Taking Action: Transactional Searches
Searches in which the intent is to sign up for classes, cancel an account, or find forms to download are particularly annoying when a search engine lets you down. After all, you aren't looking up the capital of Montana; you want to get something done.
In our test of nine transactional searches, both Bing and Google handled most queries without a problem, allowing us to begin our transaction within one to three clicks. Bing topped Google slightly, however, mainly because Google choked on two queries, delivering us to the right site but the wrong page: Both times we needed multiple clicks (two or three) to reach the page that Bing was able to serve up immediately.
Bing: 4.5 stars
Google: 4 stars
Search Tip: A search engine may not return the specific page you want, but that doesn't mean the page isn't out there. Some sites (such as, ahem, those for cable companies) may make it difficult to cancel your service, while others (such as those for smaller, local organizations) may have sign-up pages buried deep on their sites. Keep looking.
Search engines have replaced dusty encyclopedias, dictionaries, and dog-eared reference books of all kinds, becoming everyone's go-to resource for finding correct answers. Is a bite from a scarlet kingsnake poisonous? Let's hope that your search engine gets the answer right, and fast.
Deciding on the best result from these types of searches--called informational searches--isn't as easy as doing so on product searches, for obvious reasons. There is no official product page for, say, "most popular baby names of 2011".
Overall, both Bing and Google handled many of our queries with aplomb, delivering a wealth of information on a variety of topics ranging from "What is the best Brad Pitt movie" to "Where was Mitt Romney's father born". But Google's results, and its delivery methods, gave it a slight edge.
When we searched for "Oscar winners 2012", Google brought the information to us on its results page, no clicking required. We could see a list of winners in key categories atop our results, and the info was sourced to Oscar.com, so we knew it was reliable. Bing, meanwhile, pointed us to Oscar.com in its top result, but we had to click through to the site to get the same details. Slight advantage goes to Google.
And, in our "What is the best Brad Pitt movie" search, in which we hoped to discover information specifically about the actor's films, Bing's results focused on Brad Pitt himself rather than his body of work, pointing us to his IMDb and Wikipedia pages before any movie reviews. Google, meanwhile, more fittingly directed us to several sites where reviewers debated the merits of his movies.
Bing also continued its habit of correcting our searches, even when we didn't want it to. The search engine automatically changed a query for "Meredith Vieira husband medical problems" to "Meredith Vieira husband health help", which is related, yes, but different.
Bing: 2 stars
Google: 4 stars
Search Tip: Ask and you shall receive--both search engines proved capable of quickly and easily answering questions. Even when we used colloquial language, Bing and Google understood what we were asking, and answered appropriately.
Next Up: Bias and Spammy Results