We all know that Bing is now powering Yahoo's search results, but a very interesting finding from Danny Sullivan indicates that Google may be powering Bing's search results, at least to some extent. No, this is not in any partnership kind of way like Bing's relationship with Yahoo.
Google has apparently busted Bing copying their search results. Entirely? No, but Google ran a "sting operation" as Sullivan calls it, that seems to show Bing stealing at least top results from Google, by monitoring how Internet Explorer and Bing toolbar users use Google.
Google created some test search results pages returning results for queries that nobody would ever search for, and results that wouldn't make sense for such queries. For example, a query for "hiybbprqag" would return a top result from TeamOneTickets. A query for "mbzrxpgjys" would return RIM's homepage. A query for " indoswiftjobinproduction" would return a result for Sandra Lee Recipes at FoodNetwork.com.
"The only reason these pages appeared on Google was because Google forced them to be there," explains Sullivan. "There was nothing that made them naturally relevant for these searches. If they started to appear at Bing after Google, that would mean that Bing took Google's bait and copied its results."
And that appears to be what happened, as Sullivan points to Bing's results mirroring each of these examples. It's worth noting that Google found that only a handful of the pages tested proved the point but the ones that did seem to prove a pretty big one.
The whole thing is pretty interesting, considering the amount of criticism Google's own search results have received in recent months - some regarding content farms, and some not. Bing does still rank eHow as the top authority for a "level 4 brain cancer" query (like Google).
What's even more interesting, is that Bing hasn't come out and denied any of this, and depending on how you interpret their response, it could even be seen as a near confirmation. Here's what Bing Director Stefan Weitz told WebPronews (essentially the same thing he told Sullivan):
"We use multiple signals and approaches in ranking search results. The overarching goal is to do a better job determining the intent of the search so we can provide the most relevant answer to a given query. Opt-in programs like the toolbar help us with clickstream data, one of many input signals we and other search engines use to help rank sites."
So yeah, I guess what people are clicking on in Google results is a pretty good indication of how people interact with search, given that Google holds such a dominant share of the search market. However, as a competitor, this wouldn't seem to be the most helpful strategy for providing better results.
To be fair, we don't know all of Google's own ranking signals (because they won't reveal them), so who's to say Google isn't looking at search activity in Bing? Well, Google says they're not, flat out, if Google's word is good enough for you.
Bing isn't copying Google's search results entirely...just the ones they think users want the most for such queries, which is apparently the results Google is providing. Sullivan offers a great deal more analysis of the situation, and looks at more in depth into how Microsoft may be obtaining the Google ranking signals.
Sidenote: Internet Explorer owns 56% of the web browser market, according to a new report from Net Applications.
It was clear from the beginning of Bing's existence that it was a direct competitor to Google, but as much of the conversation has turned to Facebook and Apple has Google's arch rivals, Google has continued to maintain that Bing is indeed its main competitor. Bing getting the Yahoo deal that was almost Google's no doubt left a bitter taste in Google's mouth, and Bing recently joined the FairSearch coaltion to try and block the company's proposed acquisition of ITA software.
At the time, Adam Kovacevich, Google Sr. Manager, Global Communications and Public Affairs told WebProNews, "I'm not sure there are any surprises here. Microsoft is our largest competitor and lobbies regulators against every acquisition we make."
Bing may be copying Google search results, but Google has certainly done its share of Bing copying (see design changes that have occurred since Bing's launch, including the addition of the left panel, homepage photos, and image search scrolling features).