“Better Than Google” Claims: Why Doesn’t Anyone Believe Them?

Google mobile app logoMicrosoft continues to run online its Pepsi-Challenge style ads “Bing It On,” in which a majority of users prefer Bing in a “blind comparison test” with Google. Despite the commercials and despite Microsoft reporting that after extensive testing users preferred Bing 2:1, people generally express skepticism.

People simply don’t buy the campaign.

Another recent study conducted by Butler University found that Q&A engine ChaCha bested Google in terms of the quality of answers provided (across nearly 4,000 queries). And last week, YP released the results of an extensive study of local search relevance (by Crowdflower) in which it was found to have generally better local results than Google (and Bing, Yahoo).

Butler search quality test

In each of these studies and cases, people have expressed doubt to me about their accuracy or veracity. Why? Is it because nothing can ever beat or improve upon the quality of Google’s results? Is that simply not possible in the popular mind?

It would appear not. Thus, these studies are called “biased” or “flawed” or simply “wrong.”

The combination of Google’s brand strength, the perception that nobody can match its search R&D, as well as the public’s comfort with the Google UX (“the Google habit”) make assailing Google with any sort of “evidence” extremely difficult. Indeed, the majority of the public (perhaps especially bloggers and the tech press) seem all but immune to the notion that anything could possibly outperform Google.

YP search satisfaction comparison

The only things that appears able to compete with Google are equally strong brands (i.e., Amazon, Apple) and mobile apps, which offer more direct access to content and information than Google typically does in mobile.

While online and mobile competition is furious, and various startups are working on new “search” paradigms, it would appear that the majority of the US public cannot be convinced that any competitor, large or small, offers more relevant or better search results than Google’s.

I’m sure there’s a psychological term for it; there’s a cognitive “firewall” and almost “irrational” belief that appears to protect Google against competitors’ claims. The competition really isn’t “just a click away.”

Below is one of the many “Bing It On” videos/commercials run by Microsoft.

Related Topics: Channel: Strategy | Features: Analysis | Google: Critics | Google: Web Search | Microsoft: Bing | Stats: Popularity | Stats: Search Behavior | Top News

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About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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  • Guest

    Or maybe people have been presented with search studies that are in fact biased or misleading so often that they have learned to ignore them completely. When a study shows Quora with one-fifth the “intelligence index” of ChaCha, you don’t have to look much deeper to know it’s bogus. Yahoo is “crowdsourcing” while Bing is “algorithm-only?” Does that pass the smell test?

    Sure, that means that if anyone ever conducted a really useful study, most people will ignore it without looking. But don’t hold your breath.

  • polymath

    Or maybe people have been presented with search studies that are in fact biased or misleading so often that they have learned to ignore them completely. When a study shows Quora with one-fifth the “intelligence index” of ChaCha, you don’t have to look much deeper to know it’s bogus. Yahoo is “crowdsourcing” while Bing is “algorithm-only?” Does that pass the smell test?

    Sure, that means that if anyone ever conducted a really useful study, most people will ignore it without looking. But don’t hold your breath.

  • http://twitter.com/GamerJunkdotNet Mike Madden

    My biggest problem with Bing is that they do not allow you to filter results by time. An article in 2007 about how to do something software related may not be relevant anymore in 2013 as apps change their UI often.

  • gregsterling

    Are all these studies “biased”?

  • robthespy

    Where to even start?

    …Oh, I know; how about the giant random image on bing’s home page everyday?!

  • Alan

    Yes but we have had studies that said G+ is better than Facebook. All these studies are flawed. Having said that Bing seems to have gained some alexa recently.

  • Mike Williams

    This is nothing new. Back in the 80s, when a new company released a new product, Microsoft would hit the news and say they were coming out with their own version of the same thing that was bigger, better, and that people should wait (sometimes years) for their product. Often those products were flawed and poorly done copies. This is no different.

    Microsoft is trying to compete in a market where the perception is that the other company has a better product and once again, they are claiming everyone prefers their product. And why not. It worked for Bill Gates when he lied to IBM and told them he had an operating system. When they gave him the contract, he hacked an existing version of something else he paid peanuts for and called it DOS.

  • snirpyou

    People should not buy campaigns sponsored or executed by companies themselves. In the case of Bing: the “Bing it on” page simply redirects to the Bing home page for any country other than the USA. Most likely because the results are under par in 90% of the world.

    When I get to the Bing page, I am presented with an image of a derelict landscape I certainly did not ask for. None of the magic autocomplete while entering a search string. Next, the search results lack filtering options. No focus on current events in the search results. No ‘cards’ displaying information when I search for instance for the weather in Istanbul.

    This is just the user experience in which Google has a huge lead. Going through the search results, it appears that Google has a big lead there as well. Perform some example searches and find out.

