Microsoft Bing revamp turns search into a social experience

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Microsoft's search offering, Bing, has undergone another revamp. And with a huge focus on social, Bing may have found a way to begin to oust Google from search dominance.

After joining a 'search alliance' with Yahoo!, the "New Bing" will try to usurp Google by offering things it currently can't.

Of course, Bing will still return normal organic search results and paid ads, just like it used to.

But now its social annotations, scraped from public information across a variety of social networks, are being lumped into a special sidebar, giving you the chance to interact with social friends.

The sidebar will pull information from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, FourSquare and even Google+.

Google has already fallen out with Twitter, and, to a lesser extent, with Facebook. It can't return Twitter profiles in its search results, because the microblogging site has blocked their spiders.

Not so with Bing.

Whereas Google has faced accusations of throttling social results - leading Facebook and Twitter to publicly demand "Don't be Evil" (a cheeky nod to Google's original ethos) whilst falling out with the search giant - Bing isn't discriminating.

Google isn't going to be able to pull info from Twitter or public posts from Facebook until relations are mended. In the meantime, Bing has a big open deal which could allow it to steal a march on Google.

The ramifications of this social focus, on both search engine optimisation and pay per click campaigns, could be huge. It would see an integrated Internet marketing approach, where search marketing and advertising is combined with social media.

Friend recommendations could become key selling tools, for instance. Group discounts for social groups with similar interests could be offered. It's still early days, but the potential to create more joined-up marketing campaigns certainly exists.

Bing has been quick to point out that in a blindfolded taste test - much like those undertaken during the 1980s cola wars between Coke and Pepsi - search users preferred Bing's search results to Google's.

"We regularly test unbranded results, removing any trace of Google and Bing branding," they said. "When we did this study in January of last year, 34% preferred Bing, whilst 38% preferred Google.

"The same unbranded study now shows that Bing search results have a much wider lead over Google's. When shown unbranded search results, 43% prefer Bing, whilst only 28% prefer Google results."

Of course, internal market research is hard to qualify. And Bing still needs to convince people to leave the relative comfort zone of Google and try something new.

If that works, though, then Google could face a real fight to maintain its position.

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