Prelude to a Decision Engine
While I would love to compare Bing to other search engines, this article isn’t a comparison of Bing to Google, Yahoo, or any other search engine nor does it serve to endorse Bing or deter users from using it.
It’s simply my take on Bing, Microsoft’s new “decision engine” and whether or not to Bing or not to Bing. If you’d like an actual comparison, you can read the article Microsoft’s Bing Vs Google: Head To Head Search Results. Really good stuff.
Just Another Search Engine…?
Microsoft’s Bing decision engine takes a new approach to searching by using intuitive tools and powerful searching services to help users make faster, smarter decisions.
Along with Bing providing you with results in order of popularity, they also break up results in logical categories and subcategories putting the best match at the top.This allows users to move through the search content efficiently and effectively.
Bing also provides sublinks to Web sites, highlights instant answers, and includes search history, comparisons, and user reviews conveniently on their result pages.
Bing also includes features such as Cashback where they give you money back on products, and Price Predictor which tells you the best time to buy airline tickets in order to get the best price.
So let’s delve into the Bing user experience by discussing searching, shopping, multimedia, maps, and some of my favorite features.
The Search Experience
Bing’s interface takes a pretty minimalistic approach to design that is both intriguing and intuitive.
For example, the search box and the higher-level navigation options are pretty hard to miss on the home page considering their centralized location and distinguishable color scheme in the layout.
Bing’s approach to higher-level categories is also minimalistic since they only offer a limited amount to choose from. While the number of categories is not necessarily important, they have managed to include the right types of categories all mixed with a controlled and discernible vocabulary that makes searching very easy for users.
Of course, it also helps that the home page always offers a pretty engaging, high-resolution image for the background of their main section.
What’s really great about Bing is that the number of steps that it takes to complete your search process is usually pretty straightforward (very minimal and clear) which says a lot about the quality of their information infrastructure and information retrieval system.
While they do include breadcrumbs for navigation, most of the time they are not necessary since you are usually less than a couple of steps away from your starting point at all times.
When I searched for “apples” Bing provided Sponsored sites (no surprise) followed by a Best Match result which was the Apple website. The Best Match result is designed to show the most relevant website in cases where Bing is pretty confident with their results selection.
Bing also provided options such as links to key subsections of the Apple site including its higher-level navigation and customer service numbers.
Even though Bing provided a Best Match result, it also included several fail-safe results to cover categories for the few people that are looking for something a little different. In this case, the fail-safes were necessary since I wasn’t searching for Apple the company but apple the fruit.
These fail-safe results were conveniently located in the left navigation bar which contained links for different related categories including “Apple Fruit” along with “Apple Store”, and “Apple Downloads.”
Anticipating that some searchers might ignore the left navigation fail-safe results, Bing automatically listed those results in the main results section of the page into what they call “Web Groups.”
In addition to these Web Group options Bing also provided results for Related Searches which included such categories as “Types of apples,” “Apple IPOD,” and “Apple Vacations” – all within the left navigation bar.
Essentially Bing keeps in mind the immortal words of Jesse James Garrett by addressing the fact that, “a successful user experience is one in which the user’s expectations are anticipated in advance.”
Keeping this in mind will save users a lot of time in the long run. After all, how much time have you spent trying to configure the right search phrase so that you get the right results?
Of course, there’s also a Visual Search. At this point Visual Search is in Beta stage so you can’t generate a custom search. You have to choose from one of their categories.
Overall it’s pretty cool, especially the manner in which the images are displayed… they refresh automatically in real time. Once they enable the capability to search for any subject then it will truly be a great feature.
The Shopping Experience
When it comes to shopping you will be provided with the norm including sorted results, ratings, and additional options (Categories, Brands, Price ranges, etc).
While I didn’t notice any features such as the ability to compare different products (although you can compare the same product at different vendors), the ability to look at different views of the results (gallery or list), nor the ability to input specific price ranges, Bing does give you the option to filter your results by Popular Features depending upon the product.
This is definitely a time saver and is reminiscent of many stores that are online.
