NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- At first glance, Microsoft's new search engine, Bing, doesn't look all that different from Google. There's a search bar across the top; a list of results down the middle of the page, flanked above and to the right by ads; and a smattering of categories to the left that will refine the listings. But for certain types of queries, the site trumps its competitors -- specifically market leader Google.
Microsoft describes the change as a focus on being a "decision engine" vs. a search engine. Jon Tinter, general manager of strategic partnerships in Microsoft's online audience business group, said the idea is to shift work from consumers to search engines, by answering more queries on the search results page, without having to click through to a result.
For example, search for "weather," and Bing will use your IP address to figure out your location and display a forecast at the top of the results. Want to know if a flight's on time? Search the airline and flight number, and it'll answer that query atop the search results rather than pull up a list of sites and links that can tell you. Want to know where the UPS package you sent is? The search results pull up a field for you to enter a tracking number, rather than making you click through to UPS.com to do that.
"Task and decision sessions are the focus [of the new engine]," said Mr. Tinter, as opposed to more simple navigational searches.
The company is focusing on specific improvements in the areas of travel, shopping and products, local and health -- all highly commercial areas. It has fully integrated into the search engine Farecast, a recently acquired travel search engine that "predicts" the likelihood of flight prices going up or down. And it has made improvements to its maps functions, letting users omit the navigational minutiae of local streets that often clutter other services' directions.
Getting people to think differently
The idea behind the changes is to get people to think differently about search, Mr. Tinter said.
"Search is a habit. When you talk to people you hear a lot of stated satisfaction, but they don't behave like satisfied customers -- and we think that's where the opportunity is," he said, citing statistics: Two-thirds of people say they're satisfied with search, but 15% of the time, search queries go abandoned without answer. "I can't think of another industry where you'd have 15% abandonment and two-thirds of customers saying they're satisfied."
But whether the changes look different enough to make consumers switch isn't clear. Perhaps that's why Microsoft is helping the service, which will be full deployed on June 3, with an $80 million to $100 million campaign from JWT.
Branding shop Interbrand helped conceive the name Bing, which was chosen because it was memorable, easy to spell around the world and could be used as a verb, as Microsoft hopes to convert people from "Google it" to "Bing it."
Finding words like that these days "is getting harder and harder," said Paola Norambuena, senior director-head of verbal identity at Interbrand. She added that linguistically Bing had a lot of applications. "It's the sound of found."