Microsoft calls its new search engine, Bing, a "decision engine," even hosting a preview at decisionengine.com. The high-minded concept works to some degree, but a large number of the searches won't involve decisions at all, unless you're making a decision on whether you want to know the weather, or whether you'll check out pictures of Kris Allen or Adam Lambert.
I've spent the last few days trying out a live preview of Bing, and it's much better categorized as a "search portal." The idea of a search engine is to get you where you want to go fast, based on the queries you enter. The idea of a portal is to give you all the content you need so you don't have to go anywhere else. Bing is a hybrid, a search portal that lets you keep searching and refining your query without ever leaving the site until you absolutely have to.
Here's how it works for a few different kinds of searches:
- Search for "digital camera" on Bing and there are various ways to drill down, with all the options listed atop the natural search results. I clicked "$200-$1,050" and got a list of products in that range. I clicked "user reviews" under one model and viewed a roundup, still on Bing, of reviews below and features to the left. Clicking "speed" brought up reviews just about that feature. Clicking "compare prices" again gave me a list, still on Bing. When I clicked "go to store," it finally led me off the site, but only after Microsoft tried getting me to register for its Cashback program to get a rebate.
- Search for "30 Rock" on Bing and the first natural link is for NBC.com, but the link below for "videos of 30 rock" brings up the Bing video guide. Almost all listings on the first page come from Hulu and clicking one lets you watch the Hulu episode right on Bing. You can then further refine the search for factors like content length and resolution.
- Search Bing for "asthma" and the first natural result offers a brief description from the Mayo Clinic, with a link to "full article and more." Click that, and the full article appears on Bing. Click to enlarge the first image beside the lengthy article, and you're still on Bing.
- Search Bing for "flight jfk sfo" and the top listing offers "cheap tickets from New York to San Francisco." The entire flight selection process happens directly on Bing, thanks to Microsoft's acquisition of Farecast, which is now Bing Travel -- you only leave the site when it's time to book the trip on the travel provider's site.
Other engines keep you around to some degree. For instance, Google offers a lot of shopping search refinement on its own site. But Bing is pulling together all of Microsoft's assets and seemingly every content aggregation mechanism it can come up with to keep consumers around. That's why it's a search portal unlike any attempt that has come before it.
Given how long consumers may wind up staying on Bing, it's possible that conversion rates for marketers both in the natural and paid results could be higher, even as referred traffic could be lower. If the share of traffic referred by Bing dips from what Live Search used to refer, check on what those consumers are doing when they arrive to see if they're any more valuable.