Bing loses its bang with fewer ads

The monthly search engine rankings have become something of a must-read for those who follow the space, with Microsoft's vaunted Bing making huge inroads in the early months since its launch. Of course, Bing's rapid rise was underwritten by a massive $100 million online advertising campaign that essentially took over the Internet. As a result, many marketers and search watchers were wondering what would happen when the ad dollars stopped flowing.

The results are now in. The first real month to be measured for market share after the Bing ad binge was September and the numbers were not great for Microsoft (MSFT). Bing's rapid growth ground to a halt by some measures. By others, Bing actually lost market share.
Sure, in absolute terms Bing continued to grow along with the still growing search market. But the takeaway is clear. Without big ad dollars, Bing is not going to challenge Google (GOOG) for search engine hegemony anytime soon. "They are still up, but as many feared, their growth seems directly tied to advertising spend. The question is can they maintain their new share," says Rob Griffin, SVP of Search at interactive agency MediaContacts (a subsidiary of Havas Group).

One tracking company, Hitwise, pegged a five percent relative drop in Bing's U.S. search market share, falling to 8.9 percent total share. For its part, StatCounter clocked a 1.1 percent drop by Bing to land at an 8.5 percent share. ComScore,a Web measurement company, released its own data on October 14 and it showed a tiny increase for Bing from 9.3 percent to 9.4 percent in September. No matter how you slice it, Bing has not maintained the momentum from its launch hype nor has it gone even moderately viral.

In fact, even its partner Yahoo! (YHOO) (which will convert over to Bing as its primary search provider early next year), continues to cruise along with more market share, according to the measurements. True, Bing has made some solid inroads in key categories such as shopping. But those inroads appear more to be at the expense of Yahoo than at the expense of Google - not exactly the result that Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz was hoping for when she shacked up with Redmond in a multi-billion dollar search deal that effectively killed Yahoo's own richly talented in-house search capability.

Microsoft has lost billions on its online properties over the years and, aside from its very popular HotMail free online email service and the spin-out and subsequent IPO of Expedia (EXPE), has struggled to achieve online escape velocity. Search in particular, has been a bane for Redmond. Even as it pulls away in the category, Google has cemented its position while expanding into key Redmond areas like online email and word processing applications and the Android mobile phone operating system. And Google turned in a rock solid earnings report last week.

No surprise, then, that Microsoft's CEO Steven Ballmer sees Google as his company's primary threat. For his part, Ballmer has said he is staunchly committed to Bing and will do whatever it takes to create a real competitor to Google. Bing has done some interesting things and brought out innovative new search capabilities, such as its visual search (which wowed the crowd at the TechCrunch50 Awards in September). Buyers apparently like Bing, as well. Griffin, of MediaContacts, says that ads running on Bing perform well. "I wish they had more page inventory," says Griffin.

Alas, there's the rub and critical mass appears still rather far away. So after a bright and shiny summer of Bing the cold early days of fall have hammered home that shooting down the Googlestar will take more than a nifty new search product and a big ad campaign.

Alex Salkever is Senior Writer at AOL Daily Finance covering technology and greentech. Follow him on twitter @alexsalkever, read his articles, or email him at

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