Bing Bleeding Billions from Microsoft

Microsoft keeps saying that they’ll take market share from Google and start turning a profit. After all this time, though, one has to wonder when it will happen. Since the software giant launched Bing in 2009, it has been losing more than $400,000 per hour to its search unit.

I can’t make up figures like this; I’m not nearly that good at math. Check out David Angotti’s item over at Search Engine Journal for the details. He got his basic numbers from CNN Money. However you slice them, though, they aren’t pretty.

Here’s the basics: Microsoft has lost $5.5 billion on Bing since it launched the search engine in June 2009. But it gets worse, as Microsoft has been trying to get a handle on the Internet for a while, and failing. Their online services division is a consistent money-loser. The company started breaking out the division’s finances two years before launching Bing, back in 2007. Since that time, the company has $9 billion in red ink for that unit.

Okay, we all know you have to invest and probably lose some money in order to gain market share, right? And hasn’t Bing been gaining market share against big bad Google? Um, not really. When Bing came on the scene, Google held 65 percent of the search market. It now holds 64.8 percent. In other words, Google’s market share has gone down a whopping two-tenths of a percent thanks to Bing’s efforts.

Now this doesn’t mean that Bing hasn’t grown its own market share. Microsoft’s search engine went from just under eight and a half percent of the search market at launch to close to 15 percent today. That market share has to come from somewhere; if it didn’t come from Google, where did it come from? If you guessed Yahoo and AOL, give yourself a gold star. When you consider that Yahoo’s search is now powered by Bing, the ugly truth comes clear: much of Microsoft’s share growth came from cannibalizing its partner.

Microsoft isn’t in the search game to lose, though, so what does it plan to do about this problem? Qi Lu, Microsoft’s President of Online Services, said in a speech that the company will improve search by “reorganizing the Web.” He pointed out that Bing can work with Facebook and search social streams, which “gives us new scenarios to help users discover.” He also pointed to partnerships with other companies and a focus on helping users complete tasks online.

CNN Money gave an example of that new focus by noting that “a search for ‘Mariners tickets’ will display links to upcoming games and a map of Seattle’s Safeco Field showing fans where tickets are available. A search for flight information will tell you when the best day is to purchase a plane ticket. Searching for ‘digital camera’ will display images of cameras that can be filtered, sorted and compared.”

Microsoft is not trying to “out-Google Google,” as Lu put it. They’re trying to change the game by getting past the classic ten blue links and making search more useful. The question is, with all of the changes and innovations Google has made, has the search giant already gotten there first? After all, you don’t Bing something online; you Google it. Some analysts predict that Bing will gradually gain market share over the next three or four years and become profitable. One has to wonder, though, if Microsoft can wait that long.

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