Google: Bing Is Cheating, Copying Our Search Results

Google has run a sting operation that it says proves Bing has been watching what people search for on Google, the sites they select from Google’s results, then uses that information to improve Bing’s own search listings. Bing doesn’t deny this.

As a result of the apparent monitoring, Bing’s relevancy is potentially improving (or getting worse) on the back of Google’s own work. Google likens it to the digital equivalent of Bing leaning over during an exam and copying off of Google’s test.

“I’ve spent my career in pursuit of a good search engine,” says Amit Singhal, a Google Fellow who oversees the search engine’s ranking algorithm. “I’ve got no problem with a competitor developing an innovative algorithm. But copying is not innovation, in my book.”

Bing doesn’t deny Google’s claim. Indeed, the statement that Stefan Weitz, director of Microsoft’s Bing search engine, emailed me yesterday as I worked on this article seems to confirm the allegation:

As you might imagine, we use multiple signals and approaches when we think about ranking, but like the rest of the players in this industry, we’re not going to go deep and detailed in how we do it. Clearly, the overarching goal is to do a better job determining the intent of the search, so we can guess at the best and most relevant answer to a given query.
Opt-in programs like the [Bing] toolbar help us with clickstream data, one of many input signals we and other search engines use to help rank sites. This “Google experiment” seems like a hack to confuse and manipulate some of these signals.

Later today, I’ll likely have a more detailed response from Bing. Microsoft wanted to talk further after a search event it is hosting today. More about that event, and how I came to be reporting on Google’s findings just before it began, comes at the end of this story. But first, here’s how Google’s investigation unfolded.

Postscript: Bing: Why Google’s Wrong In Its Accusations is the follow-up story from talking with Bing. Please be sure to read it after this. You’ll also find another link to it at the end of this article.

Hey, Does This Seem Odd To You?

Around late May of last year, Google told me it began noticing that Bing seemed to be doing exceptionally well at returning the same sites that Google would list, when someone would enter unusual misspellings.

For example, consider a search for torsoraphy, which causes Google to return this:

In the example above, Google’s searched for the correct spelling — tarsorrhaphy — even though torsoraphy was entered. Notice the top listing for the corrected spelling is a page about the medical procedure at Wikipedia.

Over at Bing, the misspelling is NOT corrected — but somehow, Bing manages to list the same Wikipedia page at the top of its results as Google does for its corrected spelling results:

Got it? Despite the word being misspelled — and the misspelling not being corrected — Bing still manages to get the right page from Wikipedia at the top of its results, one of four total pages it finds from across the web. How did it do that?

It’s a point of pride to Google that it believes it has the best spelling correction system of any search engine. Google even claims that it can even correct misspellings that have never been searched on before. Engineers on the spelling correction team closely watch to see if they’re besting competitors on unusual terms.

So when misspellings on Bing for unusual words — such as above — started generating the same results as with Google, red flags went up among the engineers.

Google: Is Bing Copying Us?

More red flags went up in October 2010, when Google told me it noticed a marked rise in two key competitive metrics. Across a wide range of searches, Bing was showing a much greater overlap with Google’s top 10 results than in preceding months. In addition, there was an increase in the percentage of times both Google and Bing listed exactly the same page in the number one spot.

By no means did Bing have exactly the same search results as Google. There were plenty of queries where the listings had major differences. However, the increases were indicative that Bing had made some change to its search algorithm which was causing its results to be more Google-like.

Now Google began to strongly suspect that Bing might be somehow copying its results, in particular by watching what people were searching for at Google. There didn’t seem to be any other way it could be coming up with such similar matches to Google, especially in cases where spelling corrections were happening.

Google thought Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser was part of the equation. Somehow, IE users might have been sending back data of what they were doing on Google to Bing. In particular, Google told me it suspected either the Suggested Sites feature in IE or the Bing toolbar might be doing this.

To Sting A Bing

To verify its suspicions, Google set up a sting operation. For the first time in its history, Google crafted one-time code that would allow it to manually rank a page for a certain term (code that will soon be removed, as described further below). It then created about 100 of what it calls “synthetic” searches, queries that few people, if anyone, would ever enter into Google.

These searches returned no matches on Google or Bing — or a tiny number of poor quality matches, in a few cases — before the experiment went live. With the code enabled, Google placed a honeypot page to show up at the top of each synthetic search.

The only reason these pages appeared on Google was because Google forced them to be there. There was nothing that made them naturally relevant for these searches. If they started to appeared at Bing after Google, that would mean that Bing took Google’s bait and copied its results.

This all happened in December. When the experiment was ready, about 20 Google engineers were told to run the test queries from laptops at home, using Internet Explorer, with Suggested Sites and the Bing Toolbar both enabled. They were also told to click on the top results. They started on December 17. By December 31, some of the results started appearing on Bing.

Here’s an example, which is still working as I write this, hiybbprqag at Google:

and the same exact match at Bing:

Here’s another, for mbzrxpgjys at Google:

and the same match at Bing:

Here’s one more, this time for indoswiftjobinproduction, at Google:

And at Bing:

To be clear, before the test began, these queries found either nothing or a few poor quality results on Google or Bing. Then Google made a manual change, so that a specific page would appear at the top of these searches, even though the site had nothing to do with the search. Two weeks after that, some of these pages began to appear on Bing for these searches.

