This week I’ve been fortunate enough to get access to both Google Bard and the New Bing, so a day later, I’m here to share my first impressions.
What is the new Bing?
“The new Bing” is the product of Microsoft’s unholy alliance with OpenAI, makers of the now infamous ChatGPT. This development promises to have seismic effects on the search ecosystem, with Microsoft’s CEO saying they’re happy to accept “demonetization” of search in their pursuit of market share, and Google extremely concerned about the threat ChatGPT technology poses as an alternative to their core search business.
Of course, by now we’ve all also seen various viral posts and tweets showing just how dangerous it can be to use chat AI as a search engine, but that’s a topic for another day. For now, the point is that Bing is making moves.
When I perform a search on “old bing” now, I can see this box inviting me to try the new one. You’ll notice a key detail here: it’s only available in Microsoft Edge. Yikes. Big Microsoft Energy. Fortunately for you, the reader, I have dusted off everyone’s fourth-favorite browser so you don’t have to.
Performing the same search in the new Bing, I can see identical organic results, but rather different features:
The “mustelid masters” box above the organic results is new, and contains AI-generated text with a voice-to-speech capability. It’s a six-part story, with sometimes surprising accompanying imagery:
You can see here that a picture of wrestling has been sourced to accompany the text about badgers wrestling. These AI-generated boxes don’t appear for most queries — only clear and uncontroversial informational intents.
The phrase “Mustelid masters” itself seems to be original to this box.
Lastly, one of the tabs in the story cites the Wisconsin Badgers, and a page which is entirely unrelated to the content at hand, so perhaps Bing is also citing its sources for disambiguation here?
You’ll notice the addition of an “Open Website” button next to the top result on the SERP — perhaps a way of compensating a little for loss of organic click through rate?
The “chat” tab is also present on old Bing, but just shows you a message telling you to go to Microsoft Edge.
The phrase “conversational search” here is interesting, given this was a phrase Google introduced in 2013.
If we do use Microsoft Edge, we see a chatbot interface in this tab, but with some nice additions. Switching over to this from a regular search result pre-loads my previous query from organic search:
There’s a bunch of different modes available at the top, and also citations in the search results — both welcome improvements over the likes of ChatGPT.
Now, how about Bard?
What is Google Bard?
Well, not very self-confident, for one. But that’s probably a good thing.
Bard is also, right now, not anywhere near as integrated with search. In their announcement on February 6th, Google teased Bard in a way that made it look very much like a SERP feature, similar to Bing:
However, the version we have to play with now is more of a dedicated chatbot interface.
It was probably already the case that Google was pushed to move far sooner than they hoped with this technology, and of course they have much more to lose from messing with organic search than Bing does. So, it shouldn’t be a surprise to see the slower and more cautious approach.
Now, it probably should be noted that chatbots are not really designed for me to just enter a one word keyword like “badgers”, like I might do in organic search. But, like Bing’s chat tab, I get something resembling an informational result. So, let’s compare side by side.
Bard vs. new Bing, side-by-side
The most obvious difference, at least to an SEO’s eye, is the presence of citations in the Bing result. Not knowing where source information comes from is one of the biggest challenges for users when dealing with this kind of technology, so that’s a huge differentiator.
Bard does claim to include citations. My colleague Mike was able to trigger them, and captured it in this clip. It’s definitely far, far less ubiquitous than on Bing.
That said, I like that the framing of Google’s solution — with multiple draft answers presented and “enter a prompt here” — which makes it clearer I’m dealing with something that is not a source of unassailable truth.
I was also intrigued by the localization of Bing’s result. It mentions the UK in its response, which is where I’m searching from, and shows UK websites in the citations. So I asked them both a follow-up question about my location:
Bing repeats itself, but Bard just seems to assume I’m in the US. Unfortunate.
Slightly commercial query
Many SEOs will be more interested in how technology like this might fit into their marketing funnel. Let’s try a classic top-of-funnel query:
There isn’t really an objective answer here, but both results are broadly sensible. That said, the Bing answer is both a narrower list and far richer.
Interestingly, neither result seems deterministic.
Bing can produce different answers to the same question in different windows, and so can Google.
This may be a contentious point when SEOs start optimizing for these answers, and want to measure their results. Of course, regular organic rankings can vary massively between locales and even days of the week, but generally speaking, if you search twice from the same computer (in private browsing windows etc) you’ll get the same results. Not so here.
Neither solution fell for some obvious conspiracy theory bait, which is encouraging to see. I actually don’t mind at all Google’s more cautious “I can’t assist with that” here. I wasn’t able to provoke a similar reaction out of Bing for any query, but I also wasn’t able to provoke it to say anything abhorrent – I’m sure others will, though.
What next for SEOs?
For both platforms there are major questions before SEOs can really engage and consider them an important part of their work.
For Bing, will this have adoption? Most SEOs have not made the habit of optimizing for Bing in recent years, but there is already talk of increased Bing market share.
For Bard, how, if at all, will this be integrated in search? The current platform is clearly marked as an experiment, and is more like ChatGPT than it is like the mock ups Google showed us in February. Or will users be encouraged to use it as its own thing?
For both platforms, there are big questions about how SEOs might go about optimizing to get their clients mentioned, and indeed favorably mentioned in results – there are lots of nefarious possibilities here, and Wikipedia is probably the most obvious. Once mentioned, how does one measure this? When I clicked through to my own site from Bing’s chat tab, it just appeared like any other Bing organic traffic. Rank tracking is an interesting problem too, and you can be sure that Moz and STAT will be posting in future about how we’re handling these features — watch this space!