Microsoft's Bing faces uphill battle

Survey finds users satisfied with current search engine

Microsoft's effort to compete with Google in search is off to a mixed start, as a big ad push built strong awareness and motivated user trials but showed little evidence of loosening Google's stranglehold on the market.

J.P. Morgan commissioned a survey that found Bing has intrigued consumers. Nearly 60% said they had heard of the search engine just after its launch at the end of May. Of those who had heard of Bing, 42% tried it. So, 25% of the overall sample tried Bing. That's the good news for Microsoft. The bad news is J.P. Morgan concludes the use is mostly trial and hasn't shaken consumer loyalty to Google.

The biggest problem: Consumers are mostly content with their search experience. Nearly 63% said they were happy with their current search engine.

"We think it will be more difficult for Microsoft to disrupt current user habits, despite the increased competition in the search engine space," J.P. Morgan analyst Imran Khan wrote in a presentation of the survey results.

In fact, when Bing users were asked which search engine they now use less, AOL (26%) and Ask (24%) were the top answers. Just 11% said they used Google less.

Bing scored well in the survey when it came to relevance and variety of results. Despite efforts to differentiate the appearance from Google, users, for the most part, did not say they were moved by the organization of results or interface.

The search engine has received good reviews since its debut in June. The buzz surrounding it helped Microsoft gain some modest market share in June, according to comScore. Microsoft ended the month with an 8.4% share, an increase of .4%.

J.P. Morgan believes those gains will grow. It estimates Microsoft's market share will shift from 7.1% prior to launch to 9.4%. Based on its estimate that the 2010 U.S. search market will amount to $20.1 billion, that would result in roughly $200 million more in ad revenue from search for Microsoft.

Microsoft is showing fewer ads on Bing than on Live Search, its prior search engine, according to AdGooroo. So far, advertisers have taken a wait-and-see approach to Bing, according to Roger Barnette, president of SearchIgnite, which provides bid-management tools to agencies.

"We didn't see a lot of advertiser movement in June," he said. "Advertiser dollars will be a lagging indicator of search market share. As Bing continues to grow, advertiser dollars will follow."