Microsoft: Making purchases not Bing's online focus

The company downplayed a blog post that said it designed its search engine for results that involve spending money

Microsoft on Monday refuted a post by a prominent blogger that said the company designed the first iteration of Bing specifically to help people find items to purchase online.

In a statement through its public relations firm, Microsoft said that while helping people shop online is a major focus of Bing, it is only one of four the company had in mind in June when it released the search engine, a revamped and rebranded version of its Live Search.

"In June’s release, we focused on four key areas where people are spending their time when searching," Microsoft said in the e-mailed statement. "Those four areas of investment are travel, local, health and shopping."

Microsoft at the time attempted to differentiate Bing from competitor Google's search engine by calling it a "decision" engine aimed at helping people make better decisions online.

People using the site have noted that its shopping and travel sections -- which help people find products, as well as airline tickets and other travel-related items -- seem to deliver some of the most comprehensive search results.

Microsoft's comment came in response to a question about a post on Monday on the All About Microsoft blog by Mary Jo Foley.

The post said Microsoft initially developed Bing to be fine-tuned for searches that would involve people making purchases.

As evidence, Foley cited an interview she conducted with Frederick Savoye, senior director of Microsoft’s Online Audience Business, in which he said that while Microsoft plans to evolve Bing in the future, its first iteration was focused on helping users get the best results for searches that involved spending money.

Beyond providing the prepared statement, Microsoft's public relations firm did not immediately respond to a request to speak with someone at the company about the matter on Monday.

Privately, a representative from the public relations firm suggested that Foley "did some interpretation of her own" of her conversation with Savoye.

Still, two of the four areas of focus for Bing's first iteration -- travel and shopping -- typically involve spending money, so the idea that Microsoft used this as an over-arching theme for Bing is not so far-fetched.

However, Greg Sterling, founding principal of Sterling Market Intelligence, said if Microsoft did design Bing to optimize these types of results in general -- which Sterling said he doubted -- it would be to appeal to online advertisers specifically. And that in and of itself would be shortsighted, he said.

"If they create a search engine designed to appeal to advertisers, the only way they can do that is to build a good consumer product to attract and retain consumer users," Sterling said.

"That's why I think it's inaccurate or only partially accurate. ...Microsoft knows through experience and competing with Google they have to appeal to a broad consumer audience. This product is intended to be that -- a user-friendly, broad consumer search engine."

Still, he acknowledged that Microsoft certainly made consumer purchases a major focus of its search strategy, particularly through its Cashback program, for which the company soon will begin running television ads.

Cashback is Microsoft's program to give online shoppers rebates for any purchases they make on products found through Bing.

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Elizabeth Montalbano

IDG News Service
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