Search engines organize for you the vast streams of information on the internet and even help you make sense of it all. Consequently, which search engine to use has always been a matter of contention for web users, especially with Bing entering the fray.
To drill down to the short-listed candidates, we ran a few exploratory searches on the most popular as well as many obscure engines, including ask.com, cuil.com, exalead and alltheweb. We found that most of them could not deliver consistently relevant results, especially when it came to local search terms.
Since at the time of testing Yahoo and Bing still haven’t consolidated their back-ends, we’ve considered them separately. To eliminate user bias, on certain search terms, we decided to use the BlindSearch (blindsearch.fejus.com) tool. The results are displayed in three separate columns which keep changing randomly with each term. Each relevant result appearing closest to the top was awarded a point. We created a mixed bag of search terms in different categories. Some terms were general, such as Indian economic policy, while a whole category was devoted to terms of local relevance such as sweet shop mumbai, thermocol balls near vashi, Bandra-worli sea link map, ganesh chathurthi, and roti. The most fun category of search terms was the set of terms used to determine the indexing capabilities of the search engines. Here we had to come up with random, obscure strings of sentences such as evolution of “samurai crabs”. These would determine if the search engine is capable of crawling for obscure bits of information. Then a whole set of terms were tried that were time sensitive, such as swine flu and Leno show. Since image search is one of the most used features, we settled on a few image terms as well.
In the blind test, Google and Bing ran neck and neck. While Yahoo! didn’t garner many points. That put Google and