Did Bing Awaken a Sleeping Giant (or: Anybody Want a Peanut)?

Since Microsoft launched Bing (their new search engine) several weeks ago, the world of internet search has been inundated with news and opinions about this new venture. Statistical analyses have been showing up in droves, although not everyone’s numbers exactly match up. However, one thing that all the numbers agree on is that Google is still the King.

Google has succeeded for so long in part because no one really presented a legitimate challenge. Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz says out loud that “we are not a search company,” so even with their number two slot they clearly have no interest in taking on the Mountain View colossus. Microsoft’s Live Search never really captured searchers’ imaginations, and the rest are too miniscule to pose any significant threat.

Recently, Microsoft Binged and Decided that the time was right to assume the role of David to Google’s Goliath. A marketing budget estimated in the neighborhood of $80-100 million shows that they’re serious.

What Microsoft may have just done is awaken a sleeping giant. And I don’t mean the friendly “Anybody Want a Peanut” Andre the Giant; I mean the angry, choke Hulk Hogan until young children cry Andre the Giant. This isn’t to suggest that Google has been resting on its laurels over the years, but there just didn’t seem to be the immediacy and the urgency that Bing has brought on.

For instance, there’s Google Wave, a “real-time communication platform” that will be unveiled to the public later this year. Google curiously started showing off the service right about the time Bing was set to launch. Surely this was no accident. Also, James Doran of the New York Post reports that Google co-founder Sergey Brin “has assembled a team of top engineers to work on urgent upgrades to his Web service,” and that Brin “is himself leading the team of search-engine specialists in an effort to determine how Bing’s crucial search algorithm differs.”

Should Brin and the rest of Google really be so worried? The early numbers for Bing, whichever you choose to believe, are just that: early. It is still too soon to proclaim any kind of shift in searcher behavior. Many are still just hearing about Bing and the advertising blitz will ensure that more people are at least made aware of it, and many more are still likely to give Bing a try. But will they make a permanent switch? Early reviews of the engine seem mostly positive, but many seem to be viewing Bing as an accompaniment to Google, not a replacement.

Personally I think Google has little to worry about. Their search share is still in a fairly dominant position, and I think that after the newness of Bing wears off, people will go back to old reliable Google. Part of the reason I believe this is that Brin and company are obviously taking the Bing threat seriously, which will no doubt lead to more innovations from Google the Giant.

And where does all of this leave the Pay-Per-Click marketers that use Google, Yahoo, and now Bing to drive sales? Nothing internally changed during the switchover from Live to Bing, but the big difference is that a lot more eyeballs are drifting over towards Bing, and now is the time to capitalize on that. With the potential for more traffic, and in turn, sales, marketers should be looking to increase their presence in Bing and strike while the iron is hot. The buzz around Bing may or may not last, so get everything out of it while you can.