Yahoo-Microsoft deal makes Bing better

Bolstering Bing will keep Google at bay, regulators reason; but will searchers cooperate?

Bing will become a better search engine when Microsoft takes over Yahoo search and more able to compete with search giant Google, the U.S. Department of Justice said in its decision supporting the deal.

The reasoning is simple: By handling the back end of all Yahoo searches, Microsoft will gain access to almost three times the search queries it's getting with Bing alone. The extra data will speed up Bing's automated learning, helping the search engine return more relevant results, especially with rare queries, the DOJ says. In other words, Bing will have a better chance of finding what you're looking for the first time around.

Bing is steadily gaining search market share, mostly at Yahoo's expense. December data from comScore pegs Bing's share at 10.7 percent of searches, compared to Yahoo's 17.3 percent. Google, meanwhile, continues to grow, nabbing an extra 0.1 percent of searches in December to reach 65.7 percent.

With more than a quarter of Web searches going to Bing after the Microsoft-Yahoo deal, the DOJ said Microsoft will have an easier time developing and testing new search-related features, user interface tweaks and changes to Bing's algorithms, thanks to the larger data pool.

"This enhanced performance, if realized, should exert correspondingly greater competitive pressure in the marketplace," the DOJ said. In its decision, the DOJ acknowledged that Google's the bigger competitive concern, and that Microsoft and Yahoo are already focusing on beating Google, and not each other, anyway.

Microsoft's fond of saying that Bing solves search overload by returning better results than the competition. Before Bing launched, Microsoft claimed that 42 percent of searches must be refined after the first query. Taking on Yahoo's searches should help, but it may not matter: Google's internal tests found that people prefer search results bearing the Google logo, even when they're coming from a different search engine. It's all about the brand, and on that matter, the DOJ is silent.

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Jared Newman

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