Badda-Bing! Or Just Bad?

How Great Is the "New" Decision Engine from Microsoft?

September 30, 2010

So, a while ago, Microsoft re-re-re-launched and re-re-re-re-branded their internet search engine. What was Microsoft search and Live Search and MSN Search and MSN Live Search and Microsoft Live Search and Hotmail Search and MSN Live Hotmail Microsoft Internet Web Search and who knows what all else is now Bing.

OK, but what really changed? Well, the name is shorter and easier to remember. And it has a pretty picture in the background - if your internet connection is fast enough to load it. (But Microsoft appears to have been under the impression that sometime around 1996 everyone in the US had terabit internet installed to their homes, and faster connections to their businesses, so what does download time matter?) And Microsoft started pushing their webmaster tools. But what really changed?

New Name

Well, the name is shorter. And it may have the shortest, simplest name in the search market today, if not ever. But really I don't think the name is making that much of an impact.

Pretty Pictures

OK, so there's a huge background image behind the search box on the home page. And it changes every day. So, not only are you unnecessarily slowing down my interaction with your site, but you won't even let the caching functionality in my browser help me (or wait, it's helping you) out here. Look, a picture may be interesting once, but when you slow down my use of the internet every time I have to interact with your site, I'm disinclined to use your site again. I'll find something else.

Microsoft is spending a lot of money advertising, apparently, how this picture will make your search experience much better. I'm not buying it. A pretty picture does not make up for missing content, slow downs on what should be bare and fast, and trying to tie me up in your own content. No thank you. Again, I'll find something else.

Webmaster Tools

With Bing, Microsoft started really pushing their webmaster tools. I've been using other search site's webmaster tools for quite a while, and Bing's just don't stack up. It's been a while since I have been into them since Microsoft decided to greatly restrict the access to webmaster tools a few months back, but that's for later. Here's what I remember.

In Bing webmaster tools, you can submit a sitemap for a site. A. One. In the singular. If you have more than one, tough. Pick. Supposedly, this has been fixed now, but since access is highly limited, there may be no way of finding out.

In Bing webmaster tools, there was a way to see status codes that URLs on your site generated when the MSNBot last visited the site. However, the user interface was cumbersome and confusing, and it was unclear what you were seeing, and there was no way to sort your results, other than exporting many, many, many (depending on your site size) lists and then concatenating them together and running filters and sorts outside of the Bing interface. Neat idea, but it needs to work. That appears to have been removed from the new Bing webmaster tools.

Site verification is (sort of) supported by Bing in their webmaster tools. Bing requires you to verify that you have permission to get information about a site before they will give you any information. This is good. Unfortunately, their implementation is flawed, and often Bing will lose the authentication of a site, and it appears that no matter what you do, you can't re-verify that site. You can even click the links Bing provides to allow you to check that verification should work, confirm that verification should work that way, and it still errors.

Bing webmaster tools will let you manage multiple web sites through one Bing webmaster tools account. Unfortunately, the domains are listed in some random order. It isn't alphabetical. It isn't the order they were entered. It isn't the date the site went live. I'm really not sure what the order is. And you can't sort sites. Finding a site if you've got more than two or three is just a matter of digging until you find it - or maybe using the "find in page" function in your web browser...

Bing also had a list of links to your site in the webmaster tools, but they merged the list of internal and external links, then made you filter, then only showed you the top five links. Really clunky, and really only good for tiny, unused sites.

Just Plain Problems

Then there are some just plain problems with Bing webmaster tools.

First, the login process is highly flawed. first, an excessive and unnecessary number of cookies are set. This should really be streamlined and simplified. Do I expect this to happen? No. That's not Microsoft's way of doing things. (If it were, Internet Explorer would at least be in the running of OK web browsers.)

Then the login process passes you through multiple sites to get you logged in to different sites - whether you want to log in or not. In addition, during this redirect login process, you get passed to "mixed content" pages: pages where some content is secure and some content is not secure. Without a lot of technical know-how you can't even begin to guess what is or is not secure on these pages. When I log in, I should only be logged in to what I am asking to be logged in to, not to any other sites. In addition, the process should be either secure or insecure throughout. It should not switch and it should not ever hit a mixed content page.

This overly complicated login process leads to another problem: logging out. You can't log out of Bing webmaster tools once you login without either disabling some browser security or manually deleting cookies. This is because they pass you through sites you have no interest in while logging you in in the first place, but don't bother with that cumbersome process on logout...

Then there's the recent "upgrade" to the Bing webmaster tools user interface. For some reason (probably because Silverlight is not getting use), Microsoft decided to make the Bing webmaster tools interface require Silverlight. This is not a way to gain use, it is a way to make people who hate Microsoft hate Microsoft even more. Sure, if thee is the possible use of an animated chart in the interface, use your own tool to render it, rather than the competition, but for the 90% of us that don't have your tool, or can't use your tool, or would prefer that the chart not be animated, provide an image (or nothing, and don't let us know what we're missing). This upgrade took a third-rate tool and gave it a fourth-rate user interface. The phrase "lipstick on a pig" comes to mind, but I'd be hard pressed to find an uglier pig or a worse shade of lipstick.

What About Bing Search

Well, at first glance, despite all the advertising to the contrary, and once you can get past the large, ugly, distracting picture, the search results look the same. It's a list of links. To slow down your browser further and increase frustration with Bing, there are annoying JavaScript and Active-X pop-ups, mouse-overs, and side-bars, but they're annoying. Some people may find them useful, but turn off the annoyances to start with, and allow people who find them useful, and aren't concerned about bad security problems with your site create accounts and enable the annoyances they want. Don't make everyone suffer to show off how bad of a product you can produce. After all, you're Microsoft. Everyone with a computer knows how bad of a product you can produce.

But beyond that, if you start digging, you find that the Bing index is much smaller than many of their competitors. This isn't that Bing has just done a better job of culling garbage from their index, many well written, informative, helpful, useful, accurate pages are missing from the Bing index. Good stuff just isn't there. In some cases, for established, high-ranking, stable, sites, Bing will be missing as much as 90% of what other search engines have.

Between usability issues, security issues, privacy concerns, speed, and lack of indexed content, I strongly discourage use of Bing for anything.