    Then why are there some studies showing opposite results? Click click click…. The Butler (?) University study was sponsored by ChaCha. The Bing it on results are from Microsoft. CrowdFlower ‘worked’ with YP. There we go. This would have been very relevant to your article as well. Also the fact that a very tiny area was covered: local searches for an area in which these are known to perform well.

    Sure, some specialized search engines might in the future outperform Google in a specific field. They would still have to do a lot of work on user experience to build a good search engine.

    In the mean time Google keeps giving me better results. I would prefer not be called biased as a user, especially when the studies are in fact biased.

  • snirpyou

    Yes the author of the article simply chose not to include that piece of relevant information.

    “The study was sponsored by ChaCha. However, ChaCha CEO Scott Jones told me via email that the company had no involvement with the study methodology, (…)”

    “Unfortunately, the report doesn’t include the list of questions/queries asked or even examples. So, it’s difficult to fully assess the study on the basis of the report alone. Regardless, it’s a provocative and unexpected outcome.”
    http://searchengineland.com/chacha-defeats-google-bing-and-siri-in-answers-quality-study-149044

    Sponsored study, not even a reputable university, no full disclosure on the the methodology. Anyone who has been in statistics would agree that is very easy to manipulate towards a desired result. Just limit the questions in a desirable way for instance. Provocative and unexpected outcome my ass. Unexpected would be not to have the company sponsoring the research come out on top.

  • snirpyou

    The next study, and I quote a response to the article:

    “This is an unbelievable farce: Crowdflower not even close to being an “independent third-party” because CF is THE vendor for YP for their outsourced data aggregation! So asking them to conduct this “analysis” is the same as any other company asking a vendor to rate their work for them. Calling it blind is truely shameful.”
    http://searchengineland.com/blind-study-finds-yp-local-results-beat-google-bing-yahoo-150850

    And don’t get me started in the Bing executed ‘research’. This is not worthy of an article. It is rubbish presented as facts.

  • Justin Sous

    That’s actually the only reason I ever go on Bing. I don’t search on there, I just check out the image of whatever endangered species or rainforest they decide to feature on a given day.

  • Justin Sous

    I wonder what percentage of people are indifferent to the search engine they use, and simply use whatever engine is the default homepage on their browser. Any known study, Greg?

  • robthespy

    Across my sites-

    IE Users =18% use bing. (vs. 10% overall)

    Chrome users = 93% Google vs 80%overall

    Safari and FF users = 4% bing

  • http://www.facebook.com/maggie.johnson.104 Maggie Johnson

    Google is God to all search engines and as far as I can tell that is not changing anytime soon. People may choose Bing when they are given a blind test, but where are they going to go when they want to find out “what a baby penguin is called?” They will “google” it. yes it is a verb. Bing can not compete with Google because it is now such a big brand it has transformed into a verb. Bing can keep trying with these clever ads, but I dont think it will ever truly be able to compete with Google. When I took the bing it on challenge I actually picked Bing, but do I use that every day? no. My mind is just trained to go to google and that’s how it will stay.

  • grs_dev

    I have been using Bing exclusively for the last 3 years. I have from time to time peeked at Google just to see if I am actually missing anything and the answer is no.

    I assure you I am doing more than just 1 sip at a time…

    At one point, AltaVista dominate the search business. Google came along and unseated it. Nothing is sustainable in technology. That’s why it’s called technology. Ultimately Google’s demise will be at the hand of their own leadership and not at the hands of Microsoft.
    The one advantage Microsoft has in this technology cold war, is that it can afford to offer Google alternatives that are ad free or do not rely on ad revenues to survive.

  • http://www.candleforex.com/ CandleForex

    It is no surprise that even if X company is better than Google, that people think the study must be lies, biased or just plain wrong when you consider most regular users are brand attached.

  • Forrest Corbett

    And Google has now made that harder to do.

  • http://twitter.com/hamidsaify Hamid Saify

    This has nothing to do with features, layouts, designs, etc. It’s a visceral feeling. You grew up with Google. You were in love around the time you used Google to find that first date spot. There are better shoes than Nike, but no shoe company is advertising by features. Features don’t win against loyalty brands.

  • http://www.facebook.com/john.liu John Liu

    Anecdotally, it seems that Google and Bing are pretty even, and Bing might even have a small advantage, on the most common searches. But Google produces noticeably more useful results when searching for something obscure, and it’s those difficult edge cases that stick out in our memories.

  • http://twitter.com/getdotcoms Christian Wright

    NAILED it!

  • Natasha

    There is no way ChaCha is better than the rest of those things. I think I’ve gotten the correct answer from them 25% of the time, if that. I asked them who sings Girl on Fire once, it came back with a completely different song by someone I’d never heard of.

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