Will Bing’s New Social Sidebar Seduce Searchers?

Bing new social sidebarTwo weeks ago, Bing started rolling out a sidebar which presents social results separately to the main search results – see my post from last week with FAQs on Bing’s social sidebar.

The question is, will these changes be enough to entice searchers to use Bing instead of Google?

I for one can’t wait to try it out. Any real attempt at improved user experience means great content increases in value – and an increased focus on white-hat internet marketing techniques like the ones we teach on our SEO course. SEO isn’t really about numbers, but when your search engine rankings are a big factor in the success of your business, you need to make sure you cover all bases – and that most definitely includes Bing.

The second reason this development is exciting is that it forces Google to up their game. Co-incidence or not, whilst it was all about Bing two weeks ago, last week in SEO found the focus back on Google with the announcement of the foray into entity search with their Knowledge Graph. Having come under fire since Penguin, it’s very timely that Google have found a new big development to draw attention back.

The more Bing manage to make newsworthy changes, the more people start to suspect that they are making valiant efforts to catch up with Google. The more they appear to be refining their SERPs, the more searchers will give Bing a try – and SEOs have to follow suit.

Search Plus Your World vs. the Bing Social Sidebar

Google’s provision of social search results involved taking signals from Google Plus to organise and display SERPs. Bing uses Facebook in much of the side bar – but also pulls information from Twitter, LinkedIn and even G+!

Bing social sidebar

Your ‘world’ in 66 people – or 452?

The significance of this is immense – if Google can’t use anything from Facebook, and very little from Twitter, in search results then how can the results really be a good indication of ‘your world’?

Of course, the user wants the most pertinent results, but presentation is important. Moving the social results to a separate column can only be good for the user experience as it gives a cleaner ‘core’ results feed, and the option to focus on one or the other, or each in turn.

Danny Sullivan wrote a nice post on Search Engine Land last week, comparing the social results of the same search in Google and Bing.

Which Engine do Users Prefer?

google-bing-market-shareThe timing is great for Bing to be relaunching, showing itself off as a cleaner, more user-oriented engine than Google.

Blind testing of user preferences of search results pages show Bing to be performing steadily better than Google, but their share of the search market is still just 18% – there’s no real sign of people moving over in droves.

Consumer choice of web browsers is another big part of the user search experience, and will certainly be a factor in which search engines they use. Google Chrome has just this week become the world’s most popular web browser – not a good thing for Internet Explorer and therefore not good for for Bing.

Will Bing Get More Users?

The fact is that any trend for people making a complete switch to Bing will be slow, if it happens at all. Even those who may find Bing suits them better may be too set in their habits, or too unaware of the difference experiences they can get. When ‘Google it’ is almost a complete synonym for ‘search for it on the web’, people will simply not just go flocking to Bing just because of a new way of displaying results.

On the other hand, these things can easily snowball within certain circles. It’s pretty clear that most people’s Facebook network is more active, and therefore representative of their life, than their Google Plus network – if they have a G+ network at all! Perhaps it’s the knowledge that they couldn’t win this battle that made Google take steps away from a focus on social results and towards semantic results.

If a vocal minority find the new social Bing results to be more useful than Google, then they just might start making persuasive noises to get the masses to join them over there.

A Very Different Results Page – Google and Bing

With all the changes this year – even in the last few days – it seems that Google and Bing are going in different directions. They are both trying to give searchers the results they want, but they are making very different assumptions about what this is: Google with serendipitous and entity search, Bing with a focus on social.

Perhaps it will lead to a search engine market where people use different search engines for different purposes – Bing for discussion, recommendations and reviews; and Google for hard facts and information.

Only time will tell – will Bing’s share of the market increase as both search engines step up their game?

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Aaron Charlie

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