In the world of search, Google truly is king. Google is a household name, and the word itself has been elevated to verb status, like Skype and Facebook. In the world of SEO, some try to be politically correct and use the term “search engines” or mention Google, Bing, and Yahoo each time they talk about search engines, but who are we kidding? We all know it’s just Google’s game we’re playing.
But what are the differences between Google, Bing, and Yahoo?
Do they all do the same thing and Google just does it better? Are there differences that make one better than another in certain situations? Do most people just use Google because Google is a household name?
Dissecting and explaining the differences between Google, Bing, and Yahoo is not as simple as explaining the differences between McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s. Google is a company with an array of products that all integrate with search—the search engine being the flagship product. Bing is a search engine which powers a few other search modules. And Yahoo is not a search engine at all, but a web portal with a search engine powered by Bing.
These and other differences all contribute to the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of each company’s search abilities. However, we’ll save the company analyses for another time and focus on the specific consumer-facing differences and nuances of each search engine/portal and their associated search engine results pages (SERPs). And we’ll even get a little SEO perspective as well.
Aside from the ever-changing Google doodle, a notable difference with the desktop Google search page is the display of “answer boxes” at the top of the SERPs for many search queries. These boxes display above any links to articles, news, and website results for the associated search term. The boxes often appear as short answers to a user’s query and the intent, once again, is to answer the searcher’s question quicker—in this case without requiring the user to click into a link. Types of answer boxes include word definitions, flight information, movie show times, population charts, and dozens of other bits of information.
For another type of quick answer unique to Google: search for “movies playing in (your area)”. Google returns a horizontal scrolling list of current movies above the organic list of top-ten search results.
Google SERPs also sometimes feature right-column previews of information about the search. This right-column content is a product of Google’s Knowledge Graph and often includes images, Wikipedia snippets, and related information and searches. When logged into Chrome, I’ve even seen buttons to “remind me of this event” for movie premiers in the right-column content.
Bing has a much more visual home search page, compared to Google’s extremely simplistic and overly-white page, with links to trivia bits and news embedded in the background photo. The search home also has a news carousel across the bottom. Otherwise, the search engine works much like a traditional search engine: type a query, press “enter.”
Bing also implements SERP answer boxes—although they are much less dynamic than Google answer boxes. Bing also has its own right-column content called “Snapshots,” which looks very similar to Google’s Knowledge Graph results. For example, if you type “population of sweden”, Bing brings up an answer box with a population graph preceding the organic results as well as Snapshots from Wikipedia, points of interest, and related searches.
Notably, Bing SERP “extras” are becoming increasingly effective and Bing seems to be always adding more types of answer boxes and Snapshots in an effort to catch up to Google.
One unique aspect of Bing is Bing Rewards. When signed in, users earn points for each Bing search that can be redeemed for games, movies, apps, gift cards, and sweepstakes entries.
As stated earlier, Yahoo is considered an internet portal, rather than a search engine, with web search as one of the portal’s key features. Yahoo’s homepage is much more decorated and interactive than Google or Bing and includes a vast array of products and features that connect a user to news, shopping, travel, email, Tumblr, Flikr, and much more.
Yahoo’s internet search is powered by Bing, although Yahoo controls the design and results displayed on its SERPs. (Search Engine Land has a lot of information on the Yahoo/Bing deal.)
Answer boxes are few and far between and right-column content is nonexistent on Yahoo SERPs: searching for “population of sweden” returns a snippet of info from Wikipedia that somewhat resembles a search result and an answer box hybrid. Searching for a definition of a word returns a similar result/answer box combination.
In addition to the differences in answer boxes and other “extras” on each SERP, organic search results vary as well. Even Yahoo and Bing SERP results can vary depending on the search query, despite being powered by the same search technology.
When I searched my name on Google, Bing, and Yahoo image search, Bing and Yahoo returned an overwhelming amount of images that were not images of people. Google, on the other hand, returned images of me, and the vast majority of the other images were people as well. In other words, Google interpreted my intentions much more accurately than Yahoo/Bing. Note that I performed this search not signed in to any Google account, and on a computer and browser that I had never previously used.
Local searches seemed to produce the most similar content between Google, Bing, and Yahoo. While each SERP looks different, they all include listings from directories, ratings, maps, actual company websites, and ads. The organic results were similar, mostly in a different order.
Each engine/portal values directories such as Yelp and Urban Spoon for local food searches. Additionally, Google and Bing rank results from their own business directories first (after ads) for local business searches.
THE SEO PERSPECTIVE
Up to this point, this post has primarily been about search engine user experience. However, as an SEO, it’s hard not to draw some SEO conclusions from this information.
Concerning local search, clearly business directories are key for showing up in any search engine. Bing and Google each have their own directories and rank those directories above any other search result. In addition, while each engine has a different algorithm and a different way of ordering results, the organic results are similar enough to prove that you don’t need completely different SEO tactics to optimize for Google and Bing.
Certainly there is benefit in studying the nuances of both engines and catering to those nuances. But do not be overwhelmed by thinking that you need two (or three) completely different SEO strategies. Search engines are (mostly) concerned with providing the user with the information he or she is seeking. Therefore, SEO best-practices, namely technical website optimization, relevant and useful information, and a consistent user-friendly experience, are recognized by all the big players.
Google controls two-thirds of the market, and catering SEO tactics to the Google algorithm is certainly worthwhile. Bing/Yahoo control a good portion of the rest of the market, and you will have to decide if researching and employing SEO strategies that cater to the Bing search engine is worthwhile for your particular industry.
Personally, I’m sticking with Google for now. The lack of answer boxes is enough to keep me from Yahoo. Bing increasingly does a lot of things as well as Google, but Google is simply still ahead of the game.
What differences between Google, Bing, and Yahoo have you seen? What are your favorite “extras” on your preferred search engine?