Dear Bing & Yahoo: Pushing Deck Chairs Around Isn’t A Good Plan

I swear, it’s like watching the Titanic having run into that iceberg, as Bing and Yahoo try to figure out what to do with their sinking ships of search. Except that the Titanic was big, and Bing and Yahoo are like small — and they haven’t run into an iceberg. They’re being run over by the search supercarrier SS Google.

“Did we just bump something,” yells Capt. Larry Page to his Googler crew. “No, full steam ahead!” yells back first mate Eric Schmidt. “There were some senators in the water, but I think I’ve handled them.” As for the wreckage of the SS Bing and SS Yahoo that Google also plowed through , that’s hardly troubling him. Google’s watertight.

The Depressing World Of DC

OK, enough with the ship metaphors. Later, fairly soon, I’ll do my own recap of how Google’s big day in Washington DC went, in terms of anti-trust challenges. Google does face some challenges there, primarily because the complexities of search engines are being lost on lawmakers who seem more interested in political talking points and asking for handouts than actually dealing with serious industry-wide issues that should be addressed.

Suffice to say, after witnessing the circus this week in Washington DC, seeing first hand how lawmakers have no idea what they’re supposed to be potentially regulating in an area I know extremely well, I’ve come to realize how deeply they probably screw up all those other areas that I don’t know well but still had some faith that they would have researched carefully. Sigh.

But what about Bing? What about Yahoo? What’s all this about deck chairs?

Bing’s Lost Billions

Earlier this week, CNN Money had an article about how Bing has lost over $5 billion since it was launched in 2009. Our write-up of that piece is here: Bing Still Seeking Magic Formula To Challenge Google & Turn A Profit.

That story follows off an earlier New York Times article about Bing still trying to win from the end of July, as we also covered and analyzed back then: Bing’s Battle With Google: How Long Is “Long Term”?.

CNN Money covers what I’ve kept saying and saying over the past years. Bing is growing, slightly, at the expense of its FTC-approved-so-that-we-have-a-competitive-search-marketplace partner Yahoo. But Bing hasn’t really touched Google’s marketshare. The growth it has had against Yahoo it’s been very expensive. Sponsoring all those shows on Being the “TV To Bing About” sponsor of CW doesn’t come cheap.

That’s OK. Bing’s got a plan. From the CNN Money article, we learn that unlike Google, it can experiment more easily, Bing says. It’ll get away from just showing blue links. It’ll help people do “more” than just search. It’ll apparently become an even better decision engine than it already is.

Are you friggin’ kidding me? Seriously. This is the game plan? That you’re going to keep saying all the same things that you said back when Bing launched? Which, by the way, isn’t even that different than what you were saying when you were Live Search? Or when you were MSN Search?

What’s The Plan, Bing?

All I kept thinking when I read this was Phil from Modern Family trying to figure out how to keep that car rolling away:

YouTube Preview Image

What’s the plan, Bing? Because “at least I’m going to do something” isn’t enough.

In reality, the plan seems to be hang in there long enough until Yahoo slips away. It’s probably not a bad plan. Another plan might be to stop spending all that money on advertising. That never worked long term in the past. Marketshare might not drop, but the red ink might.

And, reading from Ad Age today, it sounds like the whole Decision Engine idea might be going away period. Sounds good. How about something fun, play off that old joke everyone thought Bing stood for, “Because it’s not Google.” Give us some ads like “Bing: We’re Not Google.”

Yahoo: Just Sad

If Bing sounds incredibly lame, Yahoo just sounds pathetic. Last week, it rolled out yet another change to its search interface. We even wrote it up: Yahoo Rolls Out New SERP, Will People Notice?

No, no one really seemed to notice. So today, Yahoo’s back at it. It really, really is ready to fight in search. Why, it’s even got a whole fresh new post out saying this:

As the lead of a skunkworks-esque group that focuses on radical new experiences beyond traditional search, I can tell you that Yahoo! is in the most exciting phase of its entire 16-year history. My view is that it’s fight, not flight, for the company and there has never been a time where so many people have wanted to fight like today. Yahoo! Search has some product experiences that are so radically different, you’ll sit back in your seat thinking, “what the &$%# just happened?”

