No one likes to play a card game against the house if the deck is stacked. The same goes for search engines.
While Bing.com and Google.com may focus on search as their core competency, both sites also serve as hubs for the variety of Web properties that their parent companies own. And both Microsoft and Google stand to gain if they can keep Web surfers on their network of sites, whether it's a video site, a travel site, or an entertainment-news site.
That's why we tested both search engines for any signs of bias, to see if they pointed us toward one of their own sites when another might have been a better fit. And we were pleased to see that both came away with their hands clean, returning unbiased results in almost all cases.
Since both Google and Microsoft offer smartphone platforms and VoIP software, we searched in those areas. Our "What is the best smartphone" and "What is the best VoIP service" queries brought us to a host of neutral sources, including Cnet, PCMag.com, and PCWorld.com. In neither case did we see any mention of the company's own products, such as Android, Windows Phone, Google Voice, or Skype.
Similarly, a search for "The Voice contestants" on both search engines pointed us to NBC-owned sites, which is fitting for that NBC show, rather than directing us to the Google News page or Bing's Entertainment site. And a search for "Affordable flights to London Olympics" resulted in links to third-party travel sites, not to Google- or Microsoft-owned properties.
In two cases we noticed a slight slant in the search results. Our "Aerial views of Boston" query appropriately produced links to Bing's images of, well, aerial views of Boston. But the same search on Google pointed us to Google Maps in the top spot, which didn't exactly deliver an aerial view of the city.
Bing did show its own slant when we searched for "Mike Wallace videos", though, returning links to Bing Video in its second spot. Google, meanwhile, avoided pointing us toward YouTube, as it placed links to good-quality CBSNews.com videos high in its results.
Bing: 4 stars
Google: 4 stars
Search Tip: If something seems fishy when you're searching Bing, try searching Google--or vice versa. But don't be shy about using the advanced search features on either Bing or Google; both search engines offer great in-house tools for refining your search for products, deals, and sites.
Searching for medical information on the Web can open up a minefield: In your quest for info, you could easily land on some third-rate site pushing pain pills from China. So we decided that we would see how well Bing and Google did in steering us clear of spam search results.
In our tests, we considered a site spammy if it was designed to trick, hijack, or clutter up your search results, and if it was obviously misleading in any way--not simply a site that could be considered a link farm or is optimized aggressively for the keywords.
For our "Viagra" search, the top results from both Bing and Google presented credible information on the drug, though both sites' later results did include sources for buying the drug (and buying it "Cheap!"). As we expected, a search for "Viagra prices" was less impressive on both search engines, leading us to several sites where we could, again, get the drug "Cheap!" Or, if we were really lucky, "Free!"
Bing: 4 stars
Google: 4 stars
Next Up: And the Winner Is...