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The internet has been awash this week with claims that Bing has been stealing Google's results. This claim is complete rubbish, despite the various statements by Google.

Matt Cutts, well known Google spokesperson, says "One big point of discussion is whether Bing copies Google’s search results ... I didn’t expect that Microsoft would deny the claims so strongly".

Here's why Microsoft is right to deny them.

There's no copying

First, Bing isn't copying Google's results. It's not looking at Google's results for particular searches and then changing the order of its own results to reflect these. This really would be "stealing" Google's results.

Instead, Bing is using, as one of the signals to decide the order of its own results, which URLs people click on when they search for things on Google. If anything, Bing is in our search result pages stealing our click through data.

Yes, Google has therefore managed to influence Bing's results by getting its engineers to mass click on odd / "wrong" results for some searches. But Bing's doing this in line with its T&Cs. And this factor is only influencing its search results in a small number of cases where there are no other signals.

Also, out of 100 tests for made up words (like "delhipublicschool40 chdjob" and "ygyuuttuu hjhhiihhhu"), Google has found just nine instances where its fake-clicking experiments have affected Bing's results.

In these cases, yes, Bing is clearly using, via its toolbar, click through data - what people click on when they search - as one of its signals. To me, that's sensible - human behaviour is a better judge of relevancy than stuff like keyword density.

All that Google has shown, therefore, is that, in a small proportion of cases, with made up search terms that no one actually searches for in reality, and when there are no other signals (because the search term is made up), Bing is being influenced by Google's fake click-through experiments.

There is no sign of cheating here.

(Matt does say in his post that "we thought this practice was happening for lots and lots of different queries, not simply rare queries. To verify our hypothesis, rare queries were the easiest to test." It would help Google's case if they showed some real cases of this happening).

Google's experiment is flawed

Even worse, Matt Cutts is now claiming, in the light of Bing's response that clickthrough rates are a factor but a tiny one, that:

If clicks on Google really account for only 1/1000th (or some other trivial fraction) of Microsoft’s relevancy, why not just stop using those clicks and reduce the negative coverage and perception of this? And if Microsoft is unwilling to stop incorporating Google’s clicks in Bing’s rankings, doesn’t that argue that Google’s clicks account for much more than 1/1000th of Bing’s rankings?

This is highly misleading.

For a start, there's only negative perception because Google started this row.

Second, the fact that a factor has a weighting of 1/1000th in its algorithm is irrelevant.

If the other 999 factors are missing (as they are likely to be for made up search terms like "delhipublicschool40 chdjob" that no one actually searches for) then Bing is only left with the 1/1000 one - which becomes all important.

Third, searches are not all the same.

Let's assume Google is clever enough to distinguish informational searches (looking for facts), navigational searches (looking for an entity like a site) and transactional searches (looking to buy). This means that Google gives different weights to different factors in different circumstances, depending on what's being searched for.

It's entirely likely therefore that Google itself treats searches for made-up terms that are never actually searched for differently to other ones.

This means Google would do the same as Bing - in the absence of all other signals for an informational search, it would fall back on the only signals it has.

Maybe it's a bit like when Google gives too much weight to exact match domains (where the words in a domain exactly match the search terms someone typed in). In Matt's terms, if this factor only accounts for some trivial fraction of Google's relevancy, why not stop using this factor? Or if Google's unwilling to stop incorporating the presence of keywords in domains in its rankings, doesn't this argue that Google places too much weight on keywords in the domain?

Obviously, no (well, actually yes in this Google case - but in Bing's case, no). it's just horses for courses.

To sum up

Bing isn't stealing Google's results. It's just taking account of something sensible in working out its results. And what it takes account of - what we click on when we search - belongs to us as users, not Google.

Even when Google has found this makes a difference, it has demonstrated this only in cases involving search terms that no one actually searches for - and even then in only 9 per cent of these made-up searches.

Overall, Google is making a massive fuss over something for its own reasons. Bing has done nothing wrong.

(If you like this post, vote for my blog and Econsultancy in this poll of the top 35 UK marketing blogs.)

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Published 4 February, 2011 by Malcolm Coles

Malcolm Coles is Director at Digital Sparkle and a contributor to Econsultancy. He also blogs at malcolmcoles.co.uk. You can follow him on Twitter here.

16 more posts from this author

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Dug

I was beginning to thing I was alone in my thinking; great post.

Bing are also using their toolbar data as an indexing aid, in that Bing will index pages that its users come across which aren't already in their index. This will invariably find pages that Google knows about but Bing doesn't, and is going to be one of the key reasons that Google's honey-trap experiments worked.

There is also nothing wrong with this - it is after all something Google have done with their toolbar.

almost 6 years ago

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Tom Hallett

Agreed - I notice in the various screenshots of the "copying" that either only the top result was visible, or only one result was returned.

This is actually intelligent use of available info by Bing - if people search for "hjdhfjhfs" and it brings up a site for widgets, it makes it relevant if they click on it. If no one had clicked on the result, Bing wouldn't have included it in their results.

almost 6 years ago

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Someone

Google knows they are saying BS, I just lost respect for google. They try to make is sound like Bing is using google's search result but in reality Bing uses, user clicks. Google fed those data to Bing and say, "Hey it displays what we gave it".

almost 6 years ago

Ciaran Norris

Ciaran Norris, Chief Digital Officer at Mindshare

Thank you, thank you, thank you. Good to read something sensible on this.

almost 6 years ago

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Colin

Great post - since the start of this, i have been just thinking "So What". It completely makes sense what Bing are doing.

