In terms of hard numbers Google is still the leader in the search engine market, certainly in the US, UK and many parts of Western Europe, but that doesn’t stop Microsoft’s Bing from pulling out all the stops to gain some ground. 

Here are five important ways in which Bing might just be starting to get an edge on Google.

Bing’s partnership with Facebook gives it a boost in social search

We are constantly being told that search is going social, so Bing’s partnership and integration with Facebook – the world’s biggest social network – could potentially materialize into a big advantage over Google.

In its latest announcement Bing reveals how it has enhanced the way it takes and uses data from Facebook (such as Likes and interests) to create personalised search results.  So if you are looking at shopping results (and you are logged into Bing) then it will tell you which pages have been Liked by which friends.  It will also use Facebook data about your interests to bring specific pages higher up.

Here’s what Qi Lu, director of Microsoft Online Services, says about the integration:

Bing and Facebook are collaborating to create a search experience that doesn’t exist at the moment. What’s missing from search is the trusted opinion of people you value.

There are still industry debates about whether Likes do add a level of trust and whether they’re all that valuable in the context of search.

But if social is going to play a role in search, then having access to Facebook’s data (which Google doesn’t have), gives Bing the advantage of being able to try new techniques and models for marrying the two areas. That’s got to be a major plus.

Bing is expanding its partnerships in mobile

In May this year Research in Motion (RIM) announced that Bing will become the global default search engine on all new BlackBerry phones, along with the BlackBerry Playbook tablet. It will be closely integrated with the operating system, demonstrating the depth of the relationship between RIM and Microsoft.

This news follows Microsoft’s highly publicised alliance with Nokia, which will see the Finnish giant move to Windows Mobile-based phones, all of which run Bing as the default search engine.

Add in that Microsoft has also struck deals direct with carriers (such as Verizon in the US) to make Bing the search engine for some Google Android-based phones and you can see a concerted push into the mobile market.

This is important because mobile surfing is expected to increase dramatically in coming years, with a large slice of this likely to be focused around search – such as looking for the nearest bank/petrol station when you’re out and about or comparing prices on the web against physical in-store goods. 

Bing’s iPad app has been given a big thumbs up

While Apple includes Google as the default search engine for its Safari browser, the Bing for iPad app has been roundly praised by the industry as providing a more complete experience than Google’s equivalent app and really maximizing the benefits of the high resolution touchscreen device.

You’d assume that the first wave of iPad users are technology innovators who will be willing try new things, so Microsoft will be hoping that they try Bing on the iPad and then migrate to it on other devices…and maybe influence their friends and colleagues too. 

Bing is thought by some to have a tighter privacy policy than Google

The issue of data privacy is growing in importance as people wake up to the wide range of information that is available about them on the web. Regular media stories about high profile hacking attacks means more people will want to control their online footprint. 

This may give Bing an advantage because some experts have said that its privacy policy is tighter. 

In fact, in late 2009, Asa Dotzler, an executive from Mozilla (a Microsoft rival when it comes to browsers of course) felt so strongly that Bing is better on privacy than Google that he alerted readers of his personal blog to instructions on how to switch Firefox’s default search engine from Google to Bing.

Microsoft is bringing Bing to the Xbox

Microsoft’s Xbox is much more than a games console. For many users it acts as the gateway to the internet from their living room, making it a central part of their online experience. 

So the news that Microsoft is making a version of Bing available for the Xbox opens up a potentially huge new market.

While Bing will initially offer a limited range of search types, you can expect that to increase in line with user adoption. And again, after using Bing on one device people may well adopt it on other platforms, and help boost market share.

Google has been way ahead for quite some time now – and has done so many things right, that it’s difficult to say whether Bing will ever be able to catch up. 

And it’s worth noting that Bing has only been able to gain some critical market share in the US so far (where Bing plus Yahoo – which is powered by Bing’s search engine – jointly have around 30%), while Google has a very dominant 90% + share in most European countries.

So part of Google’s global success is partly down to its commitment to investing in international versions of its products and quick penetration of countries outside the US. Bing will definitely need to add internationalisation to its plans if it is to get closer to its rival.

But at least the intense competition between the two is fuelling innovation and change and is great entertainment for industry watchers.