Search is turning nasty: just in time for Christmas.

Microsoft’s Bing has launched a scathing attack on Google’s Shopping search service. It has set up a site, Scroogled.com, which claims Google is misleading shopping search customers.

Entitled Don’t Get Scroogled, the vicious online PR campaign aims to debase trust in Google’s search engine by intimating that they do not provide “honest” search results for shoppers.

Bing claims Google presents its Shopping search results as organic: when they are actually paid ads.

And that, says Bing, means Google searchers are getting “Scroogled”. Bing imputes this makes Google dishonest, and pleads: “For an honest search, use Bing”.

Bing has posted a series of quotes on the site, mainly from Google’s founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, claiming to underpin a change in attitude at the search giant since its launch 14 years ago.

They start with the famous “Don’t be evil” mantra: which Bing claims went out the window in May 2012 when Google announced it would start charging for inclusion in Shopping searches in the US.

There’s a short timeline of events leading up to the monetisation of Shopping, too, which Bing claims shows that Google has built a “purely commercial model”.

A video, explaining that Google Shopping search results are all ads, accompanies two images of frazzled-looking models who may, or may not, have been Scroogled, on the page, as well as an explanation of “How Google Does It” and “Bing’s Position”.

Share buttons for social media networks invite people to “Warn their friends.”

And in a final dig, Bing claims: “For an honest search result, try Bing.”

As far as marketing goes, this is about as nasty as it’s got so far between the two tech giants jostling for position (away from the antitrust suits and on-going patent wars, which aren’t funded by marketing budgets).

But already, Bing’s bold claims have been pulled under the microscope: as it too, provides paid ads in its apparently organic Shopping results. And, for the last two years running, Bing has apparently frozen all non-paid listings in the run-up to Christmas.

Google Shopping phased out the free side of its service in the US in October. The same is set to happen in the UK early next year.

Google announced the move to an exclusively pay-to-play model back in May – which Bing claims was an ‘under the radar’ announcement, and says is somewhat contradictory to Google’s previous mantra: “Don’t be evil.”

Whilst Bing’s marketing department has focused on all the perceived wrongdoings of their bitter arch-rival, Scroogled.com fails to fully explain how Bing’s own shopping process works, whilst also smoothing over some of the finer details of Google’s shopping algorithm.

For instance, Bing accuses Google of running a “pay to rank” system, which isn’t strictly true. In fact, all merchants wanting to appear in Google Shopping have to pay: and it’s not simply a case of “whomever pays most gets highest” in the results.

Much like with PPC ads, Google uses a host of ranking factors to decide which results to display, and where, with landing pages and quality score most likely to be taken into consideration.

In Bing, merchants have a choice: free listings, or Bing’s “recommended” option, inclusion in Shopping.com.

And, for that recommendation, merchants will have to pay.

So, essentially, the big difference at the moment is this: Google shopping results are all paid ads. Some of Bing’s shopping results are paid ads.

So why the muck-throwing?

Stefan Weitz, a senior director at Bing, tried to explained Scroogled in clearer detail.

He is reported to have said: “Bing includes millions of free listings from merchants, and rankings are determined entirely by which products are most relevant to your query.

“While merchants can pay fees for inclusion on our third-party shopping sites, and subsequently may appear in Bing Shopping through partnerships we have, we do not rank merchants higher based on who pays us, nor do we let merchants pay to have their product offers placed higher in Bing Shopping’s search results.”

Weitz accepts that merchants can indeed pay for using the Bing Shopping service, but in the case of Google Shopping, payment is the only option, making Bing different from its competitor.

This, Bing claims, is not properly communicated to Google shoppers, and is the underlining reason behind their claims that Google shopping searchers are getting Scroogled.

Weitz did, however, also concede to Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land, that: “We need to do a better job explaining the shopping system”.

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