Last week, Bing announced the most significant update to its platform since its launch three years ago, by introducing a new social structure to its search results.
Microsoft has had the jump on Google for quite some time now when it comes to privileged social data, winning both the Twitter fire-hose deal and enjoying a cozy relationship with Facebook. And with Tweet and Like counts clearly poised to be the new relevancy king-maker signals, the most surprising thing about yesterday’s announcement is that it took so long.
In fact, a week prior to the announcement, it appeared Microsoft took a step backwards, reverting to an old familiar top-ten look for results. This turned out to be clean-up in preparation for pop-out panels, which allow for enhanced results and apps, and a right-rail for social. In this new scheme, the pop-out panels can provide shopping or reservation apps right on location to satisfy the user onsite.
Significant changes to the platform include the addition of “snapshot” and “social” bars to SERPs. Natural search links will remain on the left side of the page, similar to what was rolled out in last week’s UI Update. This section will still include the “gutter” at the far left of the screen.
The snapshot bar will be immediately to the right of natural links and will leverage APIs to populate data related to your search. The social bar on the far right will house social networks that the searcher opts-in to connect to (i.e. – Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Foursquare, and LinkedIn). This bar will take information from these services and display content relevant to the search query. The bar is divided into three sections: People Who Might Know (it will take info from your friends and say how it matches your query), People Who Know (will leverage experts specializing in the query area that may or may not be a direct social connection to the searcher), and Activity (shows curated posts from your social network).
Bing’s new Search Page Layout
The social bar will require you to be logged in with Facebook, and will present the searcher with members of their own social circles, ranked and displayed based on the query and the like/tweet connections to search results. This scheme is much like Google+, except for the data Bing is leveraging and how it’s presented. Whereas Google “combs it in” vertically, interweaving your social connections directly with the search results, Bing lines it all up in these vertical panels, clearly leveraging all the horizontal screen real estate of the new widescreen desktop monitors. Let’s not forget that the social bar does require a login on Bing, just as Google+ does on Google.
Bing’s social inclusion intensifies the war over where discussions live. While Google had to invent their own new place for this integration, Bing is able to tap existing Facebook communities, which may provide a far easier transition.
What does this mean?
With this update, Bing is aiming to crack social-network searching. The right hand side of the screen is the most important part of this update. Bing is trying to out-social Google and combat Search Plus Your World by leveraging its exclusive partnership with Facebook and the APIs from partners (LinkedIn, Twitter) and competitors. While Bing describes this update, which lives under the slogan, “stop searching and start doing”, as the social crux necessary to deliver people information they trust, the changes are more likely an attempt to take what people love most about social and apply it to search in order to grow market share and differentiate itself from Google.
Ads on the right hand rail are likely going to get some (unwelcome) company. Details are still forthcoming, but the thought is that rail ads will be in the snapshot area. The ads will likely be above the content populated by “snapshot”, but they could also be below the content. In addition, contextual pop-ups from the natural bar or the social bar could cover the ads (for example, the screenshot above shows Sara Davis’s Facebook info covering an Orbitz ad).
Keep a closer eye on performance of ads in positions that appear in the right rail. Given that this area is about to get more crowded, your ad could be lost in the content or be completely covered. If that happens, ads not in top position and could see lower CTRs.
Maintain a strong presence in social. The “People Who Might Know” section in the social bar is going to be a great opportunity for brands that have an active social presence. Social posts that relate to search topics will be more likely to show up in the Social bar if the brand’s community is active and engaged. This means that brands should create a social presence that provides value to their community. As a consequence, social advertising and community efforts will need to increasingly focus on engaging users, not just acquiring fans.
Let us know what you think of these changes in the comments below!
– By Mike Levin and Kenny Hamner