OK, as someone who has covered you for most of your 16 year history, no you’re not. No you’re not! This isn’t the most exciting phase in search for you. This is you being 95 years old and not sure where your glasses are, walking around thinking you’re a spry 21 year old headed out for a night on the town.

For one thing, you’re brain dead. Perhaps you haven’t noticed that you fired your CEO, who put you on this path that you can give up your search technology and still win by having any “search chip” inside a pretty case.

How’s that been working out. Yeah. So while your company is in disarray, and while we’re waiting to see who’s going to run it next, if your board is going to survive, if Microsoft is just going to get to do what we all think might happen and buy you , or whether you’ll merge with AOL so we only have one single depressing story to follow, you want us to believe there’s some search revolution that’s going to appear from your decimated search team that’s going to save Yahoo’s ass?

Hey, if you really do grow your search share steadily over the next 18 months as you seem to think will happen, thanks to yet another batch of buzzword-ridden user interface enhancements, I’ll come yodel down at the Yahooplex for everyone there personally.

Enough Talk

I like Bing. I like Yahoo. It pains me to write this stuff. But it’s true.

I want to see Bing succeed, because they’ve got good technology and good people there who can give us a nice counterbalance to Google. I’d like to see Yahoo succeed, but if you don’t have the search tech, that’s not going to happen.

Please, spare us any more pie-in-the-sky predictions of how you’ll out-innovate, out-experiment, out-user interface your way past Google. There is literally nothing new that you’re saying. Now, it’s just time to start doing and showing.

Related Topics: Channel: Industry | Features: Analysis | Microsoft: Bing | Microsoft: Business Issues | Top News | Yahoo: Business Issues


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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  • Ciarán Norris

    “Suffice to say, after witnessing the circus this week in Washington DC, seeing first hand how lawmakers have no idea what they’re supposed to be potentially regulating in an area I know extremely well, I’ve come to realize how deeply they probably screw up all those other areas that I don’t know well but still had some faith that they would have researched carefully.”

    Pretty sums up my thoughts on similar EU efforts to regulate the web.

  • Eric Ward

    So what you’re saying is HotBot still has a shot…

  • Takeshi

    If Bing can just leverage their exclusive search deal with Facebook properly, they may yet have a chance at eating Google’s lunch, even without significant improvements to their product.

  • TimmyTime

    This stinks of money, not for the user. Wolframalpha tried to do that and while calculations and what’s on a database can be calculated the rest is likely to be wrong.

    Dear user, based on your search our unbiased algorithm determined that you want to click–on this ad or product we make money from :)

    They simply want to keep the people on their sites as they copy every site model that makes money. I hope they are forced to label their services clearly as advertisements especially when they reach a certain market share.

    Finally, using people’s content without sending a click is not cool at all.

  • L.A.

    I thought Yahoo is using Bing’s search results…? It’ll be really difficult to dethrone the king of search now and in the future. They seem to have all the key ingredients that make them the “perfect” search engine.

  • P.P.

    It is sad to see Yahoo going down so far in market share, however, the recession saved their company. Few probably remember the long drawn out battle where Microsoft almost successfully completed a hostile takeover bid of the company, despite now, or then having no ideas to bring to the table, just as the companies founders who demanded they were worth a higher value, were able to keep Microsoft at bay just long enough for the recession to force both parties into their respective trenches. In a move I won’t go to personally describe, I do recall the government intervention you mention here whereby Microsoft and Yahoo are again brought back to the table. I think it is interesting that Microsoft is discussing new things they plan on doing with the search technology, and that they were discussing changing fonts is amusing too as that is really all they have the ability to control. They have their search provided for them via Yahoo!’s technology, the ending point of the deal that Microsoft and Yahoo hammered out. So if you are searching for something and you have already searched Google or Bing, or Yahoo and Google, there is literally no point at this juncture unless Microsoft really does shake things up. The thing is, Yahoo spent a truck-load of money to design a search that was proprietary and that did NOT involve advertising.

