Bing’s AI Initiative: More Than Just Search Market Share Numbers

By PubCo Insight Staff

Earlier this year, the tech community was abuzz with optimism about Microsoft’s Bing search engine and its new AI feature, Bing Chat. Headlines like “Bing is King!” and “A Bing-aissance” flooded media outlets. Fast-forward six months, and the narrative has taken a skeptical turn, with Wall Street Journal and ZDNet expressing reservations. But is it fair to call Microsoft’s AI project a dud just yet?

The Problem with Numbers

Recent reports have highlighted Bing’s seemingly stagnant market share as evidence of failure. Citing data from StatCounter and SimilarWeb, critics point to Bing’s global search engine share hovering around 3%. However, the metrics these platforms use don’t give us a comprehensive picture.

StatCounter, for instance, focuses on “search engine referrals,” not on the number of search queries made. In essence, they count the final click that takes you to a website, missing out on the user interactions that happen within Bing Chat. As Ed Bott points out, this doesn’t really offer insight into Bing’s performance as a search engine.

What the Critics Miss

Bing Chat is currently restricted to the Microsoft Edge browser and the Bing mobile app. This limitation immediately disqualifies a significant chunk of users who prefer Google Chrome or Safari. Moreover, critics often overlook desktop statistics, which show a different trend. In North America, referrals from Bing are up 2.2%, and those from Google are down 2.8%.

The Bigger Picture

In a confidential strategy document, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella noted that the goal isn’t necessarily to beat Google in search but to scale up Microsoft’s advertising business. “Even small gains from ‘grinding the funnel’ can result in large operating margin gains,” Nadella wrote. In simpler terms, Microsoft isn’t looking to dethrone Google but rather to incrementally improve its advertising business.

So, before we write off Microsoft’s Bing Chat as a failed experiment, let’s consider what the company is actually trying to achieve. The main goal seems to be a “step change in the scale of their advertising business,” as per Nadella’s memo. Given the limitations of the available metrics and Microsoft’s own objectives, it might be too soon to pass judgment.

Final Thoughts

Yes, Bing has room for improvement and challenges to overcome, but it’s hasty to label the Bing Chat AI initiative a failure based on incomplete and perhaps misleading statistics. Microsoft ($MSFT) has a broader strategy in place, and Bing Chat could very well be a significant part of that plan.

We’ll keep our eyes on Microsoft’s AI initiatives and update you on any significant developments. For now, let’s not underestimate the ‘Bing-aissance.’

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