It’s remarkable to consider how the search engine market has changed since the 1990s. From AOL’s proprietary interface to Altavista’s market-leading results, this was the golden age of search engine diversity. Yahoo’s listings were paid for by each featured business, while Excite’s homepage crammed in everything from general news and reviews to its own Search bar.
Here in 2017, the search engine landscape looks very different. With Yahoo’s dwindling presence now powered by Microsoft’s Bing algorithm, there are only really two platforms to choose between. Bing retains over seven per cent of the global desktop search engine market, yet that’s only a tenth of arch-rival Google. On mobile, Google is utterly dominant with over 95 per cent of the market. And although Microsoft boasts a third of the American market (in tandem with Yahoo), it’s still dwarfed by its Californian rival in every measurable regard.
While Google has been widely adopted as a verb since its launch twenty years ago, Bing has retained a loyal following from its previous incarnations as Windows Live Search and MSN. Its rankings are calculated rather differently, and its ‘decision engine’ arguably has a broader remit than Google’s catalog-and-list approach.
So what are the key variations between Bing and Google, beyond the former’s ever-changing photographic backdrop and the latter’s preference for animated or interactive logos?
- SEO. It is surprising that over 30 per cent of US desktop searches go through Bing, yet SEO masterclasses and podcasts always focus on its rival. It doesn’t take much tailoring to create Bing-friendly SEO, potentially opening up new markets. One key difference is that Google updates alter its algorithm more frequently than Bing, so results are more stable in Microsoft’s search engine. Google also favors high quality backlinks, whereas Bing prefers quality links with precise anchor text.
- TLDs. Google updates are more adept at identifying and placing a value on the newer top level domains being released by ICANN, while Bing seems to prefer traditional TLDs like .com or .co.uk. This gives classic domains an advantage on Bing, compared to the .site and .pizza suffixes creeping into today’s domain marketplace.
- Updates. One of the reasons Bing seems to prefer more established sites to newer ones is the lengthier gap between each refresh of its site indices. A Google update is constantly in progress as the company trawls for new content, yet Bing only appears to refresh its rankings four times a year. This means it delivers potentially outdated results, yet ensures more consistency for end users.
- Multiple content. A ‘contains’ syntax search for PDFs on Google will reveal PDF documents, whereas Bing will also display web pages hosting or linking to Adobe files. Bing appears to rely more heavily on ‘entity understanding’, whereby media files boost a site’s perceived value. Google is focused on text content, so dynamic images don’t achieve as much of an SEO bounce as they do over at Microsoft. Google also completely ignores Flash, yet its competitor still recognizes it.
- Homepages. Bing scrutinizes the first 100k of web page content, whereas Google goes into more depth. Placing key messages at the top of each page is crucial for capturing Bing’s attention, particularly since it regards homepages as more valuable than subpages. This means Google is better placed to serve up exact search term matches.
- Social signals. The precise composition of both algorithms remains a closely guarded secret, but Bing seems to use social likes and shares as one of its five main metrics when ranking each page. That’s ironic considering Google is the engine with a social media platform built into it, although Google+ – that social media platform – is pretty much defunct nowadays.
- Location. People searching for content in a particular area may find Bing delivers more accurate results, since each Google update tends to prioritize larger companies over local ones.
Despite the differences outlined above, both search engines favor top brands while attaching significant value to backlinks and content quality. The order of displayed results can be surprisingly different, so a focus on one platform may be detrimental to companies and end users alike. However, the use of page titles and meta tags remains crucial for a respectable ranking in either engine’s listings, alongside short and long tail keyword integration plus links from third-party sites.