First published on 7 November 2017, updated on 31 March 2020.
When we talk about search engines, many would assume that we’re talking exclusively about Google (and in the UK, this is often the case). There are, however, many other search engines out there around the world, from Baidu (China) to Yandex (Russia). Whilst Google continues to dominate the Western market in 2020 with an 87.5% market share in the UK, challenger search engines like Microsoft’s Bing have pushed to eat up some of this share in recent years.
Despite living in Google’s shadow, Microsoft has been honing its search offering during this time and has seen great results in paid search in particular. The Bing equivalent to Google Ads, Microsoft Advertising, has made significant financial strides: although the most recent quarterly revenue growth fell slightly short of expectations, the company’s revenue has been increasing by an average of 12.07% per quarter over the past three years.
In the world of digital marketing, then, Bing is an important area for practitioners to focus on. As we’ll discuss over the course of this blog, Bing represents an opportunity for SEOs and paid media managers alike to increase the visibility of sites whilst reaching new users from a different demographic. To take full advantage of this, it’s important that you understand the nuances of Bing and Google, particularly with regard to their ranking processes and PPC offerings.
In this post
- A Brief History of Bing and Google
- Bing vs Google: Competitive Rivals
- Differences Between Bing and Google
- Bing vs Google: Differences in Ranking Factors
- Bing vs Google: Beyond Ranking Factors
- Bing vs Google: Paid Advertising
- Rounding Up
A Brief History of Bing and Google
In the early 90s, just as the Internet was being adopted by home users, a site called Jerry’s Guide to the World Wide Web was created. The brainchild of Stanford graduates, Jerry Yang and David Filo, this site would go on to become Yahoo in April 1994. As you can see from the image below, Yahoo was initially a database of websites that was organised through a hierarchical system rather than a searchable index of pages.
The next big move in the history of search engines came in 1998 when two Stanford PhD students– Larry Page and Sergey Brin – founded Google. It started out as a research project known as BackRub, so-called due to its ranking method of checking site backlinks to determine relative authority. This was what gave Google the edge over its competitors, and continues to do so to this day.
As an interesting aside, the history of Google centres around the decision regarding its name and the etymology behind it. The name Google derives from the word Googol, a number equivalent to ten raised to the power of a hundred (10100). Page and Brin attempted to secure the domain Googol.com at the time, but changed the name to Google when they found that it wasn’t available
The history of Microsoft’s Bing, on the other hand, is much more recent. Descended from Windows Live Search and MSN Search, Bing came into being when these services were amalgamated and rebranded in July 2009. The first major update occurred in August 2011, when Microsoft introduced a new index-serving technology known as “Tiger”. Bing was then completely redesigned in 2015, followed by updates that penalised keyword stuffing and enhanced local search.
Google’s algorithm updates have been well documented, starting out sporadically with one in 2000 and another in 2002, then becoming increasingly more frequent over the years. In the present climate, hundreds of search algorithm changes are made every year, ranging from minor changes to far-reaching broad core algorithm updates that shake up the SERPs. By contrast, Bing algorithm changes are rarely spoken about in the SEO community.
Bing vs Google: Competitive Rivals
Although Google still dominates the UK search market, Microsoft has seen some incremental gains over the past few years. According to data from Statista, Google retains a 87.5% market share in the UK. This same source suggests that Yahoo’s share of the market has fallen to just 2.12%, but Bing has seen an uplift over the past few years, rising from 6.85% in 2018 to its current share of 8.82%. Together, Microsoft-owned search engines have nearly 11% of the UK market share.
This kind of competition is healthy, prompting companies to enhance their service provision and think of ways to stand out from the crowd; in many ways, competition drives innovation and technological progress. It is largely as a result of the intense rivalry between Bing and Google, for example, that points of difference have emerged between them – in competitive climates, differentiation enables brands to set themselves apart from the rest of the market and survive.
Differences Between Bing and Google
Taken purely at face value, some would argue that Bing and Google don’t appear to be all that different. True, they are both search engines that offer paid advertising and follow the same broad ranking principles, taking into account sites’ backlinks, technical health, and so on. Yet when we search for the same phrase in both of these search engines, we get drastically different organic results. The purpose of the next section is, in part, to explore why this is.
Bing vs Google: Differences in Ranking Factors
Whilst there are many similarities in the SEO ranking factors for Google and Bing, it’s also clear to see that there are significant differences in the weighting applied to certain ranking factors when we compare Bing and Google results. Of course, you don’t have to overhaul your entire website to optimise it for Bing, but there are some tweaks you can make to ensure that you rank highly on both search engines.
