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At first glance, Hitwise’s report on September search traffic makes for a boring story: Google wins again. In September 2009, Hitwise says, 71 percent of all searches conducted within the United States went to Google.
Microsoft’s Bing had pulled Microsoft’s Live.com and MSN Search out of the mud and dragged them along to nearly 10% combined market share in August. This past month, though, Microsoft sites dropped back from roughly 9.5% to 9 percent market share. It’s reason to worry: Web producers know that once you lose your market share’s initial forward momentum, it can be impossible to get the growth curve back.
But Bing hasn’t hit the wall yet. People talk about it a lot at parties here in Microsoft-hating San Francisco. These same folks notably don’t discuss Yahoo’s redesigns at all. Bing’s homepage, which loads a gorgeous series of photos to serve as background for Bing’s search and browse interface, shows that Google still lives in 1998 in some ways. Google finally switched to a larger font on its homepage a few weeks ago, but Bing’s supersize photo collection shows up Google’s my-kid-drew-this logo.
People with money to spend in America have 20 megabit cable modems and 24-inch PC screens. Bing makes use of those, while still being efficient in the way it loads on slower connections. Try it, and you’ll see the search interface loads first, and the pretty picture arrives later.
But Bing’s real strength isn’t its homepage, or its search results. It’s the Shopping and Travel sections. Oh, and the maps that rival Google Maps and sometimes trounce Google Maps. Try the Bird’s Eye view if you haven’t.
Travel and shopping are important areas to a demographic that spends a lot of money, and to advertisers who’ll spend lots of money to reach them. Right now, Hitwise’s stats are all we have. But in a few more weeks, we’ll know if Microsoft’s $100 million marketing budget bootstrapped Bing, or if we’ve got another Zune.
I’m still betting it’ll be a hit, by which I mean Bing will grab 20 percent or more of the U.S. Internet advertising market. Partly by kicking Google back down a few stairs, but mostly by growing the market, bringing in a new crop of targetable users for a new set of advertisers.