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When Bing Gets Paid For Shopping Results, It’s A “Happy Accident”

An interview with Microsoft's Senior Director of Search

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When Bing Gets Paid For Shopping Results, It’s A “Happy Accident”
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Last month, Bing launched an attack campaign against Google Shopping, called “Don’t Get Scroogled“. Microsoft’s search engine has consistently been calling out Google’s recent transition form an anyone-can-get-in-for-free approach to a paid inclusion approach for Shopping results, as well as how Google has chosen to disclose this to consumers.

Do you prefer Bing’s business practices to Google’s when it comes to shopping results? Let us know in the comments.

We had a chance to have a conversation about this with Stefan Weitz, Senior Director of Search at Microsoft, who tells us the Scroogled campaign has been working.

“Millions of people have visited scroogled.com and viewed the videos that outline how Google is no longer offering honest shopping search,” Weitz tells WebProNews. “Tens of millions of people have seen our television ads, print ads and online efforts. How is it all working? I can tell you that the campaign is accomplishing what we want – helping people more informed about what they are seeing in search and how what Google once called a ‘particularly insidious’ practice is now status quo for their shopping experience.”

Here are the Scroogled videos:

“I can also tell you the number of inbound requests for interviews and more information has exploded as people understand the issue more completely,” says Weitz. “Last, we now even have some merchants who have contacted us to talk about how the new Google Product Listing Ads experience has negatively affected their businesses.”

But we’ve heard Bing’s side of the story numerous times now, from the campaign itself, and from other articles about it. Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land wrote a piece, concluding that Bing is “guilty of the same problems” it calls out Google for.

We asked Weitz what he’d like readers to know that they haven’t heard before. “I’d tell readers to look at this third party study that outlines what is happening to product selection on Google as a result of their shift to paid ranking,” he says.

Actually, we did link to that before, but feel free to check it out again.

“I’d also tell them to look to Google for more honest responses about what they are really doing,” Weitz adds. “Their only response to the campaign was fraught with errors and misstatements whether, intentional or not, misleading readers.”

“Finally, I’d tell people to look beyond the core issue here and think about the bigger picture,” he says. “They’ve already abandoned one of their core principles that made them a trusted consumer brand and are now trading on that goodwill while surreptitiously changing the rules of their game. What’s next as their margins continue to get squeezed as more usage shifts to lower monetization mobile queries?”

We asked Weitz to explain why he believes Sullivan’s article is wrong about Bing. He says he’s talked to Sullivan several times about this.

“While he makes some good points about ensuring all sites do a great job with disclosure, he and I simply disagree on the core issue,” Weitz tells us. “The problem with Google’s Shopping results is that they look like search. They act like search. But everything one sees in the ‘search’ experience is bought and paid for.”

“In stark contrast, we simply don’t take money in exchange for ranking. Period,” he says. “The vast majority of our product listings come either from free feeds given to us by merchants and our crawler. Yes, it’s harder. Yes, it costs us more money to make sure we offer a quality shopping experience. But at least it’s still real search.”

“One of Danny’s issues is that we accept feeds from third party aggregators like Shopping.com and PriceGrabber,” Weitz continues. “A merchant may pay to have their products listed in one of those third party sites. We, in turn, get feeds from those sites to make sure we have a complete product offering catalog. And if a customer happens to buy a product from a merchant who has paid one of the third party shopping sites to be listed, we do get a portion of that click revenue. But – and this is important – we DO NOT take into account the fact a merchant paid a third party when we rank our product offers. If we manage to get paid, it’s a happy accident. Unlike Google, it isn’t our business model.”

On the Bing Shopping “Getting Started” page, which Sullivan displayed in his article, Bing lists one of the benefits of listing through shopping.com as:

“Higher visibility: Paid offers will be highlighted throughout Bing Shopping, including search result and product pages.”

Here’s that part highlighted on the page:

Bing Shopping - Getting Started

It kind of sounds like if you want higher visibility, you can pay to have offers highlighted throughout Bing Shopping, including search results (and product pages).

We asked Weitz, “Does this not mean that you get higher visibility in shopping results when you pay?”

