Bing gives Google “a kick in the pants”–NY Times

In the past few months there has been a subtle shift in the way people are talking about Bing.  No longer just an upstart or just a joke, Bing’s clean look, picturesque home page and new ways of presenting information seem to be growing on users and journalists alike.

Today, in the New York Times, an article in Business Day Technology entitled “Bing and Google in a Race for Search Features”, the NY Times portrays Bing as an upstart, yes, but as one that is causing Google to sit up and take notice:

And while no one argues that Google’s dominance is in immediate jeopardy, Google is watching Microsoft closely, mimicking some of Bing’s innovations — like its travel search engine, its ability to tie more tools to social networking sites and its image search — or buying start-ups to help it do so in the future.

Google has even taken on some of Bing’s distinctive look, like giving people the option of a Bing-like colorful background, and the placement of navigation tools on the left-hand side of the page.

The result is a renaissance in search, resulting in more sophisticated tools for consumers who want richer answers to complex questions than the standard litany of blue links.

The Times points to Bing’s US market share increases, which, while it “still handles a small slice of Web searches in the United States”, continues to increase:

1200.binggooglenytimes_thumb_04eebc91 Bing Featured

(Graphic source: New York Times)

As you know, we’ve been following US search market share as much as anyone, and while the continued increases are refreshing, what isn’t shown in the share totals are the numbers and increase in share for searches in particular vertical markets.  Bing has made a conscious effort to target the most lucrative advertising verticals: travel, shopping, entertainment, and health, and seems to be making significant (although granted, still quite small) inroads in these areas especially.

While it remains to be seen how much of an impact the Yahoo! alliance will have on Bing’s market perception (as Yahoo! is free to present Bing’s search results with its own UI, etc.), it will still help to improve relevance.  The Bing plan to capture a greater share of the searches that return profits, and leave the less profitable academic and esoteric searches for the other guy, coupled with the Yahoo! data, could help to continue to improve Bing in the eyes of the public, and almost more importantly, in the eyes of advertisers.

Still, as the Times says, this is “a race for search features”.  We saw some cool stuff in the pipeline coming for Bing maps, the Bing for iPhone app is doing well (over 4.3 million downloads and counting), and Bing Entertainment is the latest example of “beyond the ten blue links” thinking.  Bing has made some nice strides, but can it continue to keep up the pace, releasing a steady stream of new features?