bing vs google background

Bing It On Google: Why Bing May Share the Same Fate as Pepsi

Microsoft has launched a new website called Bing It On and an accompanying ad campaign touting Bing’s superior search results. Microsoft is asking people to try their searches at BingItOn.com where Google and Bing results for the same query are shown side by side. When organic search results are displayed without any Google or Bing branding, Microsoft claims that Bing beats Google 2 to 1 in blind comparisons. Wow, sounds a lot like the Pepsi Challenge campaign from the 80′s! Same flawed test, same results favoring the underdog.

Bing vs Google Search Box - BingItOn.com

Being a search geek, it was fun for me to punch in queries and compare, especially for our clients search terms that I’m intimately familiar with. And not to mention it’s a cool way to check non-personalized rankings on Google and Bing in one place. We have SEOmoz and proxies for that but it’s cool to see actual results side by side. It’s also kind of ironic that, not so long ago, Google accused Bing of copying search results from Google.

This leads me to ask the question, “It’s a clever campaign but is it any more than that?” Well, the media attention and the fact that I’m taking time to write about it will likely lead to a bump in market share for a short time. I’m sure that bump won’t be from this post, I definitely don’t have anything like the Colbert Bump. The campaign has gotten a lot of attention and a lot of people seem to be talking about it. But I would venture to say that the results of this “experiment”  are flawed in the same way that The Pepsi Challenge was and I don’t see a lot of people talking about this aspect of it.

The results of this “experiment” are flawed in the same way that The Pepsi Challenge was and I don’t see a lot of people talking about this…

 

The Cola Wars

So let’s back up for a few minutes (or decades) and talk about The Pepsi Challenge. The Pepsi Challenge was a blind taste test where Coke drinkers were served Coke and Pepsi in unmarked containers and asked which they preferred. The blind taste tests showed Americans preferred Pepsi by a hefty margin. It’s rumored that Coke, even though they’ll probably never admit it, formulated “New Coke” to taste more like Pepsi and did their own taste tests until they had a formula that beat out Pepsi. In 1985, New Coke was released and the classic Coke ceased to exist. 77 days later Coca-Cola retreated and brought Classic Coke back. There was a huge backlash and it’s often called one of the largest marketing failures of all time.

Malcolm Gladwell outlined in his book Blink why he thinks New Coke failed even though the taste tests indicated it would be a success. His first point was that it was a “sip” test. So people preferred the sweeter, lighter flavor of Pepsi in a sip test but if they sat down to drink a whole can they might have preferred the less sweet flavor of Coca-Cola. As a Coke drinker, I would agree with this to some extent. I definitely prefer Coke because I think Pepsi is too sweet, especially if you drink it out of a 50 gallon drum or a Big Gulp.

I Picked Coke in the Pepsi Challenge

I Picked Coke in the Pepsi Challenge

But I think there’s far more to it than just taste. I believe a lot of the taste has to do with the whole experience and what you associate with the brand.  For instance, when I find Coca-Cola in glass bottles at Costco, I do a happy dance and proceed to have the helpful Costco employee hop on his forklift, pick up a pallet and load it on top of my car. I’ve convinced myself that Coke tastes better out of a glass bottle than it does out of a can or plastic bottle. I’ve also decided that these bottles imported all the way from Mexico to  the Granite State taste better and are better for me because they are made with real sugar instead of some high fructose frankin syrup created in a laboratory out of surplus corn. In reality, non of this is probably true and I probably couldn’t tell the difference in a blind taste test. So why do I prefer Coke out of a bottle? I think it’s mostly nostalgia. It brings back memories of childhood, returning those tall worn bottles back to the grocery store to be filled again, or my trips to Brazil when I took breaks from drinking cheap beers on the beach and had an ice cold Coke in a glass bottle. It’s the packaging, it’s color, it’s the logo and it’s everything I personally associate with the brand.

Enough About Cola, What Does This Have to Do with Search?

Okay, so three long paragraphs about soda, pop, cola or whatever you call it, but what the heck does this have to do with search? It has a lot to do with branding. Google has a brand that makes people think of  a new and innovative company that does no evil (although I would disagree with the evil part these days). The Microsoft brand brings up thoughts of blue screens of death, Zune, an awful Windows phone I was dumb enough to buy not so many years ago and many slowly progressing or outdated products. Rebranding to Bing was a good move but they are starting with a new brand that doesn’t mean anything to most people except for it’s association with Microsoft.

