Can Bing ride IE and WinPho to Google triumph?

Microsoft's mobile hope

Next month marks the two-year anniversary of Microsoft's assault on Fortress Google.

Two years ago, after pouring billions of dollars into a new search engine and advertising platform, Microsoft took Bing to market.

In two years, Bing has gone from an eight per cent market share - courtesy of predecessor, Microsoft Live Search - to 13 per cent, according to comScore. Microsoft is averaging approximately two-and-a-half percentage points growth a year, and yet Google's share has barely moved. There has been a fluctuation of a few percentage points here or there, but according to comScore, Mountain View's share remains around 65 per cent.

This must be frustrating for Microsoft.

Every few months, Microsoft provides status updates that preview a new batch of carefully considered Bing features. The company has closely analyzed people's search behavior to determine what would best differentiate the Bing experience from Google. But all that hard work for a mere two percentage points a year seems cruel. At this rate, it will take roughly another 20 years to match Google.

Why is the going so hard? Stefan Weitz, director of Bing, told the The Huffington Post that the web surfing public has had its expectations shaped by a decade of second best from Google. They now expect second best, he says.

"Getting people to break out of expecting to see ten links after a query is challenging," he told HuffPo. "In fact, when we do give them a new experience... we see abandonment rates. We see people walking away because they don't know how to process anything besides those ten blue links."

He might have a point. Big technology companies can and do shape our expectations for particular pieces of technology. Microsoft made it impossible for others to crack the Office franchise because it successfully set the tone for how to do document processing, spreadsheets, and presentations on the desktop.

But there are two factors that could help Microsoft's hard-working Bing team in the future.

One is Internet Explorer. Though IE has been losing market share, the browser is good business for Bing. Analysis by comScore shows that Microsoft sites get a higher share of searches from IE compared to Chrome and Firefox, while Google gets it's lowest percentage of searches from the Microsoft browser.

Microsoft has always held that without IE, its search engine would be a lost cause. Now you have the proof.

"Do not overlook the influence the browser has on your search behavior. Browser choice and search engine usage are interrelated, so it's little surprise these companies are racing to improve their browsers in the hopes of gaining market share," comScore's Eli Goodman says.

But, as said, IE is losing market share on the desktop. And this is where mobile comes into play for Bing. No one has yet achieved a serious lead in mobile search. In the mobile market, Bing may finally be able to challenge Google. Microsoft plans to offer a full-fledged version of IE - not a limited version of IE - on Windows Mobile later this year.

Of course, Microsoft comes to the mobile market as green as anybody else. And Windows Phone 7 is essentially at zero market share. But there is hope for Redmond. Much will depend on how Google and Mozilla decide to challenge IE with Chrome and Firefox on mobile and how the mobile OS market pans out. But if Bing is ever going to truly challenge Google, it will have to be on handsets. ®

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