Bing seeks big bang in hits

Updated: 2012-10-05 07:09

By Su Zhou (China Daily)

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 Bing seeks big bang in hits

Harry Shum, corporate vice-president of Microsoft, says Bing is ready to compete with Google and Baidu in the search engine market after years of development. Provided to China Daily

Microsoft's revived search engine goes looking for more users in China

After reducing the gap with Google in the United States market, Microsoft Corp's search engine Bing is beginning to look to China where it expects to gain traction by marketing, improving local cooperation, and integrating social and mobile platforms.

"Search service means a lot for Microsoft because this is the best way to know your customers," says Harry Shum, corporate vice-president of Microsoft. "Bing can provide portraits of customers to Microsoft and help to improve other products and services.

"And I think after years of development, Bing is ready to compete with Google and Baidu Inc in China, not only in Chinese search services, but also in English; not only on personal computers, but also on mobile devices."

In a bid to woo about 400 million search engine users in China, Bing China has launched a version that claims to provide a better English search service.

The aim is to attract high-end Internet users who deal with English information more than others, the same user group for MSN, Microsoft's instant messenger.

"As far as I know, more than 5 percent of search content on the Internet is in English. However, major players in the Chinese search market cannot perform well at this level," says Shum.

"Backed by Microsoft and Bing in English-speaking countries, I believe we can provide a better English search service than Baidu and Google."

Last month, a blind test in the US, which let users decide which search results are better, showed that more than 66 percent of users selected Bing.

Starting from 3 percent in 2009, Microsoft had gained 28.7 percent of US market share by August this year, while Google's share was 66.4 percent, according to a report by Reston, Virginia-based digital business analysts firm comScore Inc.

Bing seeks big bang in hits

"What Google has done is quite impressive, so we have adopted another way to surpass it," says Shum. "A technology called 'machine learning' makes Bing smarter, which means it can link you directly to answers of your inquiries instead of displaying web pages which may provide the answers."

Bing in China will also customize results based on Chinese users' preferences and needs, he says.

"Bing in China does not display the same results under certain key words as in other countries," says Shum "For example, when Chinese users search for 'Jackie Chan', the kung fu star, they may need more detailed information than overseas users."

Bing in the US has also announced some new features, such as dynamic homepage, and connections with major social networking websites, including Facebook, Twitter and Yelp. Shum says Bing is still looking for the best suitable social networking company in China to team up with.

According to Beijing-based research company Analysys International, Baidu dominated the search market by taking 78.6 percent of income market share in the second quarter of 2012. Google's share dropped to 15.7 percent. Bing, after three years in the market, has less than 1 percent.

Dong Xu from Analysys says Bing can gain more attention from users by providing an English search service. However, she says this strategy will not change Chinese users' preference for Baidu.

"Baidu has established cooperation with lots of websites which all choose it as their search service provider," she says.

"For a long time, it has been very difficult to get Chinese users to adopt another search service as their first choice, especially on personal computers."

But Bing China is quite confident about advancing in this tough market, and Microsoft is increasing investment, says Shum.

He couldn't give a figure, but the Wall Street Journal reported that Microsoft plans to hire 1,000 people in China and increase its investment by 15 percent.

"Microsoft pays a lot of attention to Bing, even though it is losing money, because a search service is the best way to collect specific demands from the Internet users, and this is the best way to understand your users," says Dong. "Besides, search advertising is more profitable than selling software products.

"Bing can also benefit other business lines of Microsoft, such as Bing dictionary and Outlook mail service."

Shen Zheyi, an analyst with Gartner, the world's leading information technology research and advisory firm, says Bing, despite low recognition among Chinese users, is the only search engine that can compete with Baidu and Google in terms of search quality and user experience.

"Backed by Microsoft, Bing has quite a lot of potential," Shen says. "Many Chinese search engines are competing with each other, but one can provide something that Baidu cannot do well. Bing's experience in English search service gives it an advantage."

But Bing has to do more and do it quickly in terms of expansion, Shen adds, especially in mobile devices and local cooperation.

"I think Bing has more opportunities in mobile devices instead of personal computers. Windows phones will help Bing to penetrate more mobile users, but its user base is relatively small compared to Android or iOS. Bing should cooperate more with local manufacturers such as Lenovo and local Internet companies."

Dong of Anaylys International agrees. "For other search engines which want to take a piece of cake from under Baidu's eyes, they have to attract users in different ways," she says. "For example, Tencent's search engine attracts more users by inserting the service into popular instant messenger QQ."

Shum of Microsoft says in the next year there will be 400 million devices, including computers, laptops and mobile phones, running Windows' operating system, and he believes all of them will adopt Bing as the search engine. Growth in mobile devices is faster than in PCs.

Shum predicts that the growth rate of search on PCs will be less than 10 percent. However, because of the smaller screen, the business model for a search service on mobile devices is not clear.

Shum says search services on mobile devices will be quite profitable if companies can strike a balance between providing a customized service and privacy protection.

(China Daily 10/05/2012 page15)