Monday, February 7th, 2011

The Google Bing Sting and Who Came Out On Top


If you are at all involved in web marketing or follow a single online technology source then you have heard a million comments and discussions about the sting Google used to prove Bing is copying some of its search results: here is the original press release from Google with their evidence. (Just here to vote? Vote here)

The following quote summarizes the Google opinion on how Microsoft did it and the result:

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

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. Put another way, some Bing results increasingly look like an incomplete, stale version of Google results—a cheap imitation.

What came of this very public wedgy from Google was, inevitably, a shit storm of enjoyable proportions between the two competitors. Here are some of the highlights along with some of my own thoughts on the matter:

Bing denies the copying allegations:

We do not copy results from any of our competitors. Period. Full stop. We have some of the best minds in the world at work on search quality and relevance, and for a competitor to accuse any one of these people of such activity is just insulting.

We do look at anonymous click stream data as one of more than a thousand inputs into our ranking algorithm. We learn from our customers as they traverse the web, a common practice in helping to improve a wide array of online services. We have been clear about this for a couple of years (see Directions on Microsoft report, June 15, 2009).

Not only does Bing deny the allegations but Google’s hypocritical stance allows Bing’s Yusef  Mehdi (SVP of Online Services) to take a righteous stab at Google and draw blood:

We have brought a number of things to market that we are very proud of — our daily home page photos, infinite scroll in image search, great travel and shopping experiences, a new and more useful visual approach to search, and partnerships with key leaders like Facebook and Twitter. If you are keeping tabs, you will notice Google has “copied” a few of these. Whether they have done it well we leave to customers. But more importantly, we take no issue and are glad we could help move the industry to adopt some good ideas.

Here is an excerpt from the article Yusef is citing from the New York Times which correctly identifies enhancements Google copied from Bing:

And while no one argues that Google’s dominance is in immediate jeopardy, Google is watching Microsoft closely, mimicking some of Bing’s innovations — like its travel search engine, its ability to tie more tools to social networking sites and its image search — or buying start-ups to help it do so in the future.

Google has even taken on some of Bing’s distinctive look, like giving people the option of a Bing-like colorful background, and the placement of navigation tools on the left-hand side of the page.

This slap trading bonanza definitely heated up in public at the Farsight Conference on February 1st where Google’s Matt Cutts (Principal Engineer) faced off with Bing’s Harry Shum (VP of Search):

Note: there is another video on which does not put Harry Shum in a very kind light… he gets personal with Matt Cutts. I find this whole discussion gets out of hand and is not representative of either company and how they should be seen. So… I am going to keep that out of my vote.

Before You Vote for Google or Bing

Consider Google is acting exceptionally hypocritical here (in my opinion) because it has not only copied ideas from Bing in the past but from other properties. This enjoyable article by Ben Cook called “Bing Sting Snares Google” lays out a few examples of the copying Google has done in the past; FYI I don’t agree with the Apple UI menu since I expect it was just a temporary homage (like a Google doodle).

Next, when you really come down to it, what Fortune 500 company has not borrowed ideas from its competitors in Corporate America? As much as it often seems unfair, it is part of what makes business truly competitive and it helps keep everyone on their toes.

Here, Danny outlines the backfire that is sure to come from Google’s shots at Bing’s toolbar:

I’m on my third day of waiting to hear back from Google about just what exactly it does with its own toolbar. Now that the company has fired off accusations against Bing about data collection, Google loses the right to stay as tight-lipped as it has been in the past about how the toolbar may be used in search results.

Google’s initial denial that it has never used toolbar data “to put any results on Google’s results pages” immediately took a blow given that site speed measurements done by the toolbar DO play a role in this. So what else might the toolbar do?

Sourced from Search Engine Land: “Bing: Why Google’s Wrong In Its Accusations” by Danny Sullivan

Lastly, let’s focus on what started all of this and see what Google’s Amit Singhal said to summarize Google’s feelings about this issue:

At Google we strongly believe in innovation and are proud of our search quality. We’ve invested thousands of person-years into developing our search algorithms because we want our users to get the right answer every time they search, and that’s not easy. We look forward to competing with genuinely new search algorithms out there—algorithms built on core innovation, and not on recycled search results from a competitor. So to all the users out there looking for the most authentic, relevant search results, we encourage you to come directly to Google. And to those who have asked what we want out of all this, the answer is simple: we’d like for this practice to stop.

