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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Bing vs. Google vs. Yahoo: Feature Smackdown

We compare top features of three search engines--Bing, Google, and Yahoo--in the ultimate search engine battle royale.

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Bing vs. Google vs. Yahoo


In the arena of world-class search, can Bing bring the hurt to Google and Yahoo? Microsoft's newest search engine comes packed with search tools such as an Explorer Pane for refining searches, Quick Previews for sneaking a peek at a site before visiting it, and Sentiment Extraction for making sense of product reviews.
Google and Yahoo, meanwhile, are no chumps. Google has outwitted its competitors by delivering solid search results and cool tools such as Street Views. Yahoo has done a masterful job of integrating search results with its rich network of Yahoo content. Search for the musician Sting within Yahoo, and presto--you're watching Yahoo music videos or listening to streaming audio of Sting singing "Desert Rose" from within your search results.
How do these services stack up against each other? Bing targets four categories of search: shopping, local, travel, and health. In a highly subjective comparison, I tested Bing, Google, and Yahoo in these areas and in others.


Home Pages: Bing, Google, Yahoo

Home Pages

Bing's front page is distinctly flashy, thanks to its stunning photography. Nevertheless, navigation for specialized search is easy to find. Bing's front door also includes plenty of shortcuts to other Microsoft-owned Web destinations such as MSN, Windows Live, and Bing Travel. It would be nice to see a shortcut to my Microsoft-managed inbox. For its part, Google embraces the elegant simplicity of a white background and the Google Search text field. Blue links to key Google features in the upper left corner make checking e-mail a snap. The Yahoo home page is considerably busier. This reflects the company's desire to be not just a search engine, but a starting point for Internet surfing. Its scattershot approach features search, news, communications tools, and such specifics as a horoscope.
My favorite: Bing

Search Results: Bing, Google, Yahoo

Search results

Search results for Bing have two main components: a left-hand navigation panel of Quick Tabs that allow you to focus your search fast; and a center row of Categorized Search results, which simply group results in logical categories. Search results include instant answers, deep links, and multimedia. Google and Yahoo search results are delivered no-frills-style with blue links descending from most to least relevant. Both of these search engines deliver results that may include instant answers, deep links, and multimedia.
My favorite: Google

Pop Search: Bing, Google, Yahoo

Popular Search

When it comes to searching for a popular recording artist such as Taylor Swift, Yahoo search doesn't stop at delivering the expected links to fan pages; it also displays videos that play straight from the search results. And by clicking the Yahoo Media Player tab on the left side of the search results, you can listen to streaming music on a slide-out streaming audio player. Bing delivers videos that you can preview simply by hovering your cursor over them. Google offers videos by the artist as well, but they aren't as prominently displayed as on Bing and Yahoo.
My favorite: Bing

Airfare Search: Bing, Yahoo

Air Fare Comparison

With the inclusion of Farecast technology in Bing Travel, Microsoft has the edge over Google and Yahoo in locating the best and cheapest flights. Farecast charts the ups and downs of airfares for a particular itinerary in recent months and predicts what they're likely to be in the near future. Yahoo offers similar tools for comparing prices and adjusting your itinerary on-the-fly for maximum savings. Google doesn't offer a cheap-flight-finding service.
My favorite: Bing

Hotel Search: Bing, Yahoo

Hotels

The same Farecast technology that Bing uses with airline ticket pricing works for hotel reservations, too. Bing Travel results show you a Hotel Deals listing when you search for accommodations within a specific region. Bing calculates the historical price of a room at a specific hotel, compares that price with the current rate being offered, and identifies whether the current price is a good deal. Yahoo Travel alerts you to 'Getaway Sale' pricing for hotel rooms when such pricing is available. Yahoo Travel search results display 'Good Deal' tags when the bargain pricing is part of a promotion offered through Yahoo, and not a low rate based on historic data. Yahoo also makes it easy to find your price range and user ratings quickly with tab navigation at the top of search results. Google doesn't offer a travel service.
My favorite: Yahoo