I think Google published this thinking that the SEO and Online community will get behind there back without actually realising what the community think of them anyway.

Its a very different world where people are sticking up for Microsoft and finger pointing at Google.

almost 6 years ago

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Gerry White

On an unrelated note - Google have just released a new feature where you can apparently "Check in" I am completely sure that they didn't copy this from anywhere else.

I find it incredible how Google has little or no regard for other peoples intellectual copy - from books through to ... well anything that Google can copy, they will! And the sheer information that is available within AdPlanner on all websites (except Google Owned) and how you can target using Google people who visit competitor websites ... I find it hard not to have a full on rant here about kettles, and how impressed I am with Microsofts restraint!

almost 6 years ago

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Andrew

But isn't this still stealing but indirectly?

On another note am I the only one who's found the quality of google search results deteriorate over the last 2 years. It has become increasingly difficult to find relevant information in my field so much so that I've started to directly use Quora or stackoverflow.

I believe search needs to begin to profile its users and tailor its result sets on areas of the users interest, and/or give the user a bit more control other than just a text box and submit button. Search users are a little more savvy now then they were 10 years ago.

Sorry somewhat off topic

almost 6 years ago

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Jerry Okorie

Am I the only one tired of this now? Google get a life, Bing live your life ! All we need as online users is to get served relevant and quality search results when we're looking for something.

almost 6 years ago

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Joe

As long as Bing keeps taking Google's search results and including in there own algorithm (however they do it), Bing and Yahoo will be a decent search engine.

almost 6 years ago

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Matthew Oxley

While I'm in agreement with you over the legitimacy of the specific tactic, It still stikes me that Microsoft are waving the white flag.

While I'm sure that clickstream data from all engines is included, the end result is that, on certain queries at least, they will end up harvesting the benefits of Google's algorithm. This is great, except it's a somewhat easy of avoiding tackling the underlying problem - thier inabiltiy to provide relevant search results as well Google.

In the long term Google probably stand to benefit more from Microsoft "copying" them.

almost 6 years ago

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anti astroturfing

Dude it's so simple bing uses one way or another (when people install the bing toolbar or whatever) in more or less proportion results generated by google, that is plain copying no matter how long you write a post about it and beat around the bush

almost 6 years ago

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Tym Barker

If Google applies a penalty to Bing, and Bing supposedly copies Google, will that create an infinite loop of zero rankings? LOL

almost 6 years ago

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The realist

What an apologist? So, Microsoft has no history of stealing technology? Non-story the only folks using bing are being paid to do so.

almost 6 years ago

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Alec

I disagree, Bing are looking at Google's search activity and constructing their own results based (in part) on that. Do Google incorporate other search engine CTR's or SERPs into their algorithm? I doubt it.

Just another example of the sneaky greed of Microsoft who are unable to produce good quality software so they nab ideas from companies that can... this hasn't ever happened before, has it!

almost 6 years ago

david carralon

david carralon, Head of SEO EMEA & APAC at Career Builder

Malcolm you make great point on this post. I am 100% sure both Google and Bing analyse each other SERPs in search of good samples of quality results that they can use to improve their own. I agree with Malcolm that Google sucks a bit lately and that Matt Cutts shoulnt have written that ridiculous post showing search queries that no one uses to pretend that Bing copies their results. Why dont they both just fix the SERPs and give users relevant results? my rants... : )

almost 6 years ago

Jo Darby

Jo Darby, Digital Content Manager at Celesio

I'm not sure what Matt Cutts is going on about. Negative publicity? I'm MORE inclined to use Bing now I know a little more about how it works and now that Google/Matt have issued such ridiculous responses.

As the market leader, still by a long way, I didn't expect this attitude from Google. I could definitely get on board with 'bing it' rather than 'google it.'

almost 6 years ago

Yannis Anastasakis

Yannis Anastasakis, CEO eHotelworks at eHotelworks

It is sad to see Google complaining with such demagogic messages about something so simple.

almost 6 years ago

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Jonathan Smith

It's the old story...small company rises in popularity taking it form the underdog or Robin Hood of the industry to the top. It then looses it's followers because it's Robin Hood image is soon replaced by corporate lawsuits.
Everybody wanted to see Microsoft toppled, and Google received instant public backing. Now however the founders of Microsoft have put 25 Billion back into the community and have slightly more public empathy...it's a strange reversal.

almost 6 years ago

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wilner

Matt Cutts (in all of his rantings), was one of the main reasons that I stopped using Google and started using Bing. That was several months ago, and I haven't looked back.

As for Bing copying Google's results, this doesn't appear to be the case. Also, I'm sure Google's uses signals to copy Bing's results as well. And Google and Bing are always copying eachothers look and feel.

almost 6 years ago

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SEO Southampton

It has become increasingly difficult to find relevant information in my field so much so that I've started to directly use Quora or stackoverflow.

over 5 years ago

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