It strongly suggests that Bing was copying Google’s results, by watching what some people do at Google via Internet Explorer.

The Google Ranking Signal

Only a small number of the test searches produced this result, about 7 to 9 (depending on when exactly Google checked) out of the 100. Google says it doesn’t know why they didn’t all work, but even having a few appear was enough to convince the company that Bing was copying its results.

As I wrote earlier, Bing is far from identical to Google for many queries. This suggests that even if Bing is using search activity at Google to improve its results, that’s only one of many signals being considered.

Search engines all have ranking algorithms that use various signals to determine which pages should come first. What words are used on the page? How many links point at that page? How important are those links estimated to be? What words appear in the links pointing at the page? How important is the web site estimated to be? These are just some of the signals that both Bing and Google use.

Google’s test suggests that when Bing has many of the traditional signals, as is likely for popular search topics, it relies mostly on those. But in cases where Bing has fewer trustworthy signals, such as “long tail” searches that bring up fewer matches, then Bing might lean more on how Google ranks pages for those searches.

In cases where there are no signals other than how Google ranks things, such as with the synthetic queries that Google tested, then the Google “signal” may come through much more.

Do Users Know (Or Care)?

Do Internet Explorer users know that they might be helping Bing in the way Google alleges? Technically, yes — as best I can tell. Explicitly, absolutely not.

Internet Explorer makes clear (to those who bother to read its privacy policy) that by default, it’s going to capture some of your browsing data, unless you switch certain features off. It may also gather more data if you enable some features.

Suggested Sites

Suggested Sites is one of likely ways that Bing may have been gathering information about what’s happening on Google. This is a feature (shown to the right) that suggests other sites to visit, based on the site you’re viewing.

Microsoft does disclose that Suggested Sites collects information about sites you visit. From the privacy policy:

When Suggested Sites is turned on, the addresses of websites you visit are sent to Microsoft, together with standard computer information.
To help protect your privacy, the information is encrypted when sent to Microsoft. Information associated with the web address, such as search terms or data you entered in forms might be included.
For example, if you visited the Microsoft.com search website at http://search.microsoft.com and entered “Seattle” as the search term, the full address http://search.microsoft.com/results.aspx?q=Seattle&qsc0=0&FORM=QBMH1&mkt=en-US will be sent.

I’ve bolded the key parts. What you’re searching on gets sent to Microsoft. Even though the example provided involves a search on Microsoft.com, the policy doesn’t prevent any search — including those at Google — from being sent back.

It makes sense that the Suggested Sites feature needs to report the URL you’re viewing back to Microsoft. Otherwise, it doesn’t know what page to show you suggestions for. The Google Toolbar does the same thing, tells Google what page you’re viewing, if you have the PageRank feature enabled.

But to monitor what you’re clicking on in search results? There’s no reason I can see for Suggested Sites to do that — if it indeed does. But even if it does log clicks, Microsoft may feel that this is “standard computer information” that the policy allows to be collected.

The Bing Bar

There’s also the Bing Bar — a Bing toolbar — that Microsoft encourages people to install separately from Internet Explorer (IE may come with it pre-installed through some partner deals. When you install the toolbar, by default it is set to collect information to “improve” your experience, as you can see:

The install page highlights some of what will be collected and how it will be used:

“improve your online experience with personalized content by allowing us to collect additional information about your system configuration, the searches you do, websites you visit, and how you use our software. We will also use this information to help improve our products and services.”

Again, I’ve bolded the key parts. The Learn More page about the data the Bing Bar collects ironically says less than what’s directly on the install page.

It’s hard to argue that gathering information about what people search for at Google isn’t covered. Technically, there’s nothing misleading — even if Bing, for obvious reasons, isn’t making it explicit that to improve its search results, it might look at what Bing Bar users search for at Google and click on there.

What About The Google Toolbar & Chrome?

Google has its own Google Toolbar, as well as its Chrome browser. So I asked Google. Does it do the same type of monitoring that it believes Bing does, to improve Google’s search results?

“Absolutely not. The PageRank feature sends back URLs, but we’ve never used those URLs or data to put any results on Google’s results page. We do not do that, and we will not do that,” said Singhal.

Actually, Google has previously said that the toolbar does play a role in ranking. Google uses toolbar data in part to measure site speed — and site speed was a ranking signal that Google began using last year.

Instead, Singhal seems to be saying that the URLs that the toolbar sees are not used for finding pages to index (something Google’s long denied) or to somehow find new results to add to the search results.

As for Chrome, Google says the same thing — there’s no information flowing back that’s used to improve search rankings. In fact, Google stressed that the only information that flows back at all from Chrome is what people are searching for from within the browser, if they are using Google as their search engine.

Postscript: See Google On Toolbar: We Don’t Use Bing’s Searches

Is It Illegal?

Suffice to say, Google’s pretty unhappy with the whole situation, which does raise a number of issues. For one, is what Bing seems to be doing illegal? Singhal was “hesitant” to say that since Google technically hasn’t lost anything. It still has its own results, even if it feels Bing is mimicking them.

Is it Cheating?

If it’s not illegal, is what Bing may be doing unfair, somehow cheating at the search game?

On the one hand, you could say it’s incredibly clever. Why not mine what people are selecting as the top results on Google as a signal? It’s kind of smart. Indeed, I’m pretty sure we’ve had various small services in the past that have offered for people to bookmark their top choices from various search engines.