So there you have it… both sides of the coin represented along with links to additional detail if you want it. Now weigh what you have learned and share with me and our readers which of the two company’s came out cleaner after all of the mud slinging. I am very curious to see your answers!

by Ross Dunn, CEO, StepForth Web Marketing Inc.
Tune in to SEO 101 on WebmasterRadio.FM every Monday, 2pm PST / 5pm EST to hear Ross Dunn and his co-host John Carcutt discuss matters like the Google Bing Sting live. We also love to answer your SEO questions live on the air! Just post your questions to the SEO 101 Facebook page.

10 Responses to “The Google Bing Sting and Who Came Out On Top”

  1. Eric D. Greene

    These companies are both in the business of search. One got caught trying to copy how the other is performing their search. This isn’t just a mere borrowing of ideas like placement of background images. This is Wendy’s cooking up Burger King’s burgers after a stealth operation to try and obtain BK’s ingredients. This is Kia copying a Honda motor and placing it in their cars and try to call it their own. You get what I’m saying?

    Yes, company’s do take ideas from others and no Google is not a unique and pure snowflake, but come on, search is what Bing and Google are all about. Trying to copy how the other does their search is pathetic and unjustified. It’s a little more than adding a new feature that the other one had some success with.

    This looks very bad for Bing in my opinion.


    While i like your article overall, i would lik eto address your statement criticising Google:

    “Google is acting exceptionally hypocritical here (in my opinion) because it has not only copied ideas from Bing in the past but from other properties”

    True enough.


    Google didnt copy CORE-ENGINE capabilities from BING.

    They took look-and-feel things.
    Googles’ search engine is powerful in a patentably unique way.

    BING altered their core-engine function by copying google results.

    It’s like someone copying the answers to your math equasions and presenting them as thier own conclusions vs. someone imitating the look of your choice of paper color the equasions were written on.

    Aside from this, I feel that Google did have a valid concern, tested for it, discovered the results and outed Microsoft.

    If this was about look and feel, I woun’t care less, but it’s about the core product itself.

  3. Ross Dunn

    Thank you Eric and LBURNS for your comments – much appreciated!! I see where you are both coming from but after reading through the arguments from Bing and the writeup from Danny Sullivan “Bing: Why Google’s Wrong in its Accusations” I see where Bing is coming from and it makes me think Google has a pretty weak argument here. After all, there is a reason all of the search results Google created did not show up in Bing’s results – the Bing toolbar was only tracking search/user experience that seemed of interest. At any rate, in my book they both lost face but Bing won out in the end by a small margin :-)

  4. Ross Dunn

    On another note, I fully agree with Danny Sullivan – I think Google now has to come clean with the information their Toolbar collects – they sure didn’t tell the truth when they said it has no impact on results.

  5. walidiha

    good your site is very interesting, thank her information

  6. ariyalur2011

    nobody forget to the services offered by goog’ continue it

  7. Tommy Oroark

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  8. Kassie

    Google is so much better then Bing. Bing sucks!

  9. Jacob

    You are being unreasonable in your claim that Google copies features from Bing. Copied what? A background image? You could probably find thousands of websites that have an image as a background. This is just trying to find slight things to call out Google on. The Microsoft employee from Bing also claims that Google copied infinite scrolling from them. Again, Microsoft did not invent the concept of infinite scrolling. It is a simple feature many websites have implemented. Google is not being hypocritical, they are running a real business, while the wannabes at Microsoft are being immature and calling out Google on generic features that any website can use, which just shows how much of a cheap imitation Bing really is. It is a generic search engine with a lot of marketing and branding to make them feel special. It is true that Bing has some of the greatest minds working on their search engine, only those minds work at Google. Keep up the good work Google, and thank you for inventing such a great search engine, and putting up with clones like Bing and Yahoo, which isn’t even actually a search engine since they use Bing, which, as we all know uses Google. Competition is a good thing, but in this case Google is the only one that intends to compete with quality, rather than imitating already invented products. Microsoft has done nothing in this case but gathered existing technologies and put them in a new package, as they have been doing for years. Nice marketing Microsoft, but I prefer the original version.

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