I have never said that I loved Bing or any Microsoft search engine prior. I won't try to hide that I am addicted to just about nearly everything Google from Android to Analytics, so this may be a little bias, but I still think relevant.
Search Engine Market Share
In the search engine battle there is always one number that comes up and that is market share. One of my biggest pet peeves with Bing is how they go about getting increased searches from somewhat deceptive means. This is not something that started with Bing, this has been going on with several versions of the Microsoft search engine. You may remember the Live Cashback program that pushed sponsored advertising, or the Live Search Club (Club Bing) that gave you points for searches to the newer Decode Jay-Z interactive game. All of these were activities that a user would play that would utilize the search engine at some point in the activity, thus increasing searches. In my opinion many of these searches add false market share for the engine. I understand that given the enormous number of searches done everyday, these activity type of searches are just a small drop in the bucket, but if the goal behind the ideas is to increase market share it is still a valid point.
Why Be Deceptive?
Again, this is more of a pet peeve to me than anything else. Bing is not a bad search engine and it has been growing in popularity since launch, but why force searches? For the end user it is not always the best practice. Take this for example:
This was an article from MSN's home page. Yes I am a fan of ugly Christmas sweaters and the picture in the article sure is a gem. So I want to find out more about ugly Christmas sweaters, this is a fairly short article with a few links. I would expect that 'How to find the perfect ugly sweater' would take me to another small article about how to find my own ugly sweater. Unfortunately not...it is just a link to a Bing search for that specific question:
What they are doing is not wrong ethically, but in my opinion it is wrong from a usability perspective. It may not even bother me as much if they haven't used the previous activities as a means to more searches. There is some value to the user for the activities but in the end it seems that the question asked when the idea arose was, "how can we increase searches?" instead of "what other things can we do to benefit our users?".
Small Business Takeaway
Sure there is a small business takeaway from this, isn't there always? Here it goes: Think about the user. We have heard non-user friendly ideas for a website many times before...even if it may increase a metric on your site that you can report to the boss, think about what you would think if you approached it from the user perspective. When you launch a site with extensive functionality have several people try it and report back their feelings. From there you can adjust as needed. Usability is a key factor of any successful website!
Maybe I am being to nit-picky with the Bing example, but if they were a little more clear that the link they provided would be doing a search instead of going to an actual article it wouldn't bother me quite as much. Bing is not the only engine that does this type of thing, it just stands out more to me given their history.