Microsoft Says Don’t Get Scroogled This Holiday Season, but Bing Is Not So Scot-Free

Microsoft launched a nasty ad campaign against Google this morning, accusing the search giant of only displaying paid ads in its shopping results.

Bing zings: “Don’t get Scroogled this holiday season.”

But as it turns out, Bing does the same thing.

“It’s a classic case of engineers not connecting with their ad center counterparts,” said Jorie Waterman, the SVP of performance channels and optimization at True Action, an eBay-owned company that helps online retailers with their search marketing strategies.

Waterman added that Bing has a partnership with Shopping.com, which offers higher visibility through paid listings. “The paid listings have always gotten better placement,” she said.

In general, the issue Bing is raising has to do with a change that Google made this summer, which has stayed fairly under the radar. While Microsoft is hoping to shine some light on the subject now through the splashy campaign, it likely has less to do with the holiday shopping season and more to do with Google’s political situation in Washington, D.C.

In a Bing blog post, and a separate Web site found at Scroogled.com, Microsoft summarizes its argument:

In the beginning, Google preached, “Don’t be evil”—but that changed on May 31, 2012. That’s when Google Shopping announced a new initiative. Simply put, all of their shopping results are now paid ads.

It’s true that Google has changed the way it displays products, and this is the first holiday season in which retailers will have to pay to be included in the Google Shopping results. Before, merchants were allowed to upload their entire product feed into the search engine for free.

In a statement, Google would not comment directly on Bing’s attack, but defended why it made the changes:

Google Shopping makes it easier for shoppers to quickly find what they’re looking for, compare different products and connect with merchants to make a purchase. With new 360-degree, interactive product images, social shopping lists and a fast growing inventory of more than a billion products worldwide, Google is a great resource for shoppers to find what they need, at great prices for their loved ones this holiday season.

Along with the paid requirement, Google completely overhauled the shopping experience, stressing product images over text and allowing consumers to easily conduct price comparisons across numerous sites. It is a radical change for retailers, who are still grappling with how much to spend on the paid listings to see a positive return. However, Waterman said the new product images that appear in Google’s search results are resulting in a tremendous lift in sales for True Action’s retailers, which include Toys “R” Us and Levi’s. “It’s blowing our minds,” she said.

But as you might imagine, not all retailers can afford to pay, which means being excluded from Google Shopping results. Other retailers, like Amazon, are choosing not to participate. (That does not mean that Amazon’s results would not show up in organic listings when a consumer searches for a product from the main search bar. However, Amazon does not appear in the “Shopping” tab.)

Bing tried clarifying its position on the matter in a statement, saying that while yes, merchants can pay to have their products listed in Bing, there’s no requirement. Bing’s senior director Stefan Weitz said:

Bing includes millions of free listings from merchants and rankings are determined entirely by which products are most relevant to your query. While merchants can pay fees for inclusion on our third party shopping sites and subsequently may appear in Bing Shopping through partnerships we have, we do not rank merchants higher based on who pays us, nor do we let merchants pay to have their product offers placed higher in Bing Shopping’s search results.

Danny Sullivan of SearchEngineLand.com, who has been covering this subject closely for the past few months, wrote today that Bing’s campaign would be great, “if it were true.” In several screenshots taken of both Bing and Google search, he compares each search engine’s results, concluding that, “Bing is hardly in a position to be lecturing Google about poor disclosure and charging for listings, when it has the same issues.”

An important question, however, is which method is better for the consumer — paid or free listings?

“It’s a question mark,” Waterman said. “When it was free on Google and on Bing, I don’t think companies paid enough attention to the data — because it was free, so the quality of the data and accuracy wasn’t as good to give consumers the best information possible. Now you are paying for it, there’s much more diligence being paid to the data and the accuracy.”

Clearly, Microsoft’s timing with the campaign is a little fishy. While it lines up with the holiday shopping season, it also probably has a lot to do with the 18-month-long investigation of Google’s search business, which is coming to an end. As a source told my colleague, Liz Gannes, it’s now a good time to try and land something on Google: “All these people who have wanted to kill Google, this is their chance. They will never have a better opportunity than the next 30 days.”

Better get your lumps in quick, Microsoft — time is running out.


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