Bing takes on Google in fight for holiday shoppers
(CNN) – If Black Friday lines and stories of violence, vehicular assault and child abandonment taught us anything, it’s that the holiday online shopping season is a dark and competitive time for all online shops.
Now search engines are getting into the cutthroat holiday spirit. In a new attack on google shopping, Microsoft’s Bing search engine accuses its rival’s Google Shopping tool of being dishonest by only including paying vendors, ranking listings, as we search for shopping websites by how much they pay, and not clearly marking the results as sponsored.
To make its point in the online shopping war Bing has launched a detailed site accusing Google Search of unsavory business practices and coined a new word: Scroogled.
“In the beginning, Google preached, ‘Don’t be evil’ – but that changed on May 31, 2012. That’s when Google Shopping announced a new initiative. Simply put, all of their online shopping results are now paid ads,” reads the campaign’s mission statement. It goes on to say “when you limit choices and rank them by payment, consumers get Scroogled.
The accusations are based on real changes to the whole “online shopping” experience. To appear in Google Shopping results, the online store and merchants must now pay for Google’s Product Listing Ads for any inclusion in the comparison shopping market.
The company publicly announced the switch from free listings and free advertising online to a paid-inclusion system in May, and the transition was completed on October 17 in the United States. The new Google Shopping will roll out in more countries starting in February, so what will be the resulting costs to the humble “online store” and indeed any comparison shopping we might want to do?
As the old saying goes, people – or search engines – in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Bing may have a good point about Google, but it’s guilty of a similar crime. It also has merchant partnerships and bing shopping, the most notable of them being with eBay’s Shopping.com. The two began working together in September of last year for the following purpose:
“With this new partnership we are making the following changes to benefit you [Shopping.com] and the Bing Shopper: [including] High visibility: Paid offers will be highlighted throughout Bing Shopping, including search result and product pages. Look for additional visibility, such as exposure within Bing’s editorial content and rich product ad placements in the near future. We are prioritizing offers ingested from Shopping.com for these new opportunities”
But how does Bing Shopping’s algorithm give us the results exactly? Microsoft were asked but only returned nothing but PR spin. Weitz said that……
“Bing includes millions of free listings from merchants and rankings are determined by which products are most relevant to your query. While merchants can pay fees for inclusion in our third party shopping sites and subsequently may appear in Bing Shopping through partnerships we have, we do not rank merchants higher based on who pays us, nor do we let merchants pay to have their product offers placed high in Bing Shopping’s search results.”
Bing, like any other search product, won’t discuss its algorithm in any more detail, (nothing new there), other than explaining that its system crawls the Web and data from its feeds give us the online shopping results.
What this means for you & me
So what does this all mean for our shopping online experience, and we the consumer desperate to get our holiday shopping done?
Basically, we must choose between two evils:
Both Google Shopping and Bing Shopping partner with online stores or merchant outlets and promote sponsored online products. Neither of search engines will get very specific, although Google’s phrasing that it’s “compensated by these shopping sites and online stores [and] payment is one of several factors used to rank these results” seems to me that a high number, or all, of its top search results are essentially ads, while Bing specifically says it doesn’t factor in who pays what for its results.
And you can see that when you just use each platform’s search engine for products, Google includes a “Sponsored” label, whereas Bing doesn’t. With Google, you know things are paid to be there, and with Bing, the distinction isn’t as clear – although it says this isn’t part of how it gets results anyway.
OK, it’s splitting hairs, really. Bing uses a pay-to-be-listed model, and Google uses pay-for-positioning – both methods are shady, and shows that online shopping is anything but a fair.
When Bing says payment isn’t a factor, that isn’t quite true: You can pay for Shopping.com to be listed on Bing Shopping. You can’t, however, pay to show up on page one.
Over at Google, how much you pay will be considered (among many other signals that we aren’t privy to).
Google has gone whole hog on pay-to-play with its Google Shopping product, which can be a risky decision for a search engine that once prided itself on its fairness. Yes, it’s being transparent (although plenty of users will never hit the “Why these products?” icon), but Google is only as good as its reputation.
Whether you are looking for a news story or an answer to a question or where to buy a Boba Fett bathrobe (it exists and it is magnificent), I want unbiased results when I am shopping online regardless of what Google banner tab I’ve clicked. Plenty of users think they are getting the same experience, but there are different rules and regulations and ranking systems depending on whether you hit “News,” “Shopping,” “Search,” and so on.
Bing is by no means above all of this, but the point of the Scroogle campaign (in addition to blasting a main competitor and getting some eyeballs on Bing Shopping) is to highlight something that the biggest search engine in the world changed back in the summer and only recently implemented. Maybe it changes how you search for products online, and maybe it doesn’t – either way, Google needs to be more clear about its methods, and so does Bing.
As a searcher, you won’t find products sold directly through Amazon on Google Shopping because Amazon won’t pay. That’s a loss for searchers, and one that Google could fix by ensuring that Amazon and any important merchants are carried for free (Bing, by the way, reports it does carry Amazon for free)
One last note. I thought it was somewhat surprising that Bing went with the “Scroogled” name when you consider that until earlier this year, there was a long-standing “Scroogle” search engine that goes way back to 2003. This came about as a protest over the ranking changes (sound familiar), at Google that seemed designed, by some, to boost its bottom line.
Bing could have come up with a different name don’t you think?
Other topics you might find Interesting:
- Bing trumps Google on finding what you actually need
- Bing increases search share at Google’s expense
- Bing makes up ground on Google, accounts for 30 percent of all searches during March
- Bing’s Facebook integration to expand
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