“No,” he says. “It means you MIGHT be listed as our ‘Sponsored Offer’ above our organic product listings or on the right rail of ads. All of which are clearly marked as ads.”

Perhaps they might want to take another look at the wording. It’s also worth noting that on that page, they’re recommending that method of getting listed (“We recommend this method for the following benefits”). It’s also the first one listed (ahead of submitting a feed to Bing directly).

Back in the summer, Sullivan wrote a letter to the FTC, calling for an industry-wide transparency review regarding how search engines display paid listings. At the time, we asked Google if they would support such a review. Google said, “Consumers benefit from clear labeling in search results, and we have always clearly disclosed which links are paid advertisements. That said, not all search engines clearly disclose paid results, so we would support a fresh look by the FTC at search labeling and transparency practices.”

We asked Microsoft/Bing at the time as well. They said, “No comment.” We asked Weitz about this.

He now says, “Microsoft is mindful of and complies with all applicable laws. We are willing to work with the FTC on relevant matters, including search engine labeling and transparency, and respect the FTC’s role on the issue.”

Bing is not the only one who doesn’t like Google’s transition to paid inclusion for Google Shopping. There have indeed been plenty of users and businesses complaining about it. We’ve seen it in our own article comments.

Interestingly, even former Googler Vanessa Fox, who is credited with creating Google’s Webmaster Central, has expressed concern about Google’s shift. In a recent interview, she told WebProNews, “I’m not super happy about the shift to paid placement in product search. I can see the rationale of why they did it, but doesn’t reflect the stated mission all that well.”

While we had Weitz, he thought we’d see what he had to say about a couple of other recent developments. For one, as you may know, Google has altered its SafeSearch feature in the U.S. to a great deal of outcry. We’ve seen some people say they would start using Bing because of it.

“I’d say this is what happens when a single player commands a huge share of a market – they can do things consumers don’t want and they can do it with relative impunity,” Weitz says.

NORAD, which has been tracking Santa at Christmas time with Google for years, made the jump to Microsoft this year (though Google is still tracking Santa on its own).

Weitz says, “I have watched NORAD tracks Santa for years with my daughter who is now 8 and I can’t tell you the number of times she asked me why Santa was using Google as he flew over the world. I’m glad this year I won’t have to tell her it’s because Santa gets a kickback from Google Shopping.”

Of course, Google didn’t migrate to the paid inclusion model until this year, so there’s no reason he would have had to tell her that in the past, but point taken.

Does Bing have a legitimate point with its attack on Google Shopping? Let us know what you think.

When Bing Gets Paid For Shopping Results, It’s A “Happy Accident”
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  • Gordon Sheidler

    How does YAHOO SEARCH conduct business?

  • http://www.gamblingandgaming.com Backrubber

    It seems to me to be a little hypocritical for Google to allow companies to influence Google’s SERPs by letting them pay for a better placed position in shopping results. Aren’t Google always blabbering on about how bad it is when companies buy links on web pages that have a high page rank in the hope of improving their rankings. Both are wrong, but you can’t condemn one (the one that Google does not profit from), and promote the other (the one the Google does profit from). I guess it just shows that if you’re as big and powerful as Google is, you can make up the rules and kid yourself that they’re fair !

  • http://www.bloketoys.co.uk BlokeToys

    Bing is by far the cleanest player in the SE market right now. Google is quite literally a hypocrite, complaining to webmasters about advertising on their sites and lowering their position if thy DARE to break any of Google’s rules, while lying to their searchers and offering paid inclusion.

    How long before this is their modus operandi across all search with Google? Will I see my pages sink to be replaced by global corporations who can afford to pay Google a bigger fee to dominate the industry?

    We’re ordered by almighty Google to comply and make the user experience perfect, or we’ll be punished, while they lie to their own users about the results they are being served, themselves providing an atrocious user experience.

    So, we have a big powerful company attacking webmasters for advertising on their own websites, who then gain a bigger market share through that instruction and add their own paid inclusion into their search engine! They are “scroogling” you twice!

    Yahoo! demands that you jump through hoops and pay them stupid money to even be considered – and so most webmasters consider it irrelevant.

    Bing is the only one supplying honest search results, and without making unreasonable demands on webmasters, or lying to their searchers.

