparently been improvements in that regard under the covers and more visibly there is a search results "table of contents" on a sidebar to help refine queries as well as improved text previews of results via technology from acquisition Powerset. As a sample of one, Search Engine Land’s Greg Sterling says:
My overall assessment is very positive. Kumo, now Bing, has performed well and I’ve been satisfied with the results. There haven’t been any significant deficiencies or missing links (so to speak). While there have been a few occasions where I’ve found Google results to be better, the substantial gap that existed between Google and Live Search is largely gone with Bing.
Still, success will determined by the number of Internet users habitually going to Bing for Internet search. Microsoft apparently plans to spend $80 to $100 million for promotional advertising in order to bring in crowds to kick the tires at least once and then they get to vote with their mice every day.
Microsoft was touting a deal with personal computer giant Hewlett-Packard for Black Friday shopping this holiday weekend that offered shoppers 40% discounts if they went through Microsoft’s incentive shopping service, Live Search cashback. Unfortunately, Microsoft was not prepared for the load on their servers:
First, Microsoft’s Live Search Cashback site was down for a good part of the day, preventing many online shoppers from taking advantage of the Black Friday cashback promotions from HP and others. Now, some of the people who did get through to the site are reporting that they received a mere 3 percent cashback from their HP purchases, not the promised 40 percent.
The 3% instead of 40% is fixable with a lot of elbow grease from Microsoft and HP employees and yes, Web site overloads from holiday shopping frenzy aren’t uncommon, but this is certainly a PR black eye for Live Search. Even worse,it is extraneous to Live Search’s mission as a Web Search alternative to Google and Yahoo.
From a bean counter perspective, Microsoft likely is subsidizing Live Search cashback so the glitches may have actually saved money, but if the folks at HP wisely put a reimbursement clause in the contract it may get very expensive for Microsoft. As for HP, their online store just missed one of the biggest shopping days of the year so I am sure they are rather grumpy. Next year, I bet the "doorbuster specials" won’t be Live Search cashback exclusive.
Last week Microsoft issued a press release touting the success of its Live Search cashback incentive shopping program which was announced in May. Besides the 30 percent increase in the number of product offers available plus new big name retailers participating, there was testimony from reference customers like eBay and ShoeMall about how it had improved their ROI in paid search.
The way this works is that the retailers pay Microsoft a commission for Live Search cashback sales and Microsoft in turn gives cash back to the buyer as an incentive. The incentive would be less than the commission at a normal incentive shopping site, but no one knows what Microsoft is paying. The point is that at least the reference retailers are happy with the return on their commission payments. Since this is effectively CPA advertising as opposed to CPC, it’s hard to see why they wouldn’t be unless hooking into the Live Search cashback infrastructure required a bunch of IT rework.
In any case, if Microsoft wants a incentive shopping site, they have certainly got a big one, but the real game always seemed to be to boost the usage of Live Search and there the results are less clear. To that end, Microsoft touted a comScore study that “in the second quarter of 2008, Microsoft Live Search referred almost 12 percent of total U.S. commercial online transactions and about 13 percent of total U.S. online spending among key retail categories” which still raises some questions.
As Danny Sullivan observes, it is hard to tell what this means without knowing what the percentages were before Live Search cashback, but the reported numbers are only slightly higher than the 10% US search share that comScore regularly gives Microsoft. Not to worry – Microsoft tells Sullivan that the “the immediate goal is to build usage and loyalty.” Somehow we knew that, but it isn’t clear that that is the story the numbers tell. Judgment on that will have to be deferred, but I think it is fair to say that Live Search cashback itself is off to a robust start.
Robert Andrews at paidContent.org reports an organizational change in Microsoft’s Search Business Group:
Microsoft is restructuring its Search Business Group to add a new group geared toward commercial search. It’s picked Multimap CEO Jeff Kelisky to be GM of this new Commercial Search unit, which covers Live Search cashback, MSN Shopping, local, consumer mapping, Virtual Earth and mobile. It’s part of the big plan to improve the performance of Live as a search and advertising platform. Kelisky will report to Search Business Group GM Brad Goldberg in Redmond but will remain based in London.
Goldberg: “We are increasing our focus on commercial search, including changes to the search leadership team and engineering team and in order to lead this market we need to bring all find, explore and commerce needs together. (Jeff) will direct this team to ensure Microsoft continues to innovate and deliver so that consumers choose us to find local information and services.” Goldberg said Kelisky understood particularly how to navigate search, local services, business search and mobile.