Oct 032010
 

Just because Yahoo Inc.’s U.S. website and Microsoft Corp.’s
Bing are using the same technological ingredients for searching the
Internet doesn’t mean they’re slicing and dicing the results the
same way, too.

Understanding the differences can be helpful, particularly for
people looking for the best alternative to Google Inc.’s dominant
search engine.

The 10-year search partnership between Yahoo and Microsoft still
allows them to cook up different recipes for displaying the
results. Both wanted that flexibility because even though Microsoft
and Yahoo are now teaming up to fight Google, they’re still
competing for traffic (Get 10000 free hits) with each other. The reason: Search requests
yield more opportunities to sell the ads that appear alongside the
results. If a person clicks on one of those ads while searching on
Yahoo, it gets to keep $88 of every $100 in revenue, with the other
$12 going to Microsoft. If a person clicks on an ad while searching
on Bing, Microsoft gets to keep all the money.

Yahoo switched its U.S. and Canadian sites over to Bing’s search
technology in late August to lower its costs and free up more time
and money to focus on building other services. As things evolve,
Yahoo has indicated it will do more things to make its search
results more helpful than Bing’s, but so far, the distinctions have
been subtle.

A review by The Associated Press found the differences between
the search results on Yahoo and Bing mostly have to do with the
ways that the two services compile and display snapshots of key
information at or near the top of the first page.

These additional features supplement the boring blue links to
other sites that have been standard fare on most search services
for the past decade. When it came to those links, along with most
of the photo and video snippets, the results were virtually
identical at Yahoo and Bing.

For the test, the AP entered more than 30 different search
requests at the two sites on topics including sports teams,
holidays, travel requests, business subjects, celebrities and
high-tech gadgetry.

The AP looked only at results that came from typing queries into
the main search boxes on Bing and Yahoo, because that’s the most
common way people find things online. Bing, in particular, has been
heavily promoting its specialty services for travel and shopping as
better ways to search for good deals, but often, people have to
click another link or tab to use them.

Even without digging deeper into its search toolbox, Bing
usually produced the more visually appealing results page. For
instance, Bing offers more photo thumbnails on its first results
page, as well as more video previews that can be played on the site
by hovering over them with the computer’s cursor.

Yahoo consistently showed fewer photo thumbnails and video
capsules on the first page. What’s more, the video capsules within
Yahoo’s search results usually required clicking through to the
site where the clip was being hosted. Yahoo also didn’t post any
explanations about where the video clips came from or what they
were about, something that Bing did.

Another Bing advantage: Its site tends to offer more suggestions
for other searches likely to be related to the initial request.
Bing also provides a pane just to the right of the results that, as
a reader scrolls down, provides a glimpse of key information from
each site in the list. Even when Yahoo’s results featured all the
same links, there was no way to get more information without
clicking on the link.

Bing also seemed to bring more pizzazz to its results, such as
when the AP searched for “Halloween.” The recommendations were
separated into different categories – “Halloween Decorations,”
“Halloween DVD,” and “News: Halloween” – that were highlighted in
orange. That’s a nice holiday-themed touch that Yahoo lacked.

Yahoo excels when the requests are about entertainers, star
athletes or sports teams. In these instances, Yahoo led off the
results with a box containing a picture of the person or team logo,
along with biographical information. For entertainers, the box also
featured songs and video. In an apparent bias that might bother
some people, Yahoo pulls some of this data from its own services,
such as Rivals.com for requests about some sports subjects.

Bing provided similar summaries on the same search requests,
although they didn’t seem to be as comprehensive as Yahoo’s. An
exception came when looking up Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and
Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz. Bing produced a handy biography about each
executive, including their birthdates. Yahoo didn’t do that, not
even for Bartz.

Expect to see Yahoo attempt to cram even more information about
prominent people in its summary boxes. The company plans to unveil
a new design for the boxes later this fall.

Some of the attempts to stand out proved to be more embarrassing
than engaging. For instance, when the AP asked for a list of the
best search engines, Yahoo’s results led off with a row of five
images that included pictures of vintage locomotives, a steam
engine and two images of cold medicine.

That kind of incongruous result is the sort of thing that will
send more people to Bing or, even more likely, Google.

AT A GLANCE

An AP review found Bing usually offers more photo and video
thumbnails. Yahoo excels on requests about entertainers, star
athletes and sports teams.

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