    As much as we purport to hate advertising, its amusing to see how much we bash the Yahoo search engine when it the the most, scientifically speaking, mathematically formulated search out there. Google Plays by a set of essentially marketing and not mathematical rules, that, if you abide by, your web-page will rank high in the results.

    I research a lot of things, and the reason why Yahoo has not gone a way in my mind is there is still a need to find content through both methods. There will never be only one, if there is, then someone will see an opportunity to make money, just like Google did, when then young upstart Yahoo! was the only game in town from 1994-1998

  • Michael Martinez

    @liveambitions Microsoft blundered in assuming that it could use Yahoo! as a Kingmaker in search just as Google did 10 years ago. However, Google had more than one strategic search partner to work with. They should have left Yahoo! alone and focused on building real search market share and not these aggregated nonsense page views.

  • B.K.

    Sadly, this article is extremely amateurish and biased. (Tired Titanic analogies??) The writer states, “… [Search,] an area I know extremely well” You wouldn’t know it from reading this paper thin article. Google’s treatment of Yelp was deplorable, and should be investigated. Google’s defense that users can freely choose another search engine was specious. If search results are subtly manipulated in favor of Google services, how is a user going to realize that something is wrong? Do writers like Danny Sullivan have search users best interest at heart, or are they more interested in keeping their friendly Google contacts placated?

  • Jonatha

    Bing has been gaining users. And recent studies show that Bing produces BETTER results than Google.

    But let’s ignore that.

  • Jonatha

    Danny Sulliovan obviously doies NOt know the search area very well, other than sleeping with pictures of Sergey and Larry next to his bed alongside the KYU and tissues. If he did, he would know that having leaked e-mails where Google says “If you don’t play ball with us, we can scrap your site from our search results altogether” is EXACTLY the type of thing the government needs to step in an prevent.

    This is absolutely NO different from Microsoft including IE with Windows, and then offering discounts on the OEM to Gateway and Dell only if they didn’t also include Netscape. It is actually WORSE than what Microsoft did since MS still offered to deal with Gateway and Dell…just not offer a discount.

  • TimmyTime

    “Do writers like Danny Sullivan have search users best interest at heart, or are they more interested in keeping their friendly Google contacts placated?”

    Danny, is honest though, unlike the the ‘do no evil’ evil Google. Danny has never claimed to be fair and no one seriously thinks that he is. I think he even moved to from UK to California be closer to his Google pals. Whatever Google can’t say it openly, it’s leaked to Danny. Probably Google did design even that flowchart about the rumors that ‘poor’ Google must debunk.

    Memo to Danny: It’s all marketing from now on, most people would not be able to tell the difference between Google or Bing results.

  • Vernon Morris

    @ B.K.
    Some of your other comments don’t even merit dignifying with a reply ..but “Google’s defense that users can freely choose another search engine was specious.”

    How is it specious? It’s seems patently true to me.

  • kurnia lim

    @Vernon Morris, I agree wih patently true, google never force any1 to use their SE, actually they own it, what they want to show at their search result is their decision, you don’t like it you can freely use other SE, and it’s not monopolist at all. Monopolist is where no other competitor, while in this case there are many competitor, yahoo, bing, and some others. Even if Google want to show their own product at first page, we can’t do anything, we use that SE for free, and Government can’t do anything too, the Government don’t pay for Goog server, even Goog pay taxes, so who’s the boss?
    And frankly when I search with Bing, the result is not good, I like Google search result, and Google make things easier with their Products, 1 ID for everything, email, docs, calendar, apps, it makes my life easier with its Google sync, and what’s Bing offers me?

  • Danny Sullivan

    BK, the article wasn’t about the rightness or wrongness of Google’s actions in DC. This is what I said:

    “Google does face some challenges there, primarily because the complexities of search engines are being lost on lawmakers who seem more interested in political talking points and asking for handouts than actually dealing with serious industry-wide issues that should be addressed.”