Google doesn’t see it as clever.

“It’s cheating to me because we work incredibly hard and have done so for years but they just get there based on our hard work,” said Singhal. “I don’t know how else to call it but plain and simple cheating. Another analogy is that it’s like running a marathon and carrying someone else on your back, who jumps off just before the finish line.”

In particular, Google seems most concerned that the impact of mining user data on its site potentially pays off the most for Bing on long-tail searches, unique searches where Google feels it works especially hard to distinguish itself.

Ending The Experiment

Now that Google’s test is done, it will be removing the one-time code it added to allow for the honeypot pages to be planted. Google has proudly claimed over the years that it had no such ability, as proof of letting its ranking algorithm make decisions. It has no plans to keep this new ability and wants to kill it, so things are back to “normal.”

Google also stressed to me that the code only worked for this limited set of synthetic queries — and that it had an additional failsafe. Should any of the test queries suddenly become even mildly popular for some reason, the honeypot page for that query would no longer show.

This means if you test the queries above, you may no longer see the same results at Google. However, I did see all these results myself before writing this, along with some additional ones that I’ve not done screenshots for. So did several of my other editors yesterday.

Why Open Up Now?

What prompted Google to step forward now and talk with me about its experiment? A grand plan to spoil Bing’s big search event today? A clever way to distract from current discussions about its search quality? Just a coincidence of timing? In the end, whatever you believe about why Google is talking now doesn’t really matter. The bigger issue is whether you believe what Bing is doing is fair play or not. But here’s the strange backstory.

Recall that Google got its experiment confirmed on December 31. The next day — New Year’s Day — TechCrunch ran an article called Why We Desperately Need a New (and Better) Google from guest author Vivek Wadhwa, praising Blekko for having better date search than Google and painting a generally dismal picture of Google’s relevancy overall.

I doubt Google had any idea that Wadhwa’s article was coming, and I’m virtually certain Wadhwa had no idea about Google’s testing of Bing. But his article kicked off a wave of “Google’s results suck” posts.

Trouble In the House of Google from Jeff Atwood of Coding Horror appeared on January 3; Google’s decreasingly useful, spam-filled web search from Marco Arment of Instapaper came out on January 5. Multiple people mistakenly reported Paul Kedrosky’s December 2009 article about struggling to research a dishwasher as also being part of the current wave. It wasn’t, but on January 11, Kedrosky weighed in with fresh thoughts in Curation is the New Search is the New Curation.

The wave kept going. It’s still going. Along the way, Search Engine Land itself had several pieces, with Conrad Saam’s column on January 12, Google vs. Bing: The Fallacy Of The Superior Search Engine, gaining a lot of attention. In it, he did a short survey of 20 searches and concluded that Google and Bing weren’t that different.

Time To Talk? Come To Our Event?

The day after that column appeared, I got a call from Google. Would I have time to come talk in person about something they wanted to show me, relating to relevancy? Sure. Checking my calendar, I said January 27 — a Thursday — would be a good time for me to fly up from where I work in Southern California to Google’s Mountain View campus.

The day after that, Bing contacted me. They were hosting an event on February 1 to talk about the state of search and wanted to make sure I had the date saved, in case I wanted to come up for it. I said I’d make it. I later learned that the event was being organized by Wadhwa, author of that TechCrunch article.

A change on Google’s end shifted my meeting to January 28, last Friday. As is typical when I visit Google, I had a number of different meetings to talk about various products and issues. My last meeting of the day was with Singhal and Cutts — where they shared everything I’ve described above, explaining this is one reason why Google and Bing might be looking so similar, as our columnist found.

Yes, they wanted the news to be out before the Bing event happened — an event that Google is participating in. They felt it was important for the overall discussion about search quality. But the timing of the news is being so close to the event is down to when I could make the trip to Google. If I’d have been able to go in earlier, then I might have been writing this a week ago.

Meanwhile, you have this odd timing of Wadhwa’s TechCrunch article and the Bing event he’s organizing. I have no idea if Wadhwa was booked to do the Bing event before his article went out or if he was contracted to do this after, perhaps because Bing saw the debate over Google’s quality kick off and decided it was good to ride it. I’ll try to find out.

In the end, for whatever reasons, the findings of Google’s experiment and Bing’s event are colliding, right in the middle of a renewed focus of attention on search quality. Was this all planned to happen? Gamesmanship by both Google and Bing? Just odd coincidences? I go with the coincidences, myself.

[Postscript: Wadhwa tweeted the event timing was a coincidence. And let me add, my assumption really was that this is all coincidence. I'm pointing it out mainly because there are just so many crazy things all happening at the same time, which some people will inevitably try to connect. Make no mistake. Both Google and Bing play the PR game. But I think what's happening right now is that there's a perfect storm of various developments all coming together at the same time. And if that storm gets people focused on demanding better search quality, I'm happy].

The Search Voice

In the end, I’ve got some sympathy for Google’s view that Bing is doing something it shouldn’t.

I’ve long written that every search engine has its own “search voice,” a unique set of search results it provides, based on its collection of documents and its own particular method of ranking those.

I like that search engines have each had their own voices. One of the worst things about Yahoo changing over to Bing’s results last year was that in the US (and in many countries around the world), we were suddenly down to only two search voices: Google’s and Bing’s.

