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February 1, 2011

Google Results, One of Bing's Ranking Signals

Danny Sullivan has a story about Google's claims that Bing copies Google search results. Google noticed that there's an increasing overlap between the top results at Google and Bing, so it suspected that Microsoft was using Google's results to improve its search engine.
To verify its suspicions, Google set up a sting operation. For the first time in its history, Google crafted one-time code that would allow it to manually rank a page for a certain term (code that will soon be removed, as described further below). It then created about 100 of what it calls "synthetic" searches, queries that few people, if anyone, would ever enter into Google.

These searches returned no matches on Google or Bing — or a tiny number of poor quality matches, in a few cases — before the experiment went live. With the code enabled, Google placed a honeypot page to show up at the top of each synthetic search.

The only reason these pages appeared on Google was because Google forced them to be there. There was nothing that made them naturally relevant for these searches. If they started to appeared at Bing after Google, that would mean that Bing took Google's bait and copied its results.

This all happened in December. When the experiment was ready, about 20 Google engineers were told to run the test queries from laptops at home, using Internet Explorer, with Suggested Sites and the Bing Toolbar both enabled. They were also told to click on the top results. They started on December 17. By December 31, some of the results started appearing on Bing. (...) Only a small number of the test searches produced this result, about 7 to 9 (depending on when exactly Google checked) out of the 100.

Microsoft's engineers probably thought that Google's results were pretty good, so why not use clickstream data from Internet Explorer and Bing Toolbar to monitor the results picked by Google users? It's a clever idea, but not when you're using it to artificially add results from Google. Bing's team says that they use "collective intelligence" to improve search results, so we can assume that a non-negligible amount of intelligence comes from Google. When you're including results just because Google does it, you're trusting Google too much and you implicitly admit that Google offers better results.

Update: Google's Amit Singhal says that "some Bing results increasingly look like an incomplete, stale version of Google results – a cheap imitation" and implies that Bing shows "recycled search results". I think that's an exaggeration and Microsoft has every right to use all the information it has, including analytics data, Bing Toolbar's clickstream, Facebook's popular pages and Twitter's trending topics. Bad mouthing competitors doesn't help Google in the long run.


  1. this is awesome.

    google blogged about it!

  2. Amit Singhal uses strong words:

    "Put another way, some Bing results increasingly look like an incomplete, stale version of Google results — a cheap imitation."

    "We look forward to competing with genuinely new search algorithms out there — algorithms built on core innovation, and not on recycled search results from a competitor. So to all the users out there looking for the most authentic, relevant search results, we encourage you to come directly to Google."

    Microsoft could also complain that Google borrowed the UI for image search and the vertical navigational menu, so maybe "cheap imitation" is too much.

  3. This is just awesome. Bing has to be the worst search engine around. I'd be happy if they started copying googles results

  4. I'm curious to see how this pans out.

    I'm very interested about how Google made the accusation. I wonder if there's something more going on between the two companies (more than the allegations, I mean), beneath the surface.

  5. I hardly use bing, these allegations may spoil Microsoft's reputation.

  6. They mention that people taking part on the experiment were using the Bing toolbar, and were told to click on the top result from Google.

    If I understand correctly, this means that Bing is spying on end users. I find this more perturbing that Bing copying Google results.

  7. venkat said: "I hardly use bing, these allegations may spoil Microsoft's reputation."

    I hope this is meant to be ironic, but irony can sometimes be hard to convey online. As far as I am concerned, Microsoft has no reputation to be spoiled; it's like saying that Kim Kardashian's reputation may be spoiled by coverage in some supermarket tabloid.

  8. A good perspective:

  9. hohohoho...its a good news, come on to uncle google all...hihihihi
    Beben si bloglang anu ganteng kalem tea \m/

  10. But

    Look on the underside and you'll see a made in China sticker.

  11. "Bad mouthing competitors doesn't help Google in the long run."

    You're wrong. They have every right.

    Read: "We’ve invested thousands of person-years into developing our search algorithms because we want our users to get the right answer every time they search, and that’s not easy."

    Microsoft is trying to regain market share in the search world by copying data from Google's core business. The business that made them who they are. Sure, companies "borrow" the occasional layout or even copy services but they don't copy the data directly from the competitor. They try and build their own with their own engineering.

    I think Google has every right to call them out. Especially since it's a company as big as Microsoft. They should be embarrassed by this practice and put an end to it.

  12. I don't think Google really has any legal legs to stand on here. If Bing were screen-scraping Google's results, that would be one thing, but here they are just using their IE/toolbar clickstream logs to improve results, which just so happen to include clickstreams passing through Google's results pages. Microsoft could validly argue that Google could do the same thing vs. Bing via Chrome or the Google toolbar, if they chose to.

    So I think this is basically a tactical play by Google. They're hoping to publicly shame Bing into discontinuing or at least modifying the way they use clickstream data to affect their search results. I think Google recognizes that there is no way Bing would stop this practice if Google just asked them to, so the next best option is the application of PR pressure.

    Perhaps Bing will decide to strip from the clickstreams signals like search keywords used on competing search engines' URLs. That seems like the size of concession Microsoft's ethos would be willing to make. And it's about the most Google could really demand; beyond that Google would be broaching the broader subject of user privacy/permission with respect to clickstream data overall.

  13. Really Google is the victim, hmmmm... come on guys you can't be that naive. It is a shame that all you techie's don't actually see Google for what it is.
    This is about money and Google knows that and this episode stinks of being staged (show me a system that can't be manupulated, and seriously 8 out of 100 is conclusive evidence of OUTRIGHT COPYING)....REALLY ??

  14. As I understand it, it is outright copying because the Google seeded a fake result with absolutely no connection with the search term which then shows up on Bing's result page.

    If Bing was using clickstream data to find out what users are searching for and what results they then click on, that is fine by me as I'm sure other search engines might employ similar tactics/signals. However, the fact that Bing is heavily relying on Google's top result for the fake search term and displaying it on their results page shows that they are not verifying the result against their own algorithms and literally using Google's. That is copying.

    I would very much prefer if Bing would use the clickstream data and then verify the results against those used by its own algorithms. If the results don't match, flag it up for their engineers to look at and investigate.. not just outright copying.

    And yes, it is about the money. It is about the business model. But it's also about the pride of their own search engine. Google's put in the hours to tweaked their algorithms so naturally they would be annoyed if anybody else started literal copying of the results.

    Some argue that only a small number of the tests showed Bing copying Google's result page. However, you have to take into consideration the manner of the tests. Google seeded a fake result with no relation to the search term. There is absolutely no way Bing could show the same results unless they were copying. That, to me, is enough to show that there is something fishy with Bing's algorithms.

  15. Interesting. If one search engine copies another, what's the point of it even existing. Lots of SEO companies optimize only for Google. If this is true about Bing, maybe that's not the worst strategy.

  16. Exactly what Ade said. Even if they're using the clickstream data, they should not just copy it outright.

  17. Well, I believe that MS would be fetching google's search results and publishing on bing...IE feeds fetch that data and get it loaded for BING...its actually sad, but looks very true:


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