Ed Ling: chief media officer, DigitasLBi
Ed Ling: chief media officer, DigitasLBi
A view from Ed Ling

Bing turns five, but is there anything to celebrate?

The fifth birthday of Microsoft's Bing search engine puts us all in a strange but familiar position, writes Ed Ling, chief media officer at DigitasLBi.

For one thing, as Bing struggles on in its seemingly impossible quest to steal share from Google, it still feels incongruous to be offering pitying encouragements to a company as vast as Microsoft.

Bing can rise to the challenge when the conditions are right. In the US, where Bing is at its strongest and most focused, it claims 18% of search.

For another, as young Bing reaches its half-decade, we’re all repeating the same easier-said-than-done wisdom we cooed over its cot in 2009: do your own thing, be different, be fearless - just make sure you’re enormously popular too.

Different but not as popular

Bing initially took the former advice, but that hasn’t helped greatly on the latter front, in Europe at least.

Bing has undoubtedly innovated, prioritising form and good looks and pushing images and videos well before Google did so. Its reward has been shares of not much more than 5% or 6% in numerous markets where Google claims the better part of 90%. Where Bing does manage to lead, Google wastes little time in following, and often improving.

But still, just as it did five years ago, the advertising world needs Bing to provide the strongest possible competition for Google, for the sake of inventory, fresh options, outsider creativity.

What's more, we know that Bing can rise to the challenge when the conditions are right. In the US, where Bing is at its strongest and most focused, it claims 18% of search, even if its recent gains have mainly come at the expense of smaller rivals, rather than Google.

Visibility needs improving

Outside the US, Bing could do with a great deal more profile, and a lot more users. Its relationship with Apple, which favours Bing for Siri and for its redesigned Spotlight search feature, helps on the numbers front.

But if you don’t know you’re using Bing when you use those services, Microsoft isn’t much further ahead in its mission to challenge the western world’s deeply ingrained preference for Google. Bing needs more visible partnerships too, and greater visibility across the Microsoft user base, from Windows to Skype to Xbox.

Staying innovative

After what might be regarded as a lull, Bing is still innovating, particularly in mobile, which is one sector that could feasibly provide Microsoft with the sort of quantum leap it requires.

Bing is the default search engine in an immense number of phones, and its socially-influenced results and smart search ads, formatted for the modern touch experience, give it a window of opportunity in a huge, fast-moving market.

So, happy birthday Bing. Keep on doing what you’re doing, only more so. And don’t let the world get you down. Your daddy’s rich, and your home page is good looking.