Even if Bing can show people prefer their organic search results over Google’s in a blind test, they’ve got a lot more work to do before they can edge out the 800 pound gorilla.

Why the Blind Comparison is Flawed

Here are the three major flaws I see that the Pepsi Challenge and Bing It On have in common:

  • As Malcolm Gladwell pointed out in Blink, it’s a “Sip” test. People do a few made up searches but don’t actually use Bing in real life situations, refining their searches to get closer to the answer they are looking for. This makes it an unreliable indicator.
  • It’s not representative of the actual search experience. It excludes all the ads and all the results returned from structured data like weather, bacon scores, shopping results, calculators and much more. On top of that paid ads are occupying more space than ever and garnering more clicks. Quality ads can actually help users find what they are looking for and are a big part of the search experience.
  • The test doesn’t take into account the inference that brand has on the search experience. It’s hard to measure or place a finger on it but it’s there and has a real impact on search behavior.

Conclusion

So flash forward in the Cola Wars and Pepsi is still #2, or #3 if you take into account that Diet Coke bumped them out of second place in 2011, and Coke is the undisputed leader by a very wide margin. And for the Search Wars, Google is the undisputed champion with 67% of market share, while Bing with 16% is gaining small amounts of market share but taking it from Yahoo not Google (source: comScore). I don’t think the executives at Google are sweating bullets and developing the “New Google” with an all new algorithm that people prefer in blind tests.
It’s good to have a healthy rivalry and it encourages innovation that will ultimately lead to better search experiences. I’d take a lesson from Coke though, and I wouldn’t put too much faith in a blind test because there’s a lot more to it than that.

What’s your take on this?

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Zach Luse

Hi! I'm Zach the founder of Paragon Digital Marketing. I'm an adventure seeking entrepreneur with a passion for digital marketing and analytics. I've been knee deep in search marketing and web development for well over a decade, working with large corporations, small business and nonprofits. I'm certifiable... a certified sailing instructor, nitrox certified scuba diver, Google Adwords Certified, Google Analytics Certified, Inbound Marketing Certified and I aim to be a certified kite surfer soon.

Comments (7)

  • Avatar

    WT

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    Well, you use the search engines as a mean to find items/info. You drink soda because you are thirsty (or want to drink it). They are different and I believe the comparison helps to clear the misconception that Bing search results are less superior than Google.

    However, most consumers do not really care and would just stick to Google for searches. It’s the branding as stated by the writer.

    Reply

  • Avatar

    NatNiks

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    About the Cola from the glass bottle:
    you don’t have to taste it to note the difference ,
    the gas bubbles in the Cola from the glass bottle
    are bigger. they jump higher and will jump against
    your nose ….

    About Pepsi and the others.
    Your stomach will tell you after a hour it wasn’t Cola

    About bing:
    We have learned, not to trust anything from Microsoft.
    It started on the PC, if something didn’t work you would
    never know if it was technical, political or a license thing.
    bing has shown in the past to filter out some results not
    fitting there business model.

    Reply

  • Avatar

    Geoff

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    My work computer has Bing search bar by default and I’ve been using it now for a couple months. I can hardly tell the difference between Bing and Google searches, and have no strong desire to get the Google search bar on my browser, Bing seems to get the job done.
    I search for technical information, shopping, and general searches, and so far I’m not feeling like I’m missing out on anything.
    Unlike cola (and I agree, I like it out of a nice cold glass bottle) where your other senses are involved, search is just data. And it seems like Bing’s giving me decent data.

    Reply

  • Avatar

    Jim Gribbin

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    I tried the blind test, and it came up Bing, but I’m not switching. As far as straight search engine goes, they were very close, and I nearly chose “draw” on all of them. Those sites that use Bing searches tied to marked words on the pages had already gotten me fed up with Bing before I got around to trying it. Those stupid little boxes popping up with advertising every time my mouse inadvertently strayed did it for me.

    I do keep my mouse under better control though now 😉

    Reply

  • Avatar

    DPR

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    I did the Bing challenge and picked 5/5 for Google!

    Reply

  • Avatar

    RAK

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    I did it and chose google 😀

    Reply

  • Avatar

    CPM

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    I’ve tried Bing and I’ll stick with Google.

    Reply

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