Bing Experimenting With SERPs, But Will They Ever Overcome Google?
Bing has been getting a pretty bad rap as of late. Even though it has slowly been winning market share to Google, it has been a long, uphill battle. First a study by German IT security company AV-TEST revealed that Bing’s search results were about five times more likely than Google’s to send searchers to malicious websites. Just days later, a SurveyMonkey study showed that searchers preferred Google’s results to Bing’s, even when the name of the search engine over the results was switched.
In a blog post on April 24, Bing’s Ronny Kohavi revealed that Bing runs more than “100 concurrent controlled experiments at a given point in time, looking for novel ways to improve the user experience.” More than 100 experiments? Unbelievable as it may be, the biggest names in search are tinkering with their SERPs all the time. Sometimes the changes are noticeable (Bing’s alterations of its social integration come to mind, particularly the recent addition of the Pin It button to results). But sometimes they just fade into obscurity, such as Google’s recent ditching of the instant preview, which the search giant said too few users took advantage of to bother maintaining.
Some of Bing’s more visible and interesting experiments entirely revolve around the number of links on the SERP. Bing calls it “Ten Blue Links No More,” and it’s true; some searches can eventually pull up to 18 results, while others can pull as few as three. Changes in the number of results is nothing new — Google has been doing it too, though mainly to cut down on first page results, not provide more. But the increasing after a bounce back to the results is definitely a unique idea.
In the introduction to the Bing blog post, corporate vice-president Dr. Harry Shum explains that, intuitively, 10 results isn’t always the best number.
“Showing fewer search results in navigational queries may enable users to get to their desired URL faster,” he says. “Also, users may benefit from seeing more blue links when they return to a search results page after clicking on the browser’s back button.”
Matt McGee of Search Engine Land illustrated both of these circumstances with a search for “maaco,” an auto repair franchisor. In his original Bing search, there were only four results – or three, if you don’t count the ‘related searches’ section. Click a result, wait a moment, and click back and suddenly Bing treats you to a total of 14 results. Logically, it makes sense; “maaco” is a navigational query, so first Bing tries to serve you the small number of results you are most likely seeking: MAACO’s main site, its Wikipedia page, and perhaps its closest location. If one of these does not work for you, returning to the results automatically gives you an entire second page’s worth of new results to work through.
The Bing blog post also explains its reasoning behind showing deep links on some common results. The navigational query “ebay” pulls up eBay’s main site as the first result, but also six “deep links” to categories like motors and collectibles and a search bar to search within ebay.com. It explains that this first result gets a click-through rate of more than 75 percent and, in some examples, the third result on the page has already fallen below a one percent click-through rate. Yikes!
These dynamic SERPs are great for searchers, and they’re great for the search giants, who both want the searchers to have the best possible experience and want to sell more ads. But it could be disastrous for businesses relying on search traffic for the majority of their sales. On a regular Bing page, the click-through rate only reaches levels that low at about the eighth result.
It remains to be seen whether these experimental extensions or truncations of the SERPs will become commonplace. Google has also been experimenting with shorter first results pages on some searches, though they are not yet common.