For 15 years, I’ve covered search. In all that time, we’ve never had so few search voices as we do now. At one point, we had more than 10. That’s one thing I love about the launch of Blekko. It gave us a fresh, new search voice.

When Bing launched in 2009, the joke was that Bing stood for either “Because It’s Not Google” or “But It’s Not Google.” Mining Google’s searches makes me wonder if the joke should change to “Bing Is Now Google.”

I think Bing should develop its own search voice without using Google’s as a tuning fork. That just doesn’t ring true to me. But I look forward to talking with Bing more about the issue and hopefully getting more clarity from them about what they may be doing and their views on it.

Opening image from Real Genius. They were taking a test. There’s no suggestion that Google is cool Chris Knight or that Bing is dorky Kent (or vice versa). It’s a great movie. You can even watch it for free here on Crackle.

Related Stories:

Postscript: Bing: Why Google’s Wrong In Its Accusations is the follow-up story from talking with Bing. Please be sure to read it in addition to this story.

Related Topics: Channel: Search Marketing | Copygate | Google: Web Search | Microsoft: Bing | Stats: Relevancy | Top News

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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.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn



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  • http://www.adrianbold.com Adrian Bold

    Oh no, if Bing is just copying Google and Yahoo is just publishing Bing, where can a searcher go if they want to get some search results that don’t just lazily put Wikipedia top?

  • http://www.devisenhandeln.com devisenhandeln

    I ve just googled and binged for ertgsdf and got different results. What more concerns me is the fact that SELand now already headlines “Are They Copying Us?”: Since when are “we” (or in this case “us”) Google Inc.? Are you getting paid by big G for this article?

  • http://www.baypointtrading.co.za Googlebot In Leet

    Now now, I enjoyed this article. No need to flame the author. If I discovered this I’d also be quick to write an article about it.

    Brilliant job and thank you!

    At the end of the day Google always stands on the no 1 podium even after someone jumped on their back for the ride to the finish line!

  • leadfigures

    Shows how quickly google is responding to updates to your keywords though, as now searchengineland.com is appearing in the results for the apparently gobledigook search terms. Should drive a good bit of traffic your way ;-)

  • http://www.greatwebsitesblog.com Badams

    The phrasings used in this article, as well as the number of times sources from Google are quoted vs sources from Bing, and the amount of input Google has been allowed to have on the contents on this tale, leads me to conclude it’s not exactly am example of balanced reporting. Please do try and get some more input from Bing on this and let them explain their side instead of just serving as Google’s free PR spin machine. (Or isn’t it free? Hmm.)

  • http://silvery.com Chris Silver Smith

    From the info presented, I’d argue that Bing’s supposed method is actually pretty clever and likely wasn’t invented just to rip off Google. I mean, think about it – there’s still a lot of the internet that’s invisible to search engines and this exposes more of it.

    For instance, if a government site with bad SEO (not unheard of) has a search form, then Bing could discover pages not previously found. This functionality likely got results from a number of search engines and on-site search forms.

    I think the fact that this appears aimed primarily at long-tail queries Bing didn’t already have good results for indicates it was not intended to merely rip off Google, but merely as yet another means of agnostic discovery.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Devise, it’s a sub-headline that’s meant to summarize the main theme of the section, which was Google asking “Are They Copying Us.” Sorry that you took that the wrong way. I’ll change it to make it clearer. And no, neither Google nor Bing nor anyone pays us for our articles.

    Badams, it’s difficult not to source Google when the entire story is what Google said it did. They ran the sting operation. They’re the ones talking about it.

    Bing was allowed to have as much input as they wanted. I contacted them early on Monday morning, when I started working on this. I received a reply around 3pm Pacific, which I included in this article. That’s all they wanted to provide.

    I called Stefan by phone after getting that email and specifically asked, “Is that all you really want to say?” I felt like the statement wasn’t saying much, so I went out of my way to follow up even though I’d already been given a statement.

    We had an off the record conversation that I can’t report, since it was off the record. But as I said in the story, Stefan said it was likely they’d have more to say when I see them after the event today.

    I would have loved to have had much more input from them. I do indeed hope that they’ll provide some more comment on this.

    In lieu of them commenting, I’ve tried to provide as much balance as I can. I’ve made it clear that not all of Google’s results are being mimicked — indeed, I’ve said most aren’t. I’ve been at pains to try and illustrate that the Google Ranking Signal, as I’ve called it, only appears to be most visible on long tail results. That gives Google concerns, but it’s still not the same thing as Bing copying everything.

    I’ve also been at pains to explain exactly how the story came out. Clearly Google wanted it out; they responded to one of our columns and decided to tell me what they were doing. I thought it was important for people to understand this, and how it came about, which is why I have that long section at the end.

    At the same time, it is a good, interesting story. My goal is to tell it, try to give all the sides and be fair to them, as best I can — because no, we’re not Google’s PR machine (and I’ve got plenty of articles that slam Google on various things), nor are we Bing’s PR machine — nor do we want to be anyone’s PR machine.

    In the end, I tend to feel like it’s something Bing shouldn’t do. But I’m very curious what the general reaction is from a wide range of people. As I wrote — you could view this as a very small, very clever move. Perhaps that will be the consensus. Perhaps I’ll even be convinced that it is fine.