Bing handles its product pages by providing users with tabs to navigate between the different categories such as product details, user reviews, etc. This makes it easy to spot which category page you are on.
On the other hand, they could have also provided all of the information on a single page perhaps using anchor links to take users to specific points on the page instead of taking users to an entirely different page for each tab.
Of course, another great bonus of Bing shopping is that you can receive cash back when you search for products using Bing. You’ll earn a percentage of the product price as “cashback.” Afterwards your savings will be rewarded to you by your choice of a deposit to either a PayPal account, bank account, or a check in the mail.
I’ve signed up for it and it’s pretty straightforward. No surprises as of yet. To see how Cashback works you can check out the appropriately titled article How Cashback Works.
The Multimedia Experience
The biggest change from the norm that you’ll probably see is that when doing an image search, Bing doesn’t offer it’s listings on pages with “next” page links. There is only one results “page” that automatically refreshes, not only the images, but the page numbers as you scroll through the results.
When searching for images Bing offers categories in terms of how you’d like to view them such as large, medium, small, and details. They also provide a lot of breathing room for their images which makes it easy to browse through and differentiate between each image.
One of the things that’s pretty intuitive is that Bing also offers a lot of relevant details on rollover especially when it comes to finding similar images and different image sizes.
The coolest feature by far is that after you’ve chosen an image and are taken to that particular image details page, your search listings remain visible in a scrolling frame on the left side of the layout. This is pretty convenient since you don’t have to go back to the search page in order to choose another image.
Video, on the other hand, is a little different. While Bing offers different sorting options such as Length, Screen Type, and Resolution they automatically play videos on rollover. This can be jarring at first so it may take a bit of getting used to.
The Map Experience
In terms of maps, Bing Maps Beta offers 3D versions. Don’t get too excited. You have to download their software in order to view the 3D versions.
Nevertheless, what’s really nice about Bing Maps is the fact that you can choose from aerial and bird’s eye view maps which show very detailed and accurate imagery as well as the actual street names on rollover. To be able to navigate the map with your cursor and have it refresh in real time is definitely user friendly and convenient.
They also provide options to print, get driving directions, share the map, see current traffic, see Places (which allows you to save and edit locations), or use Map Apps such as Travel Webcam, Hotel Finder, SnowGlobe, Roadside Attractions, and the list goes on!
My favorite feature is probably Bing’s hover or rollover functionality.
For example, once you hover on a result listing you’ll see a short excerpt from that particular page which is usually information that Bing thinks is relevant beyond the standard information that is showing. This can definitely be a time saver since it will help you decide if you want to click through.
One of the most compelling features is Travel search. Essentially you can use their smart travel search to easily compare, sort, and narrow flight and hotel results from hundreds of websites. For example, you can find out if the lowest fare for a trip is rising or dropping over the next seven days and whether you should buy now or wait.
According to Bing they are about 75% accurate and on average, customers will save over $50 on a typical round-trip transaction. There are also Rate Indicators which show you whether the rate for a specific hotel is a deal by comparing the hotel’s current rate to its past rates.
The search history feature is also pretty intuitive since users are not required to sign-in in order to use it. Also, it is conveniently located on the main search results page by default. Instant answers or “direct answers” is also pretty cool since you are given definitions and in some cases synonyms of words as part of your search results.
To Bing or Not To Bing
One trait of an effective structure is its ability to accommodate growth and adapt to change – The Elements of User Experience. Because of this, I would say that Bing is and will continue to be successful as a search engine. Even though I was a skeptic at first, after this I will say that I’ve made Bing my official search engine.
In terms of Bing’s “decision engine” status perhaps they should stick to referring to themselves as a “search engine” until they can make their search process more decision based. For example, check out Hunch. So at the end of the day it really boils down to this… to Bing or not to Bing? That is the question.
According to Bing, its Cashback program has been discontinued and the last day that you could earn cash back on your Bing shopping purchases was July 30, 2010. Well it was good while it lasted. For more information about the Cashback discontinuation click here.