The following is a post by Mike Nichols, Corporate Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, Bing.
That Holiday Feeling
Even after Black Friday and Cyber Monday, you might walk the halls around your office at lunchtime and still find a lot of your colleagues shopping online for the holidays.
And they’ll be in good company. This year, according to shop.org, online sales will jump 12 percent over last year to US$96 billion dollars this holiday season. Because nearly half of all that online shopping will start from search engines, we wanted all consumers to understand exactly what happens when they use search to find those deals.
Specifically, we want to alert you to what Google has done with their shopping site right in time for Christmas. Instead of showing you the most relevant shopping search results for the latest coffee maker you’re looking to buy mom, Google Shopping now decides what to show you – and how prominently to display what product offers they show -- based partially on how much the merchant selling the product has paid them. Merchants can literally pay to improve their chances to display their product offers higher than others inside of Google’s shopping “search,” even if it’s not better or cheaper for the consumer. The result of this new “pay-to-rank” system is that it’s easy for consumers to mistake an ad for an honest search. That’s not right, it’s misleading. It’s not what you expect from search, and it’s not how we at Bing think search engines should help consumers get the best prices and selection when shopping.
In short, we think that too many shoppers who use Google for their shopping searches are getting “Scroogled” when they should be getting fair, honest, open search. It’s like Ebenezer Scrooge met Google Shopping. We think consumers should be aware what they’re seeing when they’re shopping online and to understand, without any hidden text or traps, the fine print of what their ‘search engine’ actually searches.
What Consumers Deserve from Search
Search is a relatively new business, but the rules that govern it are old. Success depends on consumer trust, and consumer trust depends on consumers believing that the results they see are both relevant and objective. Users want answers, not just ads.
Objectivity is particularly important in search, because it’s hard for consumers to see what’s going on inside a search engine’s algorithm. As Google’s founders explained when they started their company, search engine bias – the practice of rewarding some companies over others, because they pay you – is “particularly insidious… because it is not clear who ‘deserves’ to be there, and who is willing to pay money to be listed.”
Search engines, like Bing and Google, succeeded because clear separations were kept between your search results and the ads that pay for them.
What Google is Throwing Down the Chimney
Google now wants to break the rules it made it a trusted brand. They argue that the difference between answers and ads is shrinking. “After all,” they recently said, “ads are just more answers to users’ queries.”
You see, Google recently pulled down its “product search service” and replaced it with a “paid listing ads” service. Search for “Canon EOS” in Google Shopping and you receive pages that look like the old days, with “results” down the middle and ads mixed in. But the “results” are also ads. Every product offer within the shopping search results on that page paid to be there, and where and how high they appear is at least in part dependent on how much they paid. Meanwhile, at least one of biggest online retailers refused to pay Google’s new fee, so you won’t see any of their product offers and great holiday deals in shopping results.
And that’s the rub. Shoppers visit the site they have used for years, conduct what they think is a “search,” and get a set of rankings that look like the objective results Google delivers elsewhere. Meanwhile, the lawyers at Google are now calling it a “listing.” They even call out – hidden behind a disclaimer or buried in a footer -- “Payment is one of several factors used to rank these results.” Consumers are potentially getting a raw deal because “relevance” is now influenced by how much Google is getting paid, not just by things that matter to shoppers. We, of course, accept enhanced listings and advertisements just like other search engines. But at Bing, we just feel Google should distinguish ads clearly from search results and not use payment as a factor in ranking shopping search results.
Bing’s Different Approach to Honest Search
Today, Bing renews its commitment to the old rules – to honoring our side of the bargain with shoppers by delivering better, more objectively ranked search results.
We won’t let who pays us for ads or other services affect what you see in your search results. Search results are one thing; ads are another.
We won’t switch to pay-to-rank to allow some shopping search results to appear higher than others. We don’t believe shoppers should risk paying more, simply because they started their search at Google.
We understand that search is evolving, and that’s why we are working hard to make sure all those new kinds of information and services get delivered, clearly and reliably, as either search results or ads.
Bing Launching “Don’t Get Scroogled” Campaign on Behalf of Consumers
To highlight Bing’s commitment to real “search” – and help explain the risks that come from Google’s paid ads that look like search, Bing is launching the “Don’t Get Scroogled” campaign. The effort will help consumers understand Google Shopping’s practice of “pay-to-rank,” where what shoppers are seeing are not search results like they see elsewhere on Google, but are actual ads ranked, in part, by who bids the most.
We are also calling on Google to stop this “pay-to-rank” system for their shopping results and give shoppers what they expect – an honest search.
So for this holiday season, we just want to make sure shoppers know that when searching for that perfect gift for cousin Harry on Google Shopping, the results they are seeing are partially optimized to benefit Google’s revenue, not a shopper’s pocketbook. If this practice has you concerned, then please try Bing for an honest search.