Microsoft's Bing turns up the heat in war with Google

Bing's new features will push Google to respond with its own innovations, say analysts

Microsoft fired another salvo as its battle against Google for search turf heated up this week.

Tuesday, Microsoft unveiled new features aimed at making Bing more than just a search site. Bing was enhanced with an entertainment page that will let users watch TV shows, play games and listen to music -- all without leaving the Web site.

"This has become a full-on war. I'm not too sure it can get any hotter," said Rob Enderle, an analyst at Enderle Group. "Microsoft is trying to make Bing ever more capable. The goal is to get you to live within their search engine and not go to any other sites, certainly not Google. The more you can do with Bing, the less likely you are to wander someplace else like Google. It's textbook customer containment."

Microsoft is looking to significantly beef up Bing's handling of entertainment-related queries, an area that draws a lot of interest from users. The company also will be looking to increase its footprint with other "verticals," such as health, travel and shopping.

Microsoft's Bing could use a boost in its competition with long-dominant Google.

Despite Microsoft's hefty investment of time, R&D and advertising dollars, Bing hasn't made much of a dent in Google's search market share in the year that Bing has been on the market. Google has been hanging tough, grabbing more than 71% of all U.S. searches in April. That was a 2% increase over its numbers in March, according to a report from Hitwise, an online traffic monitor.

Bing, which is in third place behind Microsoft and Yahoo, saw its own numbers slip 2% in April, reaching a 9.43% share for the month.

"This week's move is a good one for Bing," said Dan Olds, an analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group. "I think these new features are good choices for their initial rollout, particularly the video search. With a single search, users can see pages of thumbnail videos that relate to their search terms. Plus, they can see the videos play without leaving the Bing page, which helps users sift through the results and find exactly what they want."

If Microsoft continues to innovate and execute well, it just might start chipping away at some of Google's substantial market lead, Olds said.

The analysts were in agreement that Bing's innovation will push Google to do the same. And that, they say, can only mean good things for users.

"Bing's design choices have already had a big impact on Google," said Hadley Reynolds, an analyst at market research firm IDC. "The most obvious is Google's belated introduction of a left rail similar to Bing's this past May, and their increasing integration of rich media and best bets into the interface. Now Bing is moving the goal post further with these June enhancements. I expect to see an ongoing series of changes to the core searcher experience from both Google and Microsoft continue through the next couple of years and spawn a counterpart competition in the mobile search experience."

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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