For Microsoft, Google's overwhelming dominance of search has not deterred the Redmond software giant from trying to compete in the market.
In fact, if anything, it's only given Microsoft a greater incentive to try to recapture a market it probably believes it should have owned.
After years of failure, it's hard to argue that Microsoft has finally made some headway in the search wars with Bing. At the same time, of course, this doesn't mean that Bing will ever compete toe-to-toe with Google, or that Bing will ever become a profitable investment.
But even so, Microsoft's motivation to compete with Google is certainly keeping things interesting. Case in point: yesterday's launch of Adaptive Search, which is designed to use the "hidden context" of past searches to help Bing better identify what its users are looking for.
Microsoft's Aidan Crook explains on the Bing blog:
Every time you search on Bing, the information provided helps Bing understand what you’re trying to do. The more you search, the more Bing can learn – and use that information to adapt the experience so you can spend less time searching and accomplish what you set out to do.
The data collected by Bing as part of Adaptive Search can, as Cook demonstrates, be used to tailor the SERPs for the keyword "Australia." If your recent searches had been travel-related, Bing can infer that you're planning a trip and present search results for "Australia" consistent with this.
If, on the other hand, your recent searches had been around movies, Bing could infer that you might be looking for Australia (the movie), and boost pages related to the movie higher in the SERPs.
As Search Engine Land's Barry Schwartz notes, this is similar in nature to Google's previous query feature, but appears to be more advanced.
Adaptive Search is the latest in a string of search 'innovations' that are designed to personalize search. That, on paper, is good news for consumers, who, as they become more sophisticated searchers, demand more relevant results. But it's probably not music to the ears of many publishers and SEOs.
Obviously, personalized search theoretically makes 'boosting rankings' a much more complex task. After all, using Bing's example, you can't necessarily claim to rank numero uno for the search term "Australia" as there are an increasing number of SERP permutations.
You might, for instance, hold the top spot for "Australia" for users in the U.K. who haven't searched much before, but you might not even be on the first page for a user in the U.S. who has allowed Bing to collect a treasure trove of search history that can be leveraged by Adaptive Search.
Of course, Bing, Google, and others don't necessarily owe publishers and SEOs and favors. They need to deliver relevant results, and results are certainly not a one-size-fits-all proposition.
So at the end of the day, publishers and SEOs will simply need to accept that search is getting more personal and focus on what they can control: the quality of their content and how that content is distributed and marketed.