Freakonomics challenges Bing's success

Photo courtesy Microsoft

(MoneyWatch) Microsoft (MSFT) has been trying to mount an effective challenge to Google's (GOOG) search dominance for over a decade now -- since the days that Bing was called Windows Live Search. These days, Bing has crawled its way up to a meager 18 percent of the market, with Google commanding 67 percent.

A factor in Bing's small but measurable growth is the "Pepsi Challenge" style Bing It On campaign, which Microsoft says lets them claim that people prefer Bing "nearly 2 to 1." But now a researcher calls those stats into question.

Ian Ayres, writing on the Freakonomics blog, says that he was suspect of the results of this blind web search "taste test" and decided to do his own research.

Here's how Microsoft's original test worked: Microsoft worked with independent research company Answers Research to test about 1,000 participants. Subjects were asked to perform ten search queries of their choice, and had to choose the side-by-side results they preferred, with all branding and ads removed.

According to Microsoft, it was no contest:

"When the results were tallied, the outcome was clear -- people chose Bing web search results over Google nearly 2:1 in the blind comparison tests. Specifically, of the nearly 1000 participants: 57.4% chose Bing more often, 30.2% chose Google more often; 12.4 % resulted in a draw."

Ayres collaborated with Yale Law students to try to replicate Microsoft's results with 1,000 participants. His results were completely different: 53 percent preferred Google and 41 percent liked Bing.

Of course, whether you're selling Pepsi or a search engine, your own personal experience trumps whatever 1,000 other participants think. You can take the challenge yourself at BingItOn -- you conduct 5 searches, choose the results you like best each time, and get a summary of your results at the end. I took the test, and the site reported that I preferred Google to Bing in all five rounds. How do the millions of people feel who have also taken the online challenge? Impossible to say. Microsoft claims it has not tracked any of the results.

Which search engine do you use? Does it even matter to you? I'd love to know your opinion. Tell me in the comments.

Photo courtesy of Microsoft