Bing Favors Microsoft, Time For A Search Engine Users Bill Of Rights

Over the weekend I was doing a domain search for a client. One of the domains I checked was sharepointportal.com. I wasn't surprised to see that domain had already been scarfed up but I was taken aback when the sharepointportal.com URL went directly to a Microsoft Bing search page. Okay, Microsoft had registered the URL... big deal, but what surprised me was that the URL went directly to a BING page full of links to Microsoft's own web pages. To be exact, the first page of search results Bing displayed had 7 links to Microsoft pages about SharePoint, 3 links to vendor and news sites, and one link to wikipedia, i.e. 7 out of 11 links on the first search page were Microsoft links (added to the fact that the URL went directly to the BING search page in the first place.) Entering "sharepointportal.com" into the Bing search field produced the same results, btw.

By comparison, a search on Google for "sharepointportal.com" resulted in 3 links to Microsoft pages (including the URL I searched on), 7 links to vendor and news sites, and 2 wiki pages.

First, is Microsoft registering many other *portal.com or similar URLs that go directly to Bing? Bing's only been out a few weeks and it seems odd to me that I "just happened" to stumble on this one odd URL. I'd guess Microsoft has many other URLs out there like it. Second, how will Bing balance serving Microsoft's interests vs. showing non-Microsoft results? 

Microsoft has every right to promote their own stuff using URLs and in Bing search results, but too much of that and users will see Bing as just a biased shill for promoting Microsoft products, and won't trust the results Bing serves up. Understand, it's not like Google is serving up independent or neutral search results either. Google's results are of course influenced through keyword bidding and the fruitful search engine optimization (SEO) efforts of many companies, marketers and consultants. But the same question should apply to Google when it comes to promoting their own products and services. Just last week I had someone contact me claiming that Google was unfairly pushing up the bids for keywords for services they compete with against Google. They claimed Google had pushed the price up for email archive backup service keywords to over $40 per click, thus pricing smaller competitors out of the market, though I don't have any direct evidence of this myself.

Now, let me put on my consumer rights hat for a moment. What I'd like to see are disclosure statements from all search engine providers detailing to the degree and methods used (or lack of) in search engine results to promote their own products and services over those of competitors. It's reasonable to assume that Google and Microsoft also do SEO for their own sites, but how much do marketing organizations internally know about how their own search engines serve results, how does this affect their SEO, and what do the search engines do that might favor their own company over others? 

I'm no uncompetitive business practices FTC expert, though let’s hope the FTC stops letting the EUC do all their work for them, but it would be in Microsoft's, Google's, Yahoo's and other search engine providers' interests to be transparent in their search engine business practices. They clearly can have a conflict of interest with customers who purchase keywords in areas that overlap or compete with products and services offered by the search engine provider. And consumers have a right to know whether search engine providers walk this balancing beam fairly or not. Better yet, I'd like to see us adopt a Search Engine Users Bill Of Rights (SEUBOR). If the industry can't put a fair one together, then it's time for congress and the FTC to get their act together and do so.

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