Many technical factors are accounted for in the ranking algorithms for both Bing and Google, from mobile-friendliness to site speed. Investing in optimising behind-the-scenes structure and on-page technical SEO for your site can yield positive results on both Google and Bing, although there are certain discrepancies between the factors that they deem important.
When implementing permanent redirects In SEO, it’s good housekeeping to use 301 redirects as opposed to temporary 302 redirects. The use of 302 redirects can sometimes cause indexing issues with Google, but Bing’s system works by automatically interpreting a 302 redirect as a 301 after it has been crawled a few times. 302 redirects are therefore unlikely to cause any problems with Bing. To ensure your site is optimised for both Bing and Google, however, it’s important not to use 302 redirects when a permanent redirect is required.
Bing Examines Metadata More Closely
Many of the differences between the ranking processes of Bing and Google sit at the intersection of technical and content in SEO. For example, the treatment of metadata and other on-page signals differs significantly between the two search engines, largely due to the different ways in which they attempt to understand sites across the web.
Bing relies more heavily on conventional methods to understand content such as keywords in the domain, page titles, and metadata; Google, on the other hand, is less interested in these factors due to its superior interpretation of language in context (particularly since the advent of the RankBrain and BERT updates). All in all, this makes it more difficult for SEOs to optimise for Google than Bing.
In particular, meta descriptions play a far greater role in Bing’s assessment of a website than Google’s. These short, summary descriptions of a page’s content play an active role in Bing’s ranking process, whilst they are simply used as pithy adverts for pages within the Google SERPs. Similarly, Bing pays more attention to the use of anchor text and will reward sites that match anchor text with page title, whereas Google doesn’t focus much on this element.
Your approach to SEO should take into account the ranking processes of both Bing and Google – none of the elements discussed here are mutually exclusive and neither of these search engines are likely to penalise sites that are also optimised for the other. With Google’s complex understanding of language, it’s important to write for humans and not over-optimise; at the same time, however, it’s possible to use keywords in your URLS, titles, and metadata without keyword stuffing. As with content in general, the trick is to strike the perfect balance between two.
Bing Prefers Official Domain Types
Bing prefers established content that has either been live for quite some time or has gained a large amount of traffic. This preference is also reflected in the fact that Bing favours more official top-level domains such as .gov or .edu, whereas Google considers commercial or popular websites to be just as valuable in many situations. Whilst you can’t optimise for either search engine in relation to these preferences, it’s important to compare Bing and Google results because your site may be favoured by one of the search engine’s ranking processes due to its domain type.
We’ve already noted that Google’s ranking process originated with a PhD project called BackRub, which used backlinks to determine relative site authority. Even now, the search engine still utilises backlink analysis as a primary method for ranking websites: the more links to your site, the better it’s authority (and the better it will stand out in the search results). Although still a deciding factor in ranking, Bing does not place quite as much importance on backlinks.
Despite the fact that backlinks are more important for Google SEO, there are some significant commonalities between the two search engines’ treatment of links. In both cases, it is not just the quantity of backlinks that determines authority but also the quality and relevance. Links from well-established sites that are relevant to the recipient site pass on more link equity than their less authoritative counterparts.
Bing Pays Attention to Social Signals
In 2016, Google’s Gary Illyes was asked if the search engine incorporates social signals (e.g. consumer-brand interaction on Facebook) into its ranking algorithms. His concise answer: “no, we don’t”. Bing, however, is much more keen on social media engagement, a preference that is reflected by its use of social signals as a ranking factor. Pages that have earned a greater number of likes, shares, and retweets are more likely to rank highly on Bing. Some form of social media marketing should be integrated into your digital marketing strategy by now, but Bing gives you an added incentive in the form of ranking boosts for strong social media performance.
Taken together, the responses from Google and Bing provide a few useful takeaways when it comes to rich media and SEO:
- Secondly, the general advice provided by Bing on this should be suitable for both Google and Bing SEO: “to avoid any potential issues, consider implementing a down-level experience which includes the same content elements and links as your rich version does.”
Here, the term ‘down-level experience’ refers to the content that would be rendered on the site without all of the rich media (i.e. how some crawlers would see the page). Use the SEO Browser tool to check how your site appears to crawlers and make sure that all of the important content is visible.
