The Noisy Channel

 

Fun with Google, Bing, and Yahoo

November 29th, 2009 · 8 Comments · General

Web search is a fiercely competitive space–as Google points out, “competition is just one click away“. In practice, I take that claim with a grain of salt–but I do think the switching costs are much lower than in most competitive markets. With that in mind, it’s interesting to look at what happens if you search for the name of one of the major search engines on one of its competitor’s sites.

Google returns standard results for such searches:

[bing] on Google

[yahoo] on Google

Bing is generous to a fault, saving you a click if you choose to use one of its leading competitors:

[google] on Bing

[yahoo] on Bing

Finally Yahoo, whose CEO claims “we have never been a search company,” seems quite eager to keep searchers from going elsewhere:

[bing] on Yahoo

[google] on Yahoo

It’s easy to dismiss these queries as corner cases, but the logs show that they really happen. And, as browsers increasingly blur the line between an address bar and a search box, it’s not unreasonable to consider that switches between search engines are likely to commence with such queries.

8 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Jonathan Mendez // Nov 29, 2009 at 4:25 pm

    Is that really the Yahoo customer service phone number in the Bing result?

    I’ll never badmouth the power of Bing’s relevance again!

  • 2 Daniel Tunkelang // Nov 29, 2009 at 5:45 pm

    At least a lot of people think it is; here are searches for that phone number at Google, Bing, and of course Yahoo.

  • 3 William Webber // Nov 29, 2009 at 9:57 pm

    Ryen White and Sue Dumais of Microsoft Research had a paper at CIKM this year in which they analyzed and categorized user search switching behaviour, and its outcome: Characterizing and predicting search engine switching behavior.

    I suspect that the reason Bing puts up a search box for Google and Yahoo is not generosity; rather, they want to capture what query it is that you are going to the competing search engine to search for.

  • 4 Daniel Tunkelang // Nov 29, 2009 at 10:43 pm

    That makes sense–it really doesn’t cost Bing anything relative to providing a link (like Google), and the additional log data may be useful. Yahoo’s approach strikes me as either more bold or more desperate. I’d love to know how often it succeeds in retaining users.

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  • 7 Bob Carpenter // Dec 7, 2009 at 6:01 pm

    I don’t know the numbers, but don’t the big search engines get tons of so-called navigation searches? Even I do it when I’m just too lazy to type in a full URL that I know and don’t have it on auto-complete.

    For these searches, the Bing results seem best in the sense of being most informative. But it clearly looks custom made rather than the result of just applying their usual algorithms to the Bing site. For instance, searching for MEDLINE or PubMed doesn’t bring up search boxes.

    Yahoo! is pulling up its own search and making it look like Bing’s and Google’s, but you still get Yahoo! That seems more than a bit misleading.

    At least it looks like Google just let its general tools create the results, which seems much more above board than either Bing’s or Yahoo!’s approach.

  • 8 Daniel Tunkelang // Dec 7, 2009 at 6:27 pm

    Navigational queries are certainly a common case. And I agree that Bing gives special treatment to the “short snout” while Google has more of a long-tail approach that handles queries more uniformly. There are arguments in favor of both approaches. But I suspect that Bing’s approach does rely on explicitly favoring particular content sources, which is something I’ve rarely seen Google do (the exception being Google Public Data.
    As for the Yahoo! approach, I don’t know that it’s misleading, but it is certainly tenacious.

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