Everyone knows Google. The search engine is practically ubiquitous in modern life, processing 3.5B searches every day. That's about half as many queries as there are people on Earth. In July 2020, for example, Google generated 62.2 percent of all core search queries in the world.
Sure, but what about Bing? That’s right, Bing. The search engine? Does that even exist anymore?
In any other realm—music, sports, movies—Bing might be considered a scrappy underdog, an indie darling, the Napoleon Dynamite to Iron Man 3 or Fountains of Wayne vs. Third Eye Blind. And that's how you might feel about Bing too, if only it didn’t come from Microsoft.
But Bing, unlike Windows or Outlook or other Microsoft entities, may just be a little weirder, more wonderful, than you thought. Let’s take a deeper look at the little search engine that could and explore how Bing is plotting to become the future of search.
Does anyone really use
Get more fresh interactive stories delivered to your inbox weekly.
It’s All in Your Head
Bing Loves Desktop
The Big Bing Theory: You Use it Whether You Know It or Not
Where the Olds Are
All Hail the Bing
There’s Gotta Be a Subreddit for This, Right?
Will The Real Search Engine Please Stand Up
Click here to search
The name “Bing,” according to a now-archived Microsoft blog, was coined for the sound “in our heads when we think about that moment of discovery and decision making—when you resolve those important tasks.” And while Google was conceived during a brainstorming session between founder Larry Page and a long-forgotten Stanford graduate student named Sean Anderson, Bing’s name did not emerge by chance. Instead, the name is the result of positive scores from a controlled focus group.
Prior to Bing, the search engine had several names including MSNSearch, Windows Live Search, and Live Search. In 2009, in the final days before Bing’s launch, the other name in the running was Bang. No really, Bang, because who doesn’t want to get banged by Microsoft? Luckily, cooler heads prevailed, and the name Bing won out.
But Bing’s market share is no laughing matter. In October 2020, for example, Bing accounted for roughly 6.2 percent of the global search market. Unfortunately, there’s an asterisk. According to the SEO tool Ahrefs, nearly 5 million of these monthly U.S. searches are for “Google,” making its dominant rival the third-most searched term on Bing behind “YouTube” and “Facebook.” In 2019, Bing accounted for nearly 36% of all U.S desktop searches. And nearly a third of those clicks, according to Microsoft evangelist John Lee, came from searches that are unique to the Microsoft Search Network. The search network includes Bing.com (and sites owned and operated by Bing, such as MSN.com, Bing.de and Bing.co.uk), AOL, and Yahoo.
It's All in Your Head
JOKE OF THE DAY
Click for answer
Winning second place can be sweet, especially when it pays. In 2015, six years after Bing’s launch, the company posted a profit for the first time. Since then, Bing continues to produce over $1.5B in annual revenue. The same cannot be said for companies like Spotify and Snap, which are still not profitable despite their widespread popularity and soaring valuations.
While Bing may lack soul, partly due to shaky marketing campaigns—remember Bing It On? — the search engine isn’t to be underestimated. According to a Microsoft spokesperson, the most recent comScore market share report shows the various search providers Bing powers, continuing making steady traction in the U.S., reaching 23% of search PC market share and nearly one in five searches across all devices.
But some argue that the way Bing builds and maintains their audience, going as far as to pay their users with Microsoft Rewards in 2018, taints the brand. Every search on the search engine counts towards points which can be redeemed in the Microsoft Store. By giving users a reward for using Bing over competitors, they are more likely to keep it—instead of downloading Google.
And sometimes the rewards add up. A year ago, one Redditor in the r/Xbox subreddit went viral for posting that he made $.30 per 60 searches and that he was making enough money to pay for his $10 monthly Xbox online membership. For many, Microsoft Rewards integration with Bing has strengthened both brands and further entrenched Microsoft users into the larger Microsoft ecosystem.
Guess What Bing's Portion of the US Market is for Desktop Search?
of search PC market share
total search PC market share
Bing is everywhere Microsoft is, and that’s pretty much everywhere. Microsoft has set Bing as the default search engine on most Android phones and slipped a mention of it into Outlook. And that’s just the beginning. According to information provided by a Microsoft spokesperson, Bing quietly powers inPrivate search via Microsoft Edge, quick searches in the Windows taskbar, work-related searches with Microsoft 365, immersive gaming in Microsoft Flight Simulator, etc. Bing also powers a number of AI innovations including Cortana, chat bots, and cognitive searches. The success behind Bing’s business strategy speaks for itself: as long as Microsoft controls the default browser on its hardware, Bing will have a place to thrive, even in a distant second place, as most users rarely change their default browser even if it performs worse than a competitor. Bing clocks in at number 30 on website analysis tool Alexas’ top 50 sites in global web traffic -- staying competitive with sites like Yahoo (#12) and Facebook (#6) -- with over 12B searches per month since March 2018.