    Frankly, it’s still pretty hard to digest. I’ve never — in 15 years now of covering the space — ever seen something like this. Kind of hard to get your head around.

  • http://blog.nexcerpt.com/ nexcerpt

    Dear Google:

    While reviewing your results, we discovered that you were creating Googlewhacks in a manner that is not compliant with our policies. For instance, we found violations of Googlewhack policy in the creation of “hiybbprqag.” Please note that this token
    is an example and that the same violations may exist with other tokens in your results.

    As stated in our policies, people are not permitted to create “Googlewhack Brand Whacks.” This includes any attempt to create a false association with Googlewhack.

    We strongly suggest that you take the time to review our Googlewhack experience: ( http://blog.nexcerpt.com/2011/01/28/adsense_nonsense/ )

    Oh… wait… Matt Cutts says it’s cool. Never mind. ( http://blog.nexcerpt.com/2011/01/29/adsense_sentience/ )

    Please accept our sincere apologies for the erroneous notification.

    Sincerely,
    The Googlewhack Team

  • painperdu

    Wait. What? MS is copying technology from someone else? When did this start?

  • http://silvery.com Chris Silver Smith

    It’s difficult for me to feel a sense of injustice or outrage with any of the big search engines, because their products have so clearly immitated each other for so long. Google isn’t at all pure in this area, though I can admire their ability to tweak other’s ideas into more successful iterations, and they do innovate some stuff.

    I think Danny’s attention to how/why/when the story came to him show his desire to be balanced. (Not to mention his extensive and often critical reporting on Google and search engines.)

    I think Bing is falling down some on the PR game on this- Google clearly feels threatened by them some, else there wouldn’t be this attention. Further, as I suggested, there’s an argument to be made that this wasn’t intended just to rip off Google, and the discovery method could more broadly improve their ability to expose more of the dark web for search.

  • Steven Cole

    I don’t think its right what microsoft/bing are doing but microsoft has always been that way, taking the easy way out.

    I’m more disappointed in google and their willingness to use code like they did here to edit results. even if they did do it just to catch bing there is no telling weather or not they might do it again maybe for the highest bidder like their recent decision to censor torrent and torrent related words from their auto complete feature. Google has lost my respect and will not get it back until they are back to the way they started, a honest company that cares more about its users and its users needs then about other companies.

  • http://www.greatwebsitesblog.com Badams

    @Danny, thanks for taking the time to respond to my concerns. I take your meaning and don;t doubt your intentions to cover the SE industry as thoroughly as you can – and SEL is a credit to that driving spirit – but I do feel that this article has a heavy pro-Google anti-Bing slant.

    This may not even be intentional. We all bring our own biases and prejudices, subconscious as they may be, with us when we write. Yours seems to be distinctly pro-Google. Even your criticism of Google seems aimed at ‘lesser’ offences, while on the big issues SEL seems to side with Google a bit too often (the EU antitrust case and search neutrality issues come to mind).

    Yes you did cover all those points you mentioned. It’s just that the counter-arguments in favour of Bing seem to be much further down in the article, the headline is tone-setting against Bing, and the way things are phrased leaves little doubt on where you as the journalist stand on the issue.

    But maybe that’s just my own anti-Google bias showing itself. :)

  • http://davelawlor.com Dave_Lawlor

    Perhaps Google should do what it tells Yelp/Travel Advisor to do to combat this and that is block users from seeing their results so then Bing cant copy it…. oh wait that would cut of their business use? Oh then I guess maybe they aren’t really in a position to call foul over how sites use data that they didnt produce

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/danhickey22 Dan Hickey

    Interesting issue. Let’s say I own and run Pizza Hut. I know McDonalds spends a lot of time and money researching locations that successfully drive the growth of its business. Instead of spending money duplicating their research, I simply wait until they announce store openings (public info) and then I build next to them, which drives my success. I’ve piggybacked on their efforts using publicly available info. Cheating? Hardly. Smart? Arguably.

  • Håvard Krüger

    Did they look at other search engines or just Bing?

    Altavista gets the same website, but they might be using Bing/Google as the engine?

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Badams, Google takes far more criticism than any other search engine. I do tend to jump into some of those frays when I don’t think there’s a lot of balance. It’s not to defend Google. It’s honestly because I’ll read something that’s really one-sided, to me, and feel like there just ought to be a more balanced view out there.

    Of course, others reading what I write might disagree. That’s especially so if they read it in isolation from what I’m responding to.

    Where I stand on the issue is pretty plain — it’s right down there at the end. It doesn’t feel right, to me. But I might change my mind, as this all gets discussed. i’m honestly curious to see how everyone’s reacting to this and some of the debate that will come up.

    As for the headline — the world’s biggest and most popular search engine accuses its chief rival of cheating. That’s a big deal. That is the headline that should be there, I’d say. But that’s my view.

  • http://davelawlor.com Dave_Lawlor

    And one more question I have is why would Matt Cutts be in this meeting about a subject that has NOTHING to do with Spam? Perhaps using the personal relationship he has over years with Danny to sell the story? It certainyl looks like this was an exclusive for SEL and one wonders how that spin works out.

    And while Danny is true they do carry negative stories on SEL, I would be hard pressed to see negative stories the has carried his byline and weight.