Google’s Mobile-First Indexing
Most SEOs will be aware of Google’s mobile-first indexing policy and its implications. In short, Google uses the mobile version of a site for indexing and ranking purposes, making it important for all mobile content and metadata to be optimised fully and match that of the desktop version. (In practice, it’s best to avoid having separate mobile and desktop sites at all by implementing responsive design.)
According to a recent announcement, mobile-first indexing will be applied to all websites by the end of 2020. Any sites that still use a mobile version must optimise it appropriately and improve the mobile user experience (UX) where possible – read our guide on mobile-first indexing for more information on this.
Bing has a very different policy from Google when it comes to indexing content. Bing’s Christi Olson has confirmed that Bing has no plans to implement any equivalent mobile-first indexing policy, stating that “we maintain a single index that is optimized for both mobile and desktop to ensure our users continue to receive the most relevant, fresh, and consistent results no matter where they are.” Despite this, you should still allow Google’s mobile-first indexing to guide your SEO and UX efforts (as outlined in our guide) because doing so will not hurt your performance with Bing.
Bing vs Google: Beyond Ranking Factors
We’ve covered a range of areas in which Bing’s ranking process varies from Google’s. However, there are plenty of other differences between the two search engines aside from the algorithms they use. In particular, Bing and Google differ in terms of SERP features, local search, maps, voice search, and paid advertising.
Google Has Additional SERP Features
Bing has kept pace with Google throughout many SERP feature updates over the last few years. Whilst many of the following SERP features were first created by Google (excluding the Twitter SERP feature), both search engines now use them:
- Knowledge cards/panels/carousels
- Maps (local packs)
- News (top stories)
- In-depth articles
- Featured snippets (text/list/table)
- Related searches
That said, there are some examples where Bing has decided not to follow the path taken by its main competitor in this area. The Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) SERP features that Google serves to mobile users are a conspicuous absence in the Bing search results, as are people also ask (PAA) boxes. Depending on your point of view, the increased implementation of SERP features across both search engines could be considered a blessing or a curse.
Some SEOs rail against the proliferation of featured snippets and people also ask (PAA) boxes in Google’s SERPs, suggesting that they lower click-through rates (CTRs) for all sites on the first page. Indeed, since Google removed pages that have featured snippets from the organic listings below them, this view has become more and more popular – particularly within ecommerce, some sites are opting out of featured snippets in favour of a listing using the no-snippet meta tag.
Others within the digital marketing community are only too happy to vie for SERP real estate by striving to obtain featured snippets and the like. It’s true that featured snippets can reduce CTRs in situations where a satisfactory answer is supplied within the snippet itself (why would you click through to a page if your question has already been answered in the SERPs?) However, obtaining featured snippets for certain long-tail keywords can enable sites to target users with niche questions and bring in relevant traffic.
Local Search and User Proximity
Local searches via Google have increased dramatically over the past five years. According to Hubspot, 46% of all Google searches in 2019 were looking for local information and 72% of consumers who submit a local query visit a store within five miles. The rise of hyperlocal search is also evidenced by Google Trends data on “near me” searches over the past five years:
The slight dip in “near me” queries during the latter half of 2019 can be explained by the fact that SERPs are already tailored to the user’s location when Google location tracking is enabled. Indeed, the use of location-based search modifiers is superfluous in the case of many queries.
We’ve established that location-based searches are an increasingly popular phenomenon, but how do Bing and Google compare with each other in relation to local search? The most significant point of difference is in the types of results that these search engines will display.
In response to a local search, both Bing and Google display a map of the local area with pins indicating the locations of businesses or organisations that are relevant to the search. The key difference here is that Google focuses on the user’s immediate vicinity by default, whereas Bing provides a larger view of the wider area.
This hyperlocal vs local pattern also applies in terms of the top pages that Bing and Google will provide for local searches: Google tends to serve top listings that are very close to the user, whilst Bing will provide the most relevant listing from a slightly wider radius. In the example above, the top restaurant for Google is closer to the user’s actual location than the one provided by Bing. In 2019, Google updated its local search ranking process to prioritise user proximity, so this is unsurprising.
Bing and Google Maps Side by Side
Bing Maps and Google Maps are both integral components of their respective search engines – these map functionalities have become widely used and are now central to Bing and Google’s offerings. We’ve briefly touched upon the differences between them in the context of local search, but it’s worth digging a little deeper into this.
At first glance, there aren’t too many visual differences between the user interfaces (UIs) of Bing Maps and Google Maps, as you can see from these side-by-side screenshots of the two:
Both maps functions provide the user with a knowledge panel containing information about the area or business, in addition to direction, sharing, and saving functionalities. The main section of both UIs is taken up by the map itself – in both cases, the map allows the user to zoom in and move about.