Refining Search Results: Bing, Google, Yahoo

Refining search results

Bing's search-refining tools, called the Explorer Pane, show up on every search. With Yahoo and Google, you have to make an extra click to gain access to similar tools. In the upper left corner, Google has a 'Show Options' link that lets you sort results by videos, forums, and reviews. Yahoo's search refinement requires you to click a tab next to the Yahoo query field; doing so causes a Search Assistant box containing related searches and concepts to slide out.
My favorite: Bing

Video Search: Bing

Video search Bing

Bing's interface for viewing, browsing, and refining search results is slicker than that of its predecessor, Microsoft Live Search. Tools, located on the left of the screen, offer refinements for video length, screen size, resolution, and source. Hovering over a video screen-capture with your mouse triggers the video to start playing. Click the video, and it will load at the top of the page and start playing.

Video Search: Google

Video search Google

Google lets you winnow your video search by duration and source, and permits you to choose the layout of the search results--grid, list, or large thumbnails. Click a video, and it loads in the upper right side of the window and then plays.

Video Search: Yahoo

Video search Yahoo

Yahoo Video search offers search refinements similar to those that the other two search engines do. It includes a box to check for "official videos," but I'm unsure what type of filtering this option performs. Some Yahoo videos play within search results. In other instances, Yahoo takes you to the site that hosts the video. Yahoo frames the sites hosting the video and plays the video below. When we searched Yahoo Video for Hulu content of the television show 30 Rock, videos would not play; instead, the video player displayed the message "required player parameters not provided."
My favorite: Bing

Shopping: Bing

Shopping Bing

With the Bing Shopping service, product search pages emphasize user reviews culled from a multitude of sites. The service also offers tabbed navigation for product details and reviews, and the left-side Explorer Tab provides access to additional related searches. Hooks to the Bing Cashback program (video) are hard to miss, as Bing heavily promotes retailer participants and the program itself.

Shopping: Google

Shopping Google

Google highlights price in its Google Shopping service. Like Bing it offers 'Reviews', 'Technical Specifications', and 'Related Items' tabs.

Shopping: Yahoo

Yahoo shopping

Yahoo Shopping gives you a closeup look at the product you're considering buying and provides pricing information front and center. It also offers user reviews, product specifications, and comparison pricing, but you have to scroll for that information.

My favorite:
Yahoo

Going Local: Bing, Google, Yahoo

Local Views

Bing presents a very nice overview of local restaurants, with aggregate scores for things such as overall quality and atmosphere, as well as specifics for factors such as portion size. Google offers maps, star ratings, photos, and user content to facilitate delving into the details about a local business. Yahoo provided limited information about the local restaurant that I searched for. Yahoo delivered overall star ratings, a map, business hours, and pricing information.

My favorite:
Bing

Health Search: Bing, Yahoo, Google

Health Search

From what I can tell, Bing provides shortcuts to top-notch health resources such as the Mayo Clinic when you search for diabetes, influenza, or other health-related issues. Using the Explorer Pane, you can drill down into symptoms and prevention categories. Yahoo Health search results pull up details on topics such as influenza, plus additional information on symptoms, causes, and treatments. Yahoo Health also lists informational videos related to your search. Google search results for topics such as influenza fetch Wikipedia entries and information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Google's big health strategy has less to do with search and more to do with Google Health, a program for storing your medical records online, finding doctors, and connecting with online health services.
My favorite: Yahoo

Maps Search: Bing, Google, Yahoo

Map search

Bing Maps offers nothing that Live Search didn't already have. But both Bing (at the bottom) and Google Maps supply a great many controls and direction tools in the balloon window that marks the address you're seeking. Google has cool map tools such as 'Street Views', while Bing counters with amazingly crisp 'Bird's Eye View' images of many towns and cities. Yahoo breaks out direction tools in the left side of the Web page. Yahoo Maps gives you the option of viewing satellite images; however, images we saw of the Boston area seemed old compared with the satellite images offered by Bing and Google Maps.
My favorite: Google



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