Bing’s Travel Search & Kayak Favoritism Angers No One, While Google’s Gets Headline Attention From WSJ

Bing’s not-so-newest push into online travel hasn’t begun to roil the industry, the latest example of where if Bing does something, no one cares, but if Google does it, it’s time for a Wall Street Journal story examining the potential evilness of the move.

In case you missed it, the Wall Street Journal has a story out about how Google’s travel results — added in September, rather than December as the story says, have upset (as you’d expect) rival travel search engines such as Kayak, Expedia and Orbitz.

Bing: Pushing Travel Search Against Google Since 2009

You have to get midway down into the story to find any mention of Bing doing exactly the same thing:

Microsoft’s Bing, which has less than a quarter of Google’s audience, also places its flight-search tool atop search results.

That’s all you get, too. There’s no mention of any of the travel sites being upset with Bing, perhaps finding this unfair or having gone on for literally years before Google did the same.

There’s also no mention that Bing has used having its own travel search results as a way to position itself as better than Google, an important fact in any debate on this issue.

Soon after Bing launched in 2009, the ads about its travel search began airing:

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From the ad:

You’re planning a trip. First stop, Bing. ‘Cause any search engine can help you find a plane ticket. But Bing, with Price Predictor, can help make sure you don’t pay too much.

To me, this seems pretty relevant. Travel search is an area where Google’s top search competitor, Bing, has repeatedly poked at Google being behind over the years. Indeed, when Bing launched, it effectively called out Google as not offering strong enough vertical search results in this area. From the Bing launch press release:

Microsoft’s research identified shopping, travel, local business and information, and health-related research as areas in which people wanted more assistance in making key decisions.

The current state of Internet search isn’t optimized for these tasks, but the Bing Decision Engine is optimized for these key customer scenarios.

For example, while a consumer is using Bing to shop online, the Sentiment Extraction feature scours the Internet for user opinions and expert reviews to help leverage the community of customers as well as product experts in trying to make a buying decision.

In Bing Travel, the Rate Key compares the location, price and amenities of multiple hotels and provides a color-coded key of the best values, and the Price Predictor actually helps consumers decide when to buy an airline ticket in order to get the lowest prices.

I’ve bolded the key parts here. This competitive battle seems just as relevant as concerns that travel search engines have with Google’s new travel search. It seems necessary background to provide. But that’s not given, even though the Wall Street Journal itself talked about this in July:

In fact, some analysts see Google’s move into travel as a direct reaction to the offerings at Bing, Microsoft’s search engine. Some of Bing’s features, like travel search, “have put some pressure on Google” to innovate, wrote Douglas Anmuth at Barclays Capital.

Kayak: Do As I Said, Not As I Do To Others On Bing

As for who exactly is upset, only Kayak gets quoted with slams against Google. Kayak doesn’t have any slams against Bing, perhaps because it partnered with Bing in May to help it do exactly what it doesn’t like Google doing to other travel search engines.

Also not mentioned is how in March, Kayak’s chief technical officer dismissed concerns about Google entering the travel search space.

About The “No Links” Issue

It is interesting to read how Google isn’t linking to other travel search engines with the search tool itself, something it apparently promised to do but isn’t required to. From the WSJ article:

While Google wasn’t required by the DOJ to link directly to the travel sites, it emphasized that it would “build tools that drive more traffic to airline and online travel agency sites.” Competitors say that Google is now violating the spirit of that commitment.

Google acknowledges it has failed to make good on assurances it would link to the travel sites, but the company says it had no choice. “The airlines told us that they would not give us [travel data] if we provided booking links to” online travel agencies, Jeremy Wertheimer, ITA’s founder and now a Google vice president, said at an online travel conference last month.

He added that Google still wants to include travel sites, and “we’ll keep knocking on that door to see if things change.” A Google spokesman declined further comment.

To be clear, Google is still linking to other major travel search engines in its main search results. Links, as best I understand, just don’t appear in the travel OneBox at the top of the page:

Links do appear below the OneBox, just as they do at Bing, though Bing’s travel search box takes up far less room:

So Google is linking, just like Bing does, to other travel search engines. What exactly is, then, this promise that it’s not delivering on, which is a key allegation featured in the Wall Street Journal piece?

I had to dig back to find it here from this Google blog post of October 2010:

Our goal is to build tools that drive more traffic to airline and online travel agency sites where customers can purchase tickets. We also believe that giving users better ways to search for flights online will encourage more users to make their flight purchases online, which will create more overall online sales for airlines and travel agencies. Google does not plan to sell airline tickets directly.

Wanted: Free Links From Within Travel Search

If you take the new travel search feature as being a new “tool,” then yes, it clearly fails to drive traffic to them to allow booking, at least for free. That’s because when you actually do a search, and go to book, only direct booking is provided through the airlines:

In the example above, you can see how selecting the “Book” button only allows booking through American Airlines — and only because, as best I can tell, American is paying to have that happen (hence the ad being shown).