The most significant differences between Bing Maps and Google Maps come down to the directions they provide and the data that goes with this. The estimated journey times and accompanying route information differs between the two web mapping services.
Google appears to give slightly longer estimates: when searching for directions between Impression’s Fothergill House office in Nottingham and St Pancras Station in London by car, Bing estimates a 2 hour 39 minute journey and Google suggests 2 hours 45 minutes. Other journeys produce a similar disparity, with Google tending to add around 3-5% of the estimated journey time that was suggested by Bing in each case.
Although not important in SEO, it’s interesting that Google Maps provides the user with additional information regarding the fastest route between the destinations. When searching for Impression–St Pancras directions, for example, Google Maps highlights the fact that the chosen route avoids the closure of a major bridge along the way, whereas Bing Maps makes no reference to this potentially significant closure.
Voice Search – Bing and Google Comparison
According to data from an Adobe survey in July 2019, 48% of consumers use voice search for “general web searches” and 39% used virtual personal assistants (VPAs) via their smart speaker devices. Clearly, voice search represents a huge opportunity for SEOs and digital marketers more generally, but what are the key differences between the functionalities provided by Bing and Google?
Previous commentators have suggested that the two search engines offer different benefits to users of voice search. Writing for Search Engine Watch, Clark Boyd has argued that Microsoft’s digital assistant, Cortana, has superior speech recognition but less accurate understanding of context than the Google Assistant. The point regarding the understanding of context makes sense when we consider recent Google developments such as the BERT algorithm update.
As mentioned above, many voice searches take place via a physical smart speaker device such as an Amazon Echo. Given that these devices are one of the primary means by which voice searches are made, we might want to know which of the two major search engines’ results are used to answer queries most often as a further point of contrast.
There are no published statistics regarding the number of smart speaker VPA queries that are answered by Bing in comparison to Google. However, three of the four VPAs – Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Amazon’s Alexa – use Bing for this purpose, with only the Google Assistant providing answers from Google. As such, we can assume that the majority of smart speaker users are receiving answers to their questions from Bing rather than Google.
Whatever the source of the results provided to users, the process of optimising your website for voice search remains the same. Fortunately for SEOs, this means that the same optimisation techniques will help to ensure that your content is used for voice search results powered by both Bing and Google. For more information on optimising your site for voice search, take a look at our dedicated article on the subject.
Bing vs Google: Paid Advertising
We’ve now discussed the vast majority of differences between the two search engine giants when comparing them from an organic search perspective. All that remains in this Bing and Google comparison is to explore how the two search engines vary in terms of their paid advertising services: Google Ads (formerly Google AdWords) and Microsoft Advertising (formerly Bing Ads). Here at Impression, we believe in the value of both platforms, offering Microsoft Advertising Management and Google Ads Management.
A Brief History of Google Ads and Microsoft Advertising
Microsoft Advertising is a much younger paid ad offering than Google Ads, beginning life as MSN adCenter in 2006. Prior to this, all of the PPC advertising on MSN Search was supplied by Overture and then Yahoo. Microsoft was definitely late to the party by comparison to the other major search engine providers, but soon realised that there was a burgeoning market to tap into.
By the time MSN adCenter was launched, Google Adwords was in its prime and had been running for 6 years, putting the new challenger on the backfoot from the outset. To begin with, its business model was distinct from the present offering: utilising a subscription-based model, Google would set up and manage campaigns on behalf of businesses. All of this changed in 2005 with the release of the Adwords self-service portal, the basis for the contemporary Google Ads service.
Differences Between Google Ads and Microsoft Advertising
When starting out with PPC advertising, the first thing that many businesses want to know is which platform has the greatest reach. As a result of Google’s dominance in the search market from an early stage, Google Ads enables sites to reach a far larger volume of users than Microsoft Advertising.
That said, Microsoft has made several strategic moves over the years in an effort to eat into Google’s share of the paid search market:
- Following the launch of advertising on Facebook in 2006, Microsoft teamed up with the social network and adverts from its adCenter were published across the site (although Facebook replaced this by launching its own ad service the year after).
- With the launch of Bing in 2010, Microsoft partnered with Yahoo. The partnership enabled Bing ads to be syndicated on the Yahoo network.
- At present, Microsoft Advertising in the single source of advertising across the Yahoo and AOL networks.