    Google does have issues. The search industry as a whole has issues about what’s fair use, what’s not, what should or shouldn’t be disclosed — some of the FTC’s guidelines on this front seem to be forgot (NexTag, for one, doesn’t disclose that it does paid inclusion as the FTC requires).

    My concern is that what I witnessed in DC wasn’t about really trying to resolve any of these things in the best interests of the consumers. It was more a political and competitive game that was being played by all the parties involved, which was depressing.

    In terms of Yahoo and Bing, what’s gone on with Yelp that Johnatha and TimmyTime get into don’t come into play. Yahoo and Bing aren’t failing to compete with Google because Google has been shown to do anything anti-competitive against them. They’re failing because they have their own issues.

    Yahoo has been floundering from poor management and poor direction. Bing has been a success in growing marketshare. It’s just taking that share away from its partner Yahoo (which isn’t bad for Bing) but it is costing it a huge amount of money. And when people call it out for not having done better, trotting out exactly the same lines about how it expects to win as if these aren’t thing that have been said before is lame.

    TimmyTime, I moved back because I wanted to come home. If you want to troll or just get all personal, I’ll just ignore anything you say as a baiting attempt. If you want to post something intelligent, then I’ll give you responses.

    Memo back to you. Duh. It’s long been covered here that we have actual tests where just putting a Google logo on things will cause people to like the search results better. Welcome to the world of branding — and in search, Google has a strong, trusted brand with consumers that Bing would dearly love to equal. Fact.

    And in terms of Yelp, there are serious concerns there. Which, I’ve said several times before. Later, I might dig out the links, since you seem to read and only remember what you want.

    I will leave with this:

    That’s 2007, before anyone talking about Google and anti-trust issues, where I’m laying out real anti-trust issues that are actually deeper and more serious than the stuff currently being reviewed.

  • Christian

    As far as anti trust issues are concerned since Google is so big now and now does so many things, it wil be extremely hard for them to decouple issues like Yelp, patent protection, search, products etc from one another. Google is not just a Search Engine anymore.

    I am confused by something Danny said. On the one hand you state that Yahoo and Bing both suck. Then you state that their merger was overlooked by the FTC as a potential anti trust violation. However, in search with Google having 66%+ of marketshare I don’t really see how the combo of two search companies who allegedly suck can be deemed anti competitive.

    I am bothered by the fact that Google in having so much of the market in search, has the natural organic black box, and a ton of its own products wants us to just “trust” that it won’t use its search engine to push its own stuff at the expense of organic search results and probably more importantly paying PPC advertisers.

    I don;t think this is like MS and IE. With IE you could go online and in about 2 minutes have another browser. I think a main issue here that many people (not OML’s or techies), but people who aren’t tech savvy to a degree view Google as “the internet”. That in of itself isn’t anti competitive, but Google now makes phones, owns the OS for the phones , owns a browser, has a Google Shopping Cart, all this stuff. It just doesn’t really pass the smell test I guess to some degree.

    I wish Yahoo and Bing were more competitive. I disagree with Danny’s idea that they should simply say “Try Bing, because we’re not Google”. They have to differeniate more than that.

  • Douglas Thomas

    Watching the investigation and specifically the lines of argument used really concern me. Case in point: the FairSearch Coalition.

    Sounds like an independent search watchgroup, right? A lot of the points the senators were making were straight from the white papers they put out. But instead, it’s a coalition of companies who feel “wronged” by Google — Bing, Yelp, Expedia, etc. That wouldn’t be so bad, even considering the hypocrisy of the groups, if the FTC and Senators didn’t seem primed with only that knowledge…

    Plus, Amazon’s new Android-based toy solved the “Android only runs Chrome!!!!” IE-bundling-styled problem. I dunno, I can’t see any of the arguments used in the hearing, and can only think of different anti-trust problems that are being swept under the rug.

  • Martin Soler

    Written by a true SEO man. I run a few of them and they just keep laughing every time I mention Bing. Probably because they don’t want to work on additional search engines. The bottom line is that just like Windows, nobody will be number 1 forever and Bing is probably the only competitor on the market. It’s odd that Search Engine land would be so biased.

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