  • http://www.latitudegroup.com/ James Lowery

    Without wishing to add fuel to the fire, or come across as a Microsoft fanboy here, and someone else might like to prove me wrong, but within the labyrinthine privacy policy / terms and conditions of Google Chrome (6,500 words), and the various Google privacy policies / terms of use documents, there are multiple references to Google storing information and browsing data such as this one:

    “Google will receive and store the URL sent by the web sites you visit, including any personal information inserted into those URLs by the web site operator.”

    Don’t get me wrong, the whole thing stinks and Microsoft probably deserve a kicking about this, but I’m willing to bet that Google aren’t entirely blameless when it comes to being a little bit too creepy about the amount of data they aggregate about users.

  • http://blog.melsscrm.com/ Asim Ali

    In the end, technological innovation is being killed in this blame game. Google’s got innovative on the blame game now.. ;)

    If Google feels its results are being mimicked, innovate somethin that cannot be.

    This reminds me of how Google copied the Bing Visual search and the background image thingy.

    No doubt Google delivers better results than Bing. Period. Do not degrade your stance by doing this PR stunt before a Bing event.

  • http://orkutmanager.net/ Bruno Michels

    We shouldn’t reinvent the wheel. Why should we start from the rock wheel if there is already much more advanced technologies?

    No one will reinvent the wheel, we will know how to look forward.

  • Jesse Barker

    Awww, this is the first time I have seen a search engine cry :D

  • http://www.designbysoap.co.uk Designbysoap Team

    Doesn’t this just prove that Google are perfectly capable of manipulating their SERP’s – something they’ve always claimed they were never able to do?

    As you pointed out, they’ve assured us they’ll be removing this ability, but haven’t they always said they didn’t have that ability in the first place? That it was all algorithmic? Just a thought!

    Excellent article as always though.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Dave, I hardly need Matt to “sell” me on a story where Google’s going to come out and publicly accuse Bing of cheating. That’s like a self-evident story you’d want to cover.

    As to why he was there, you’d have to ask him. I think you’re pretty familiar with the fact that Matt works as an unofficial defender of Google. So he does have interest in things beyond spam.

    He was also there for another really easy reason. It’s his office. He shares the space with Amit and some of the other search quality engineers. Which, I imagine, is how he got involved — people in Google offices, like any offices, talk to each other.

    Now about those negative Google stories that I never write. Coming right up.

  • http://www.wire-stone.com Kevin

    Here is another take on the use of Google’s listings:
    Google is considered by most of the general searching public as the leader amongst the search engines. Many consider it to be the authority when it comes to searches (yes we in the industry are finding a lot of things wrong with the results but the general public still views the Big G as #1). Taking this into account with the amount of searches running through Google why wouldn’t use Google’s ranking for keywords as 1 of its 200 (2000?) ranking factors. The reason it is so evident, as Danny mentions in the article, is that there is no other ranking factors to diminish this ranking factor’s importance. I think this makes sense as a ranking factor for Bing. Google has surpassed just being a search engine to being, the authority and Bing is taking that knowledge and using it to better deliver authoritative results.
    That is my take.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan
  • http://www.ideabrightmarketing.com Jared R. Fabac, IMCP

    @Danny Great write up. I’m anxious to find out how Google responds to this. Obviously, from a Search Engine perspective, we can all certainly understand the frustration and immediate concern that Google has. Who in their right mind would sit back and gently take “fueling their largest competitor’s existence”. And was it really algorithmic, or is Bing just passing a script to retain Google results when there is no result found. I don’t really think Google’s algorithmic intelligence should be in question, here. Although clever, and somewhat humorous, I hope it doesn’t start a chain reaction of worry!

    Its almost scary to sit back and just urge Google to innovate themselves more thoroughly so that they cannot be mimicked. I mean, aside from complete lack of ethics from bing, you have to assume that Google’s usability has left open some vulnerabilities which made this possible, right? So if we urge Google to innovate further to avoid unethical actions by bing, do we risk losing some of the usability that makes Google great?

  • modelportfolio2003

    @Asim
    I’m totally with Danny on this one. Bing should get kicked from here to there and there being out a here! This is plain cheating on a mass scale and is degrading for Microsoft and shows there lack of creative ideas when it comes to search. If all they can do is copy Google, why bother, esp when they are losing more money every quarter. Just stupid pride.
    But why put a pin in the Bing balloon before their event? Because it feels good to have the shoe on the other foot when each and every day Microsoft spends money and time in Washington DC and Brussels and with the ITA anti-Google group figuring out how they can prevent Google from bringing greater and greater innovation to its users. Really pathetic behavior and a sign of a monopolist who has nothing better to do with its monopolistic profits.

  • http://azzlsoft.com Rich Miles

    Ha! Google’s value is based on weighting content produced by OTHERS. Bing using Google is EXACTLY the same thing.

    There is no way that Google would use something like the Yahoo directory to help rank sites, right?

    This is a joke. This only proves two things: 1.) Google can and does manipulate its search results and 2.) Google is afraid of Bing.

    Weak sauce Google. Really weak sauce.

  • http://pl.atyp.us Jeff Darcy

    I see nothing wrong with using expressed user preference/behavior at a competitor’s site to test/tune one’s own ranking algorithms, which is what this at first appeared to be. As I read about getting the exact same #1 site for *nonsense terms*, though, it became harder and harder to believe that Bing’s algorithms were involved in any way. Copying results isn’t an algorithm. Shame on them.

