(Answered originally at Quora: Why hasn’t Bing improved to become better than Google?)
Building a Google-quality search engine is an extremely challenging task and requires years of investment in people and resources. Bing, as a project, has been a huge undertaking for Microsoft, but it still lags Google in terms of quality and market share.
I am going to list the reasons for why the search quality of Bing is not as good as Google. This means I will not focus on the related question “Why doesn’t Bing have a bigger market share than Google” that is more business focussed and has slight different answers.
Looking back, here are some of the reasons that I feel contribute to Google having a higher result quality than Bing:
- Google had the head start: Google started in 1999, while Microsoft seriously started the search engine efforts only in 2005. Most search systems and algorithms are iterative. By iterative, I mean that they get better over time as you keep improving on the previous versions. Google, having started 6 years earlier had a lot more time to iterate on and refine their systems and algorithms compared to Bing. As a concrete example, Google is already on its fifth generation of data center technology: How Google Invented an Amazing Datacenter Network Only They Could Create. Bing, in comparison is probably quite behind in its datacenter technology.
- Google has a lot bigger data: Most search engine algorithms rely on past user data to power the current version of algorithms. Google, having 5 to 6x the market share of Bing, has 5 to 6x the data to analyze and use for its algorithms. All things being equal, bigger and better data wins over better algorithms. This means even if Bing uses the exact same algorithms as Google, they will still be worse off because of less data.
- Ability to attract better talent: Between 2007–2012 the search engine wars were really heating up. Google, due to its reputation of being a more innovative and a more developer friendly company, and because of its market position, was able to attract much better talent. Bing suffered from the anti-Microsoft sentiment among developers and wasn’t able to attract a similar quality of talent. The really good people care about the work and the impact that they have, so this goes much beyond who offers higher salaries.
- Google invested more resources: As far as I know, Google has always invested more resources in their search engine compared to Bing. This means at any given period of time, Google always had more people working on search than Bing, they had more machines devoted to their search systems and overall they invested more money in their search engine than Bing did.
- Company focus: For most of the time it’s been in existence, Google’s main focus as a company has been to build the best search engine in the world. For Microsoft, the priority has always been its cash cows: Windows and Office. So when it came to it, other initiatives like Bing took a back seat to Windows and Office. A single-minded focus works wonders when it comes to building a great product. Just ask Apple.
The above reasons are impossible/very hard to fix for Microsoft. Hence even in the near future, it’s going to be really hard for Bing to beat Google at its own game. The only way out for Bing is to change the game, i.e. change what a search engine means, then do that new thing really, really well and get people to start using this new thing as the primary way of searching the internet. With Microsoft’s poor position in the smartphone market, this is going to be very hard for them as well.