Why Bing Hasn’t Overtaken Google Yet

Written by admin December 10, 2023

The release of Bing Chat has prompted much speculation about the next “Search Wars”. Ever since its release in 1998, Google has virtually dominated the global search industry. Competitors like Yahoo! And Bing were cast aside, and Google reigned supreme. In fact, Bing, the most used search engine after Google, has often been simply referred to as “Because It’s Not Google”.

But the release of Bing Chat, which integrated OpenAI’s revolutionary chatbot technologies, was tipped to herald a return of the Search Wars. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella even remarked, “I want people to know that we made [Google] dance”.

So far, this has not happened. Of course, this is partly due to the fact that generative AI technology is still extremely nascent, with Bing Chat making its fair share of errors. But a quick look at the search industry’s stats reveals that the new “search wars” have not been going Microsoft’s way. In fact, they haven’t really started at all.

Bing’s market share has actually fallen. In October 2022, Google’s market share was 92.34%, while Bing’s was 3.59%. In October 2023, Google’s market share was 91.55% while Bing’s was 3.11%.

At first glance, this is surprising. Even apart from Bing Chat, Bing has also innovated numerous other features like Microsoft Rewards, which gives back some of Microsoft’s ad revenue from Bing back to its users. Add to that the improvements in Bing’s UI and search features, and it’s arguable that today, Bing is just as good — if not even better — than Google.

So why is Google still winning?

Search Engines: Past and Present

First, we need to take a look at how Google rose to the top.

Google was not the first mover. By the time Google joined the search engine party, the World Wide Web was already four years old. At that time, search was already a thriving industry, with numerous competitors like AltaVista and Yahoo!. Google was very much the underdog here.

However, Google won on quality. The user interface was extremely clean, and Google didn’t plaster its entire site with advertisements like some of its competitors did. Google was also extremely fast as a search engine for its time.

But Google’s secret sauce was the quality of its search. With the groundbreaking PageRank algorithm, Google’s search results were much more relevant than its competitors. This was because the PageRank algorithm not only considered the information supplied by the website like other algorithms did, but also other metrics like how many other websites linked to it. As such, the top result wasn’t just any other post, but the post with the highest relevance and quality.

Google’s market share quickly rose to about 90%. Competitors tried desperately to catch up, but Google was always innovating, making sure that its search engine remained the best.

However, throughout the 2010s, other competitors continued improving the quality of their search engines, while Google had effectively hit a limit in how much it could improve its search engine.

As we progressed into the 2020s, search has become increasingly commoditised. Sure, Google’s algorithm was fantastic, but so were competitors’ like Bing’s. Google’s lead over its competitors in terms of search quality has effectively disappeared.

Still, Google’s market share holds steady, hovering around a dominant 90% figure.

Why Google Wins

The primary reason is Google’s strong network effect. This explains not only why Google has kept its domineering lead thus far, but also why Microsoft will find it difficult to dethrone Google with Bing Chat (for now, at least).

A network effect is a phenomenon where as the number of people using a particular product/service increases, the value of the product/service increases.

A textbook example is the telephone. If you are the only person in the world who owns a telephone, you cannot contact anyone else, and the telephone is useless. However, as more people join the telephone network, the number of people you can contact increases, and the value of the telephone increases.

This applies to search engines, too. In particular, this explains why no upstart search engine has managed to achieve substantial market share practically since Bing was released in 2009.

For a search engine to be able to access websites on the internet, it has to have them indexed. For this to happen, the websites need to grant access to the search engine’s web crawlers, which are responsible for scouring the internet and scanning web pages.

However, granting access to web crawlers costs websites money, as this requires server and bandwidth resources. Moreover, there are security risks to granting access to lesser known web crawlers, as they may contain malware that can compromise websites.

As such, websites are incentivised to only grant access to web crawlers from search engines that direct significant traffic to them. This means that typically, only established search engines like Google and Bing can access these websites.

This leaves smaller search engines stuck in a chicken-and-egg dilemma. In order to convince websites to grant them access, they have to prove that they have sufficient traffic. But to grow their traffic, they need access to sufficient websites to convince customers to use their search engines.

Unsurprisingly, this makes it extremely difficult for smaller search engines to compete with larger ones. For example, one such search engine, FindX, was not allowed access to large websites like Yelp and Linkedin. Eventually, it was forced to shut down.

Alright, so smaller players can’t compete with Google. But what about Bing? The truth is, in terms of functionalities, Bing has already largely caught up to Google. Though some estimates determine that Google has indexed more websites than Bing, it’s clear that both search engines still provide access to virtually all the content that normal folks would need.

But again, Google’s sheer size affords it certain advantages. This is especially clear for Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and advertising.

For advertisers, Google has a sophisticated advertising platform and comprehensive suite of tools. For example, Google Ads provides businesses with the ability to drive sales, stand out, be found, and show up, offering various ways to reach potential customers and maximise conversions. The platform’s reach across the vast Google Ads ecosystem, including YouTube, Discover, Search, and more, allows businesses to engage with customers wherever they are and at the right time and place.

True, Microsoft has its own advertising tools too. But Google’s dominance in the search engine market means that it is the go-to choice for businesses to advertise. As Google has more data from more users, it can provide that to advertisers to give them more accurate results. As such, businesses can advertise to users that are more likely to be interested in their products. When users encounter relevant advertisements, it is more likely to enhance their overall search experience rather than disrupting it, contributing to their continued use of Google.

For websites, Google offers a suite of free SEO tools, tests, and reports to help site owners and SEO professionals analyse and improve their website’s search performance. These tools, such as Google Search Console, Google Business Profile, and Google Keyword Planner, contribute to the overall appeal of Google’s advertising platform by providing businesses with the necessary resources to enhance their online presence and reach their target audience effectively.

Again, Microsoft also has similar SEO tools. But once again, Google’s sheer number of users wins out. Since Google has more traffic, websites care more about gearing their SEO practices to Google’s algorithm than to Bing’s. Hence, since websites cater more to Google’s algorithm, Google will naturally display more relevant results for target customers than Bing. Hence, through no action of its own, Google can continue to deliver search results that are more relevant than Bing’s. Hence, users are more likely to rely on Google as their primary search engine.

In this manner, size begets size. Google’s dominance of the search market means that advertisers cater more to Google than to its competitors. In turn, this means that users find more relevant ads and search results when using Google over other search engines. And naturally, this sustains users’ preference for Google. A positive feedback loop has been created, where each stakeholder benefits: users find what they need, advertisers reach their target audience effectively, and websites gain traffic by providing valuable content. This synergy reinforces users’ trust and reliance on Google as their go-to search engine, solidifying its position in the market.

What Does This Mean for the Future?

Google first gained market share through the sheer quality of its search engine. But as many may know, a technological lead is inherently unresilient, as all it takes is for a competitor to innovate a search engine of better — or even similar — quality to easily disrupt Google’s business.

To combat this, Google leveraged its dominance in the search industry to create a ridiculously strong network effect, whose sheer size means that it’s often the best for the main three stakeholders involved — users, websites and advertisers. Its value proposition for these stakeholders is so strong that it has successfully self-sustained Google’s dominant ~90% market share.

Of course, it’s possible that down the line, Bing Chat becomes so good at search and completely obliterates Google Bard that people abandon Google for Bing in droves.

But in the process, it will have to disrupt Google’s seemingly insurmountable network effect.

And to do that would be extremely difficult.