Now if you really want to be bothered about the Google tool, this is where you should get upset. When you hit the help pages about Google Flight Search, it doesn’t suggest that the only reason airlines appear is because they pay:

In some cases, we may be unable to connect you directly with a vendor to purchase your ticket and as a result, the Book button will be inactive. If this happens, you should repeat your search on the airline website, or, particularly in the case of a multi-airline flight, repeat your search with an online travel agent.

Potentially, only including booking links if being paid for them is a violation of the Federal Trade Commission’s guidelines on paid inclusion (see Google Experiments With Paid Inclusion & Does “Promoted” Meet FTC Guidelines? for more about this). It’s hard to say, because the airline’s route is listed without payment, so it’s not exactly a case of paid inclusion.

But more important, look here:

The first arrow shows what happens if (as I assume) an airline doesn’t pay to have the Book link enabled. You’re told to contact the airline directly.

The second arrow shows that the travel search tool does send traffic to the non-Google travel search engines. There’s an ad at the bottom of every page I do listing them. I assume they’re paying to be there, and if they don’t pay, then they wouldn’t show up.

Of course, for them to show up for free would be a nice boon to have. And for consumers, it would probably be nice as well, since the tool’s booking feature seems to be pretty weak.

At Bing, Kayak Locks Out Competitors From Free Listings

The booking feature at Bing is much more robust, but that’s pretty easy to explain. The results are all from Kayak:

To recap. Kayak gets quoted in a Wall Street Journal story upset that Google doesn’t link to it for free within Google’s flight search tool, saying that Google has an:

“explicit policy to intercept general search queries with their products,” and therefore, “their argument that they’re not engaging in anticompetitive practices doesn’t hold up to basic logic”

But when the same exact thing happens at Bing, except in favor of Kayak and only blocking Kayak’s competitors from being listed for free, that’s apparently OK. Or not, at least, worth a mention.

Search Engine & Transactions: An Industry Issue

The more that search engines start diving into providing direct transactions or being transaction brokers, especially where they might charge providers a fee through ads or by taking a share of sales, the more any publisher should be concerned.

But that problem isn’t a Google-specific one and shouldn’t be treated in that manner. Otherwise, potential abuses by Google get stopped but others are free to do the same.

Related Links

Related Topics: Channel: Industry | Features: Analysis | Google: Antitrust | Google: Critics | Google: Flight Search | Google: Travel Search | Microsoft: Bing Travel | Search Engines: Travel Search Engines | Top News


About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • Serge Borodin

    Danny, you do realize that Google and Bing are completely different services yet compete in the same field. Bing is not just a search engine like Google, its a decision engine that uses 3rd party services to calculate and present the most relevant results possible. If user wants just a pile of links then they should use Google, but if they want to to use the web services on a single web page that’s what Bing does. Therefore you can’t really compare them side by side like you just did in this article, both services do completely different things despite public perception that both Google and Bing are just search engines.

  • A.G.

    totally agree with serge borodin. google and bing are totally different from each other. optimization process is also different. there’s one thing i have noticed that you said, google uses third party site’s can you elaborate a bit on that?.

    thanks for the article anyway.

  • joex2

    You are Google’s lawyers? This site always defend Google. Pathetic.

  • T.M.

    Would you draw the line if Google begins to develop content that supports one political candidate over another?

    Till that point, is it ok for Google to unfairly compete? (…assuming knowing all about getting good search results when the other company doesn’t is unfair) and at least in some cases, put media it doesn;t own out of business?

    This has actually happened to some very large media companies – at least on the internet. Is television the next target?

    How can this be in anyone’s – including Google’s – best interest?

  • Bob Bigellow

    I vomited a little in my mouth when I heard a common user call Bing a “decision engine” not a “search engine”. You can’t really believe that. I really really hope that’s just coming from a Microsoft shill, because then it will be forgivable. Coming from anyone else just wreaks of brainwashing through marketing.

    Calling Bing a “Decision engine” is just an advertising campaign and nothing more. It’s really just a search engine with a bunch of vertical add-nos. If that’s enough to call Google a “decision engine”, then Google has been this well before Bing ever existed. Google has had the One Box for years and the One Box has always been about giving people more powerful and interactive results for certain types of searches.

    Wolfram Alpha takes this concept to an extreme in that their search engine pretty much just consists of a giant One Box that can handle tons of queries. Google has always been the best to help people find information across the vastness of the Internet, but has had various One Boxes throughout the years. They also provide direct answers to simple questions in some cases.

    So, to come out and say Bing and Google are “different” because Bing is a “decision engine” and Google is just a “search engine” should make anyone but pure marketers cringe in pain. It would have been like calling AOL Keywords as the true search engine of the Internet. {facepalm}

  • Kaled Soliman

    in the last days kayak do a partnership with bing where if you did a search for a flight or hotel on bing they will grab the data from kayak server which makes bing lose its search functionality on the travel field and as i see that there is more new travel search engines appers on the scene like they can do search in more websites and arlines than the bing and kayak do 

  • Lionel Thiha

    S. Borodin. Why google can’t change and upgrade itself to be decision engine? You means google should struck with its year 2000s’ services and methods , while others grow and beat him.  Google is evolving to be decision engine and it is its stated goal from the start. “To organize world’s information”.

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