Bing's Biggest Enemy in Search Wars (Hint: Not Google, Exactly)

It won't be clear for some time whether Bing's attempt to grab search engine market share from Google has stalled, or even gone into reverse. The September numbers from Web metrics firm Net Applications show a slight drop in Bing's global market share, although Google's whopping share of the pie -- still north of 80 percent -- dipped a bit too.

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The takeaway could be that Web users have tried Bing out of curiosity and have found it to be, well, good. Which it is. Bing is a fine search engine. Microsoft should be proud. Problem is, good isn't enough to sway the masses to leave Google behind.

Bing's apparent stagnation may simply be a result of inertia, or an "indisposition to motion, exertion or change," according to Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary. Web users are comfortable with Google. We've used it for years. It's a part of our daily routine.

Many of us have a Google toolbar in our browser. Google Search is integrated in the Web sites we visit regularly. And the brand has morphed into a verb, as in, "Why don't you Google me?"

Ever hear someone say, "Why don't you Bing me?" If Google is the Coca-Cola of Web search, Bing is RC Cola.

Web search is a utility. Most of us don't give it a second thought, nor do we want to. Who wants to ponder, "I wonder if I should try Bing, Google, or Yahoo for this particular search?"

Again, inertia is Google's greatest ally.

To steal significant market share from Google, Bing needs a jaw-dropping, tell-your-friends advancement. But despite Bing's thoughtful design, it's no jaw-dropper.

What should Microsoft do? Some pundits believe Bing should add real-time search capabilities similar to what Twitter offers; in other words, the capability to find out what's happening now on the Web, not last week or last year.

Of course, Google's working to improve the timeliness of its search results too, a factor that poses another challenge to Bing.

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In the past, Microsoft has been notorious for force-feeding its products and services down the throats of unsuspecting users, and it may try those shenanigans again with Bing. A "glitch" in Internet Explorer 6 reportedly made Bing the default search engine for IE6 users. And last May, Windows 7 Release Candidate automatically configured IE8 as the default browser. Force-feeding, however, is a dangerous tactic that could result in a Bing backlash. Microsoft would be wise to tread lightly there.

Bribery is another option. Microsoft recently launched a Cashback promotion that doubled the monetary rewards for users who click a sponsored link on a Bing search results page and then make a purchase. A nice perk, sure, but cashback deals don't always draw big crowds. If they did, the Discover Card, with its 5 percent cashback bonus, wouldn't be an also-ran behind Visa and MasterCard.

Which leads us back to inertia. Why should we switch from Google to Bing? I'm not sure. Perhaps Microsoft will have to amaze us.

Contact Jeff Bertolucci via Twitter (@jbertolucci ) or at jbertolucci.blogspot.com .

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