The average Bing user is eight years older than Google’s, which to certain advertisers, is part of Bing’s appeal. If your target audience is older, Bing is the perfect channel. Its users have an average age over 35 and an income over $100,000, earning Bing the coveted reputation as the search engine of choice for white collar workers. Google AdWords campaigns can even be copied over to Bing, so it takes little effort to get a campaign going.
And Bing is pretty cheap: an average cost per click of $1.54 across all industries compared to Google’s $2.32. Also, a campaign on Bing reaches networks other than just Bing. The Microsoft Advertising platform provides users access to Bing, Yahoo, AOL, as well as the Partner Network which comprises a wide range of web properties. They include DuckDuckGo, Ecosia, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and others.
Average age of Bing's users:
Average income of Bing's users:
Bing hasn’t always been a punchline. In 2010, a year after Bing’s launch, advertising agency Droga5 convinced Bing to partner with Jay-Z on an interactive marketing campaign which sent fans of the Roc Nation CEO on a digital scavenger hunt around the world to unlock pages of his experimental memoir, Decoded. Visitors answered questions and then navigated through both aerial and StreetSide views on Bing Maps to solve clues and discover all 200 pages. The campaign won the Outdoor and Integrated Grand Prix at the Cannes Lion, but just how many new users it converted is unclear.
Unlike Google, which will sometimes censor certain images or videos, Bing plays by different rules. When a user searches “How To Smack Their Kid” or “Do People Really Care About Me,” Bing delivers the unadulterated results. In 2008, Bing’s hands-off approach caused a stir when, during Suicide Awareness Month, users posted that the search results for “how to kill myself” displayed e-books which advertised DIY suicide methods with 99% effectiveness. The internet, understandably, attacked. Google, meanwhile, changed the top search result for “how to commit suicide” to the National Suicide Prevention Center. The contrast between the two searches engines couldn’t be more stark: Google will lie to you for your own good. Bing won’t.
And what’s more, Bing protects more of your personal data than Google. Of course, that’s not saying much, but still. According to information provided by a Microsoft spokesperson, “User privacy is a top priority for Microsoft as a company. No Bing query or search usage data is sent to Microsoft, in accordance with the customer’s chosen privacy settings.” Try that on Google.
Aside from providing users with increased privacy, Bing’s video search results pull from multiple online video platforms —Vimeo, Youku, NM, and others—as opposed to Google’s walled YouTube video garden. For users who outright want to turn off “SafeSearch,'' which filters out explicit results, Bing offers that option, as well.
"User privacy is a top priority for Microsoft as a company. No Bing query or search usage data is sent to Microsoft, in accordance with the customer's chosen privacy settings."
— Microsoft's spokeperson
The fascination with the disparities between Bing and Google’s search results has led to an entire BingvsGoogle subreddit, which describes itself as “a place to showcase the (usually hilarious) dramatically different results that come up when searching for something between Google and Bing.” At barely 750 users, the active community is almost 50% that of the official Bing users subreddit (a 2k members community which appears mostly defunct). Google’s subreddit, by comparison, is at a staggering 1.3M members—nearly 10 times the size of Microsoft’s subreddit community, which, in all fairness, has also been sunsetted. Today, posts within the niche subreddit typically get one or two upvotes at most.
There's Gotta Be a Subreddit for This, Right?
The beef between Bing and Google initially stayed friendly, but leaked into YouTube culture in the form of rap battles and social media meme compilations that have put Google as the original search engine against Bing, a mere wannabe. Then, in 2011, Google supposedly retaliated with a sting operation to finally settle who was copying whom.
After the sting operation became public, Google claimed that “Bing has been watching what people search for on Google, the sites they select from Google’s results, then using that information to improve Bing’s own search listings.” To this day, Microsoft has never publicly responded to the charges. While Bing may not be their largest product by revenue, it doesn’t need to be. The project is a symbol of Microsoft’s willingness to compete where no one else will. And that’s why, regardless of the ridicule, Bing is here to stay. And it’s still our flawed, but lovable, underdog.