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:

  • 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. 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 BusinessInsider.com 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:

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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.