    Google is too powerful, too dictatorial and acts like a vengeful God displeased with its subjects.

  • John Doo

    Broke Toys is 100% right about
    Google is quite literally a hypocrite, complaining to webmasters about advertising on their sites and lowering their position if thy DARE to break any of Google’s rules.

    Google want to be the only one on the net, when they offer you a 100$ to advertise, it is in fact to bost their revenues. They not care about you and your site. They plays alway with their PR ranking algorythm to bring the big up and the others down.

    They surely not have only friends …

    I will alway support Bing and anyone’s else except google.

    and no, this is not because you have a low google PR that you can’t be seen on the net.

  • http://www.enviroequipment.com Enviro Equipment Inc.

    In my opinion, Danny Sullivan is right; Bing is guilty of virtually the same thing they’re accusing Google of doing. Whether or not it’s Bing’s business model, the fact is that they’re still getting paid for a listing even though it appears as organic.

    • YM

      Well then you need to go back to first grade and stay there until you know better. Which part of these two systems do you not understand? Google gets paid to rank, Bing does not. If Bing gets a commission it’s NOT because they ranked a paid result higher, while Google gets a commission BECAUSE they ranked something higher. Furthermore, since you obviously haven’t noticed, Danny Sullivan is constantly defending every Google move and is often times the first person to speak with them. Hint hint!

      • http://scottferguson.com.au Scott Ferguson

        “Higher visibility: Paid offers will be highlighted throughout Bing Shopping, including search result and product pages.”
        ~ Bing Shopping “Getting Started”

        Shill much?

  • http://saeolincoln.co.uk SEO Lincoln

    Hi,

    I agree with all the comments – Google is totally hypocritical in do not try and manipulate the search results, unless you are paying Google to do so on your behalf. Google has only one interest and that is the balance sheet.

  • http://allbrands-hottubandspa.com Steve Cee

    G+ = FaceBook & Google Shopping = Amazon & Google Offers = Groupon …
    Comming soon Google Auctions ?? In my opion the only way for any
    search engine to properly handle paid shopping listings is to completely seperate them from organic results with a link that is
    clearly marked “PAID ADVERTISMENTS” ie “Search the Web” & “Search Paid Advertisments”

  • Tom Naff

    The truth is that Google’s search engine no longer returns the most relevant results. No longer can the user discover the lowest available price on an item by using Google Shopping. When users begin to realize they are not getting what they are searching for…they’ll search somewhere else. Then Google’s greed will bear negative fruit and they’ll either return to the practices that made them great…or they’ll die on the vine! I have switched my default search engine to Bing and I’m sure I’m not alone.

  • http://www.topdslrcameras.yakosi.com/ Kamaeni

    How many I pay for Advertise

  • http://www.graciousstore.com Nina

    I’m glad Bing’s campaign is yielding positive results. At it makes users aware that they may not be getting the best search results from Google so they can use another search engine and then compare their results

  • Fran

    I find what Google has done to product search to be deceitful. I have switched my default searches to Bing and make sure all my friends are aware of what Google has done. Almost everyone I tell is not happy and also change to another search engine.

  • Guy

    google want all money of the world!!! Don’t be scroogled!

    • Cynical17

      Google and Bing are both businesses, and business is about money. However the ethics of Google’s recent change in its Safe Search has dramatically limited and distorted the results one can receive regardless of any degree of specific search terms.

      My switch to Bing is about accurate and complete information. I am not naive in thinking Bing is idealistically motivated. (Microsoft does not enjoy the best reputation…) But the results I get are better, by far.

      Competition is a good thing in the business world. Perhaps this situation will sitmulate some young thinking innovator to come up with something even better.

  • awesomesauce

    BING SUCKS!!!!!!!!!

    period.

  • No to Scroogle

    I recently switched my search engine from Google to Bing. It looks interesting so far.
    What made me switch is that too many times my search results showed irrelevant stuff (from marketers) or included stuff I searched for a while ago (that I didn’t want to find again). Google’s technology is going down hill….. and I couldn’t stand having to redo my searches every time, or having to clear my search history each time. BYEBYE GOOGLE.

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