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Check out the transcript of our conversation with Debra Northart.

Earlier this year Microsoft sought out to tackle their latest endeavor in the search engine industry and introduced “Bing”. Looking to take a stand against the powerhouse that Google has become, Bing hopes to make an effective impact on the search engine industry. The introduction of Bing has raised the eyebrows of many in the search engine community, which is why TM felt it was necessary to retrieve some professional insight on the topic.

BingTM recently sat down with someone very knowledgeable, in the search engine industry, Debra Northart to discuss what she thinks about the advent of Bing and how it will fit in the search engine culture.

Debra is Director of Media Operations for the company WebVisible. They provide software solutions to help small companies develop their interactive advertising online. WebVisible has received numerous awards, in 2007/2008 they received engineering software company of the year, and internet product of the year. She has also done extensive work for the New York Times, AT&T, and local insight media representing more than 85,000 small businesses to medium enterprise initiatives.

Debra is also a writer for Search Engine Land, where she wrote an article that was titled “Can Bing change the culture of online search?” which tackles issues of how Microsoft is trying to find its way in the search industry.

Debra started out by discussing her experience at SMX Advanced, which was held in Seattle at the beginning of June. SMX Advanced directly corresponded with the release of Bing. At the conference Microsoft set up displays that demonstrated how Bing worked on big screens. While standing next to a woman Debra asked her, “What do you think?” The woman seemed intrigued gazing at the demonstration and replied, “It’s pretty neat, but it’s Microsoft so it probably isn’t going anywhere.” She then paused turned her head toward Debra and said, “Now if it were Google,” and left it hanging in the air.
Debra Northart Quote
“It made me think how I’ve encountered a lot of people who, while they love using Google as a search engine, also ran into concerns or various issues about the tremendous attention that’s paid to Google almost exclusively,” stated Northart.

Northart stated that when trying to buy media, if all of her customers only know about Google than this makes it tough for her to buy cost efficiently, cost effectively, across a variety of different platforms, such as, Bing. If it were not for change in the industry we wouldn’t have things like Google. How do you begin to shake up the mindset so that people are more receptive to new opportunities, new ideas, new innovations, and something that is so concrete?

“Well I think that if Bing is really going to be successful it’s got a couple of pretty significant tasks before it. It’s got to persuade people that using Bing is going to provide them something that’s different and better than what Google can currently provide,” stated Northart.

Right now may not be the most opportune time for Bing to dive into the search engine world, depending on different perspectives. However, one has to look at Bing the way their searches are produced and the differences between using it as an everyday search engine opposed to how a publisher might use it for a website, based on performance. The differences their have to be significant enough to cancel out the misconceptions and intrigue users to come back to use it again.

“I think anything is a potential threat. But I think that anything that Bing has to offer is a potential threat. The operative word there is potential because if they cannot get users to go to Bing and to discover what is there, all of the wonderful features in the world are going to be unimportant,” stated Northart.

The big obstacle that stands in the way of Bing, is getting people to pay attention to it. Microsoft is promoting Bing as something more than a search engine despite the buzz Google has in the consumer market. Everyone wants to Google; the search engine has turned itself into a direct synonym for search. Instead of someone saying, “Can you search for a restaurant?” You might here them say, “Can you Google a restaurant?” People just aren’t Yahooing and Binging as much as they are Googling.

“I think that Microsoft needs to consistently promote the usage and the benefits of Bing as a really basic service before they can truly expect people to look at the more enhanced features that they may be able to provide. Because if nobody’s going there it won’t matter,” stated Northart.

Bing is referring to itself more as the decision engine than a search engine. This could cause problems for people who might get confused on what exactly a decision engine is. However, everyone knows what a search engine is and that is where Google hits the spot. It is going to be very hard for Bing to educate consumers and help them relearn, when they already know Google.

“It’s differentiated, or should be differentiated from people who work in online advertising, such as the company I work for. We’re trying to put ad placements on Google and Yahoo and Bing and other providers in order to generate traffic to merchant websites so that they get business. And so you have sort of a twofold component, two different constituencies that are interested in using and talking about Google and Bing, for example,” stated Northart.

While one market attack with Bing is to reach out and get to the consumers, the other one may need to take a look at people like Debra Northart and TM. The people who are asking, “How much does it cost for an ad here? And how much advertising is going to be generated for a client?” If the traffic is not being generated then a client is not going to want their advertisement placed there. Clients want their advertisements to be where they know consumers are going to see them and if all the consumers are looking at Google, then the ads have to be placed there.

“Now for volume of searches for the month of August, Google is sitting at just over 70%. And Bing is just under 10%. Yahoo falls in there at just about 17%. So there’s an enormous disparity between the kind of search volume that each of those engines are generating,” stated Northart who got these percentages from Hitwise.

The merger between Microsoft and Yahoo hopes to raise their search volume somewhere in the vicinity of 26-30% in attempt to compete with Google. If those numbers can be reached than it will require a little bit more attention in terms of media buying. If the consumers are strictly just paying attention to Google than that is where most media dollars are going to be spent unless there is path to buying media elsewhere that will be beneficial to them. But it is going to have to be something that is demonstrated and shown to work before businesses and consumers can be convinced Bing is a viable alternative to Google.

Overall, Debra Northart believes it is too soon to say exactly how much impact Bing is going to have on the search engine culture. The variables are overwhelming, but that does not mean they cannot be conquered. It is all tied together and at this point is going to be very difficult to untangle the threads of what will happen, based on speculation. In the end it is going to come down to the proven results whether Bing has a chance with Google. These results will rely on a variety of information such as, analytics, who is going where to get what they want, and how cost effective it is. At this point all we can do is wait and see if Bing can find their niche to compete with Google.

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