Bing goes on the attack, warning users not to get ‘Scroogled’

29 Nov 2012

Switching to a paid inclusion model for Google Shopping hasn’t been the search giant’s best decision to date, and now Microsoft’s Bing has placed this controversial move at the centre of its latest Google-bashing campaign.

Earlier this year, Google Product Search became Google Shopping and switched to a paid inclusion model in the process. This means that all results listed through this service have been paid for, with merchants charged either per click or per transaction.

This pay-for-placement model is now fully active on Google Shopping in the US and is coming to the UK, Germany, France, Japan, Italy, Spain, Netherlands, Brazil, Australia and Switzerland next year.

At the time, Google claimed the transition would be an improvement for both shoppers, through better results, and merchants, through higher quality traffic. But, of course, it’s a flawed system that doesn’t list products from major merchants that won’t pay. For example, you won’t see any Amazon products appearing on Google Shopping, despite it being one of the largest online retailers.

The chink in Google’s armour

Bing has focused on this flaw as a chink in Google’s armour, launching an attack on its search rival with the website, Through the website and associated videos, Bing is highlighting Google’s ‘dishonesty’ in presenting users with search results that are all, essentially, advertising.

“Google Shopping is nothing more than a list of targeted ads that unsuspecting customers assume are search results,” the site warns users, advising them to use Bing “for an honest search result”.

The site is hyperbolic in its efforts to destroy Google’s credibility, with a ticker of ‘Scroogled Alerts’, a timeline documenting Google’s change from a company with ‘don’t be evil’ as its mantra to one that deceives users, and requests for users to share stories of being ‘Scroogled’ on the Bing Facebook page. And, of course, the site encourages users to try Bing and make it their new homepage.

Full disclosure needed

However, it is important to note that search results from Google Shopping are indicated as ‘Sponsored’ when they appear in a general Google search, and the ‘Why these products?’ link in Google Shopping explains that listings are paid for and that this payment is one of several factors used to rank these results.

So, while merchants are paying for position on Google Shopping, it’s not a case of the best spot going to the highest bidder, as other factors are considered when ranking results – just as is done with Google’s other advertising products.

To further show up Google, Bing has added the comment that “Payment is NOT a factor used to rank search results in Bing” across its own Bing Shopping results. However, that’s not to say that payment isn’t involved in being listed.

As Search Engine Land points out, Bing Shopping has temporarily suspended applications for free merchant listings (something it does in the holiday shopping season to protect the quality of results), and so the only way to be listed there for the time being is to get listed on – a pay-per-click service. And when Bing embeds Bing Shopping listings in its search results – some of which could be the result of paid inclusion – there is no indication that these results are sponsored.

Bing director Stefan Weitz attests that this payment model is in no way relevant when it comes to ranking results (unlike Google Shopping) and that Bing does not receive compensation for the majority of its listed products. However, the grey area that Bing is operating in opens up some questions about honesty, particularly in the light of the US Federal Trade Commission’s requirements for disclosure of paid inclusion listings.

Considering this, the mud-slinging campaign directed at Google Shopping – an admittedly flawed service – is one that could be thrown back in Bing’s face. Maybe it should just go back to challenging Google to a search-off.

Elaine Burke is the editor of Silicon Republic