  • http://davelawlor.com Dave_Lawlor

    @Danny – I stand corrected, and not afraid to say I missed the fact your author page only had the recent articles to scan through. I know having Matt there wouldn’t sell you on writing the story it is a no brainer, but having someone there that you are friendly with can change the questions you ask and take things at face value because you trust him. You did do some back checking on things like the Google Toolbar data usage, but it just seems onsided, espcially when you even say that you are more likely to have more from Microsoft on this after the upcoming event. I totally believe this was an exclusive to you, I dont see the rush before you could go back and ask why thier use is different and fill in these other questions.

    @modelportfolio2003 – lol yeah poor Google… they have never brought up anti trust or jumped on the lobbyist bandwagon

  • http://www.ideabrightmarketing.com Jared R. Fabac, IMCP

    @Rich, I think you went a little off the beaten path with that one.

    Google uses many different variables to rank sites, including the quality of inbound links from quality places such as, Yahoo! directory. But still, regardless of what’s being used as variables, its still Google’s process for determining search results.

    What’s frustrating is that we DON’T NEED ANOTHER GOOGLE. I don’t need a repopulated list of equal results branded with a different logo. I need bing and their engineers to improve upon current processes to make my experience, as a user, better. Not reproduce results I just got from Google.

    And I know people are quick to say “I just searched for xyz bla bla bla on google and on bing and got different results, this article of full of…” Of course the entire search engines are not going to be synced together, but it is an alarming note that the search engines may be close to generating results that are so close to user requests that, outside of Google, they’re running out of room to improve it.

  • http://about.me/brentbuford Brent Buford

    In a sense, this is simply reverse-engineering. I guess one risk of a private, proprietary algorithm is that the results of that algorithm, though vast, can still be collected and studied and even copied. With this and the whole Chrome/h.264 dustup, Google seems to be saying open/free is good as long as they can monetize it; otherwise, they’re protective and a little…snippy? I understand Google’s pride of ownership; they’ve built the best search engine out there. But for a company whose revenue is largely built on the back of other people’s content, there is a whiff of delicious irony here.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Dave, absolutely — if you hear only one side, it’s easy to be convinced of only one side.

    In terms of asking why their use is different. I did ask. They said they don’t use the data as Microsoft does. Asked and answered.

    Later in the evening yesterday, I did some further research and came across the previous comment about site speed. So I cited that, which I thought probably cost Google some credibility — they should have mentioned that from the start, right?

    But realistically, I think they were focused on the do they use it to add aspect. I will follow up on it, but that was a minor point that wasn’t worth holding the entire article, in my view.

  • http://MillerMosaicllc.com Yael K. Miller

    In my personal experience, I don’t believe Bing copies Google for every search. As a PC Windows (7) user, I always use Bing to search when I encounter issues with my computer. And Bing gives better results than when I use Google for such searches. Conversely, whenever I have questions about Google products, I use Google to search.

  • http://www.hirescott.com/ Scott Duffy

    I don’t see any injustice here.

    Microsoft’s technique of catching “referrer” information and using that to adjust it’s search results is brilliant. I am willing to bet this mainly affects nonsensical and misspelled words and has very little impact on real searches.

    It’s not like Microsoft is hacking into the Google search database and copying its results. It’s referrer data – available to anyone. And as you said, clearly spelled out that they’re doing that!

    Can’t fault Microsoft on this one. Sorry Google, time to innovate some more instead of whining to the press.

  • http://www.wouterkiel.nl Wouter Kiel

    Found an interesting thing when trying to find the original serps for those synthetic queries.

    Looks like the date filter isn’t flawless on Google. When searching for those phrases with only results for 2010 there’s a couple that shouldn’t be there: http://bit.ly/ewLYSo. How come Google thinks they’re from 2010 when they feature an artical that’s clearly from 2011? Are they looking at actual dates on a page? Why not use crawl or cache date?

  • http://twitter.com/asellers1313 Ashley Sellers

    @Danny I agree and think this will cost Google some credibility and am curious how Google will respond to this situation as well! Great article and thank you for sharing!

  • Mateus Pinheiro

    One very simple solution? STOP USING INTERNET EXPLORER. WHAT KIND OF PEOPLE ENJOY USING IT WHEN WE HAVE SO MUCH OPTIONS AS CHROME AND FIREFOX?

    Keep it simple.

  • Ian Lurie

    I’m kinda stunned at the whole thing. Both at Bing’s chutzpah and at their stupidity at getting caught.

    If you ARE going to steal results from arguably the smartest folks on the planet, wouldn’t you at least randomize or somehow mix stuff in?

    Google does lots of hinky stuff, but Bing once again proves that if there’s a race to the bottom in search land, they’re going to win it.

  • teeman

    This reflects more poorly on Google than Bing. It shows that Bing is catching up to Google and Google is making excuses by promoting this false controversy.

    Bing indexes websites. Google is a website that indexes other websites. It only makes sense to index the indexer to get the most complete picture of the internet. It’s public, it’s out there, why wouldn’t you index it? It shows real innovation – combining the speed of a single search engine with the broadness of meta-search engines that reach more websites. Frankly I am surprised Google hasn’t done it themselves!

