Search Engine Fight: Google’s Sting Against Microsoft’s Bing

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Microsoft Responds

Bing has a blog too, which it used to issue the following response:

"To be clear, we learn from all of our customers. What we saw in today’s story was a spy-novelesque stunt to generate extreme outliers in tail query ranking. It was a creative tactic by a competitor, and we’ll take it as a back-handed compliment. But it doesn’t accurately portray how we use opt-in customer data as one of many inputs to help improve our user experience."

Let’s examine the "extreme outliers in tail query ranking" and the "opt-in customer data" parts of that quote a little more closely.

Danny Sullivan’s original post states that out of the 100 gibberish honeypot pairings Google set up as part of the sting, fewer than 10 of them actually cropped up on Bing. Sullivan posits that Bing uses many of its own internally-developed search signals for more popular search topics but that it may be taking a page from Google’s playbook for more obscure terms:

"Google’s test suggests that when Bing has many of the traditional signals, as is likely for popular search topics, it relies mostly on those. But in cases where Bing has fewer trustworthy signals, such as ‘long tail’ searches that bring up fewer matches, then Bing might lean more on how Google ranks pages for those searches."

And how is Bing supposedly collecting all this data about how Google searches are conducted? The answer may lie in Microsoft’s own Internet Explorer web browser, which contains an optional "Suggested Sites" feature and an optional Bing toolbar that both collect anonymous browsing information from users. Google says the following:

"As we see it, this experiment confirms our suspicion that Bing is using some combination of:

  • Internet Explorer 8, which can send data to Microsoft via its Suggested Sites feature
  • the Bing Toolbar, which can send data via Microsoft’s Customer Experience Improvement Program

or possibly some other means to send data to Bing on what people search for on Google and the Google search results they click. Those results from Google are then more likely to show up on Bing."

Then things got really interesting.

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