Despite Microsoft’s best efforts, Google Ads remains the dominant force in PPC. But with this position comes great competition between businesses for Google’s SERP space, which can be off-putting for smaller firms and new users to paid search. Achieving the top paid positions on Google is far more difficult than on Bing, requiring high quality scores and significant levels of investment.
This brings us on to another key difference between Google Ads and Microsoft Advertising: the cost. The cost per click (CPC) on individual keywords tends to be lower with Microsoft Advertising than with its paid search rival, with aggregate effects on the cost of campaigns as a whole. (Keep in mind, however, that this is not the case in some verticals.) Whilst costs are generally lower with Microsoft, there’s a trade-off between price and audience volume – costs may be higher on Google Ads, but you’ll reach a much larger audience.
The composition of Bing’s audience likewise differs from Google’s. The challenger search engine is typically frequented by older users with higher levels of education than Google’s average user, so working with the UK’s second-favourite search engine can really benefit businesses that target this demographic specifically. Even for brands that have adopted a mass market targeting strategy, spreading your paid search advertising across both channels can help to ensure even coverage.
In relation to this, there’s also variation between the targeting options offered by the two paid ad services. Both platforms enable sites to target specific user segments based on characteristics such as demographics, increasing the efficiency of ad spend. Google Ads offers a wide range of targeting options, from remarketing to dynamic search ads; Microsoft Advertising provides several targeting options but is generally considered to be less advanced than its main competitor in this respect.
However, a recent update to the targeting in Microsoft Advertising does allow you to use data from users’ LinkedIn profiles to create target segments. This information can be really useful for certain types of business that want to target users who work in specific industries (recruitment firms, for example, would benefit from this). Working at a more granular level, it can also be used as a tool to target employees of particular companies with ads. The LinkedIn targeting function is exclusive to Microsoft Advertising and LinkedIn Ads.
For businesses trying to decide which PPC platform to choose, we would recommend using both of them as part of an integrated digital marketing strategy. As we’ve seen, each search engine has its own unique flaws, merits, and audiences, so sites often see the best performance overall when combining the two and serving their ads to both groups of users.
This Bing vs Google comparison has explored a broad range of issues. Starting with the history of the two firms and their competitive rivalry, we went on to consider the main differences in their organic ranking processes. This section put forward a number of actionable recommendations around how to optimise sites for both Bing and Google, including:
- Never use a 302 redirect when a permanent redirect is required.
- Optimise your URLs and metadata – but make sure your content appeals to humans, too!
- Focus your off-page efforts on gaining high-quality links from relevant, authoritative sites.
- Encourage users to engage with your brand via social media (Bing takes social media metrics into account in its organic ranking process).
- For pages that contain lots of multimedia content, ensure that crawlers can read all of the important information. To do this, create a down-level experience with the same elements as the rich version, expressing important details through HTML (you can check how crawlers see your page using the SEO Browser tool).
- If your site still has separate desktop and mobile versions, ensure that they are both optimised in the same way and that the mobile UX is seamless.
This blog has also provided a comparison of Bing and Google beyond ranking factors, looking at SERP features, local search, maps functionalities, and voice search. There are a number of important takeaways from this section:
- Google offers additional SERP features such as the AMP elements and PAA boxes.
- Bing’s local search scours a wider radius by default, whereas Google tends to focus on listings that are in closer proximity to the user.
- Google Maps estimates longer journey times than Bing Maps, but also provides more important information regarding the route you have selected.
- In relation to voice search, the Google Assistant has a greater understanding of linguistic context but less accurate speech recognition than Microsoft’s Cortana (for tips on optimising for voice search through both search engines, see our blog on this issue).
- Only Google smart speakers and Google Assistant-enabled devices use Google results for VPA responses, whereas Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Amazon’s Alexa all use Bing results.
The third section of this guide compared the two search engines’ paid advertising services (Google Ads and Microsoft Advertising). It’s worth remembering from this section that Google’s offering predates Bings by six years, having been launched as Google AdWords in 2000. Another key point to take away is that Microsoft has made several attempts to obtain a share of the PPC market over the years but Google remains the dominant force in this area.
Finally, we evaluated the pros and cons of Google Ads by comparison to Microsoft Advertising: the former service is more expensive, has a larger reach, and offers more advanced targeting options, but we would advise businesses to adopt an integrated PPC strategy that combines both services. In doing so, your campaigns will benefit from the unique features of both platforms and reach a much wider audience in total.
If you think you might need Impression’s help with search engine marketing for Bing or Google, don’t hesitate to get in touch.