Bing’s Big Plans for Social Search

Microsoft has been chasing Google in the search market for close to a decade. During that chase, the software giant has tried nearly everything to differentiate itself from Google, including providing its users with shopping discounts from major retailers.

When Microsoft launched Bing in 2009, the company touted the new search product as a discovery engine — one that provided a user-friendly alternative to Google’s  “10 blue links” — which Microsoft executives contended provide a lousy user experience.

And while Bing still trails Google in market share by a wide margin, despite Microsoft’s search deal with Yahoo, Bing leapt past Google last fall when it struck a deal with Facebook to incorporate users’ likes into its search results.  Just recently the two companies expanded that pact ; when conducting searches Bing users can now see Facebook like results from users who aren’t necessarily friends.

Could social be Microsoft’s opening? For one, Bing may be able to leverage social search results to unearth ecommerce opportunities for brands. Targeting users who like particular brands could also prove to be a powerful customer retention tool.

“Online, people are increasingly looking to their friends for advice and opinions, and search is a place many people go to complete tasks, making it a natural place for this information to come together,” stated a Microsoft spokesperson. “The enhancements to our social search offerings allow people to take their friends with them to search, helping them make faster, more informed decisions with the help of their friends. This is one of many steps in a long term partnership, and people can expect to see more from Bing and Facebook in the future.”

Via the Facebook integration, websites liked by a consumer’s Facebook friends will bounce to the top of search results, and portions of websites liked by those friends will show up as highlights along with the website in a search. The integration also permits deals, such as discounted airline tickets, to appear on the first page of searches for places that a Bing user liked on Facebook.
“Social is strategically important to us and sets us apart from the competition,” said a Microsoft rep. “We believe it is one of the things that makes search more interesting and relevant.”
Bing also sees an opening when it comes to local search. Plans are in the works to leverage the Facebook data for geo-targeted ads and mobile campaigns. To that end Bing recently announced the upcoming release of local ad attributes, which will display a merchant’s phone number and address alongside a display ad. This will, according to the company, “allow advertisers to deliver greater ad relevance with more granular geo-targeting as well as greater engagement to consumers via click-to-call to drive local leads and purchases.”
The question is, will brands and users bite? Bing’s new approach may open a vista of possibilities for marketers seeking to finally make those Facebook “likes” pay, through a tighter integration of social, search and commerce.
Of course, Google is not standing pat. In late March the company rolled out its +1 system, which aims to collect social information based on what sites users indicate they favor in order to influence search results. The move was an acknowledgement by the search giant that social is a key signal for search.

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