In a post about Bing on CNET today, Rafe Needleman comments that “it makes business sense to pour resources into popular searches. Optimizing for the short snout pays.”
First, it’s an interesting counterpoint to the conventional wisdom that search (if not the future of business as we know it) is all about the “long tail“. But second and more importantly, it’s an intriguing claim about Bing’s strategy for differentiating itself from Google.
Needleman goes on to say:
I’d wager that this is how Bing is making its gains in market share. Latest Nielsen data says Bing gained 22 percent month-over-month in August, taking it to 10.7 percent of all U.S. searches. People probably try Bing for a travel or product search (where there’s also a cash-back financial kicker) and remember their good experience, and then they try it for more obscure searches and find it good enough. It highlights, I believe, an important flaw in Google’s historic strategy of indexing the entire Web equally well and making the user interface fast and consistent above all, as opposed to specializing as dictated by the query.
While I’ve never heard this claim about Bing before, it is consistent with something I’ve noticed–and which Nick Craswell said when he talked about Bing at SIGIR 2009. In the upper left area that Bing calls the table of contents (TOC), Bing selectively presents a refinement interface based on the entity type it infers for the search query. For example, a search for Argentina returns options that include Argentina Map, Argentina Tourism, and Argentina Culture; while a search for Abraham Lincoln returns options that include Abraham Lincoln Speeches and Abraham Lincoln Facts.
It’s a nifty feature, even if marketers and reporters have struggled to label it. But, as Needleman says, it does indeed focus on the short snout. For example, there are no TOC options when you search for faceted search, since the technical term doesn’t match a recognized entity type. Searches for names of auto companies, such as Toyota, yield a rich set of options, while those for scooter companies like Vespa do not. Similarly, searches for celebrities receive VIP treatment, as compared to searches for ordinary people that just return a list of search results.
All in all, I’m inclined to agree with Needleman that Bing is focusing on the short snout–and I love that phrase to describe it. The open question is whether he’s right that users “remember their good experience, and then they try it for more obscure searches and find it good enough”. It would be great to see data to confirm or refute that hypothesis.