    I hope Bing also scours other search engines as well! Only then would they really have the most complete index of search results

  • yamamma

    google ‘copied’ dmoz all the time.. maybe not now… but they used too….

  • http://www.michael-martinez.com/ Michael Martinez

    So people are okay with Google capturing data from their Websites and serving it to Google users as “instant answers”, but they’re not okay with Bing monitoring Google’s query traffic?

    That is a completely bizarre and uncritical point of view.

    Google needs to stop monetizing other people’s content before it gets up on this soap box.

  • http://www.jeremypost.com/ Jeremy Post

    Wow. Kudos to Google for the brilliant PR stunt. They won’t call it illegal, but they’ll use the media to label their only U.S. competitor a “cheater” in the court of public opinion.

    And for what? Microsoft is leveraging data about their users’ online behavior to adjust the information they serve in search results. Google does the same thing, probably more so. If the user interaction starts in a Microsoft browser search bar and ends on a content or commerce site, why shouldn’t MS be able to capture that data and use it to inform Bing SERPs?

    These allegations just seem like a lot of sizzle, no steak.

  • teeman

    On a not so related side note: this reminds me about how the folks at Lotus were caught by Excel’s rapidly improving feature set while they failed to quickly transition Lotus 123 to Windows. Their first response was also “they cheated!”. They made all sorts of excuses: they must’ve gotten windows code in advance, they made excel run better, etc.

    They couldn’t believe how fast Microsoft caught up and was in denial. Microsoft may not be the most innovative company out there, but they are persistent and eventually gets there, and if you rest on your laurels, they will eventually catch up.

  • contextfree

    Buried halfway through the article:

    “These searches returned no matches on Google or Bing — or a tiny number of poor quality matches, in a few cases — before the experiment went live. [...] Only a small number of the test searches produced this result, about 7 to 9 (depending on when exactly Google checked) out of the 100. Google says it doesn’t know why they didn’t all work, [...]”

    The writer apparently thinks these results justify concluding the article with this takeaway:

    “When Bing launched in 2009, the joke was that Bing stood for either “Because It’s Not Google” or “But It’s Not Google.” Mining Google’s searches makes me wonder if the joke should change to “Bing Is Now Google.”
    okayyyy.

  • http://www.wirah.com Sam Street

    Well it’s just as well that NOONE (except Microsoft employees) uses Bing then.

  • http://www.hownottowrite.com Jamie Grove

    “It’s cheating to me because we work incredibly hard and have done so for years but they just get there based on our hard work,”

    And… Just when did Google decide to start paying royalties on all the links they use to help determine Page Rank? Oh, that’s right, they’re not.

    I love Google, but it seems like they’ve forgotten that their own search results are based on looking over the shoulders of everyone to see what is relevant.

  • tubby_bartles

    It’s obvious what’s happening. Bing isn’t \scraping\ Google’s search results. They are monitoring all search terms across all search engines (including their own) and watching what site the user visits immediately afterwards. This feeds into their own algorithms. For common search terms like \Britney Spears\ this would simply find any sites they may have missed in their own crawl plus remove spam that users skip over when they click on search result #3.

    For *uncommon* results like mis-spellings and \fake words\, this would have the unpleasant side effect of basically mimicking Google’ search results, since they are the largest engine.

    So I suspect their original \non-denial\ is correct – it wasn’t an intent to copy Google’s search results with a \results scraper\, but that is a side effect for rare search terms.

  • ChrisCD

    Hasn’t Google admitted to using other signals such as Twitter. Of course they would love to have Facebook signals, but last I heard Facebook and Google aren’t playing very nice together.

    And others pointed out, Google has relied on the Yahoo!directory and DMOZ for quality signals.

    So come on, now. Who is “cheating”?

    And talking about using others’ info, how much content has Google created?

    cd :O)

  • BitFarmer

    I don’t feel Microsoft is doing wrong by cleverly using the info they get from their’s users use of the web.

    If, as I understand it, the problem is that google is embeding info in the links they return of a search, including the searched text, so, receing this info back (searched text, link they chosed to follow after) into the google’s servers each time a user click on a search result.

    As far as I can see it, now google claim this info is being mined by bing to improve their own results, and google feels it should be better if bing stop doing so, but bing doesn’t feel that way.

    OK, if this is the case, the solution is rigth in the google servers: This searche text google embeed in theirs results, is for internal consum, so why to just encrypt the text before embeding it into the search result, and decrypt it back to plain text once the user send it back to you by clicking on the result link.

    Bing will receive this encripted search text, but won’t be able to decrypt it, so bing won’t be able to connect the search text with the link its users are clicking on, so end of the dispute, bar is closed.

    To avoid bing from beeing able to brute force attack google encryption, google could just change from encrypting algorithm and password each minute, and then decryt it back using the last five minutes algorithms and passwords until one of the succed in recovering the right search text.

    Just keeping in mind that the same servers that encrypt will be the ones to have to decrypt it back some seconds after, the ways google could do it are just enndless, so they only have to choose one that doesn`t make theirs servers to melt.

    One possible solution to google servers CPU usage raising too high due to encrytion overhead is to use the same hardware they actually use for the hppts secure connexions, sure they have some cryptograsphic hardware attached that could do the work without investing too much on it.

    Just my thougths, may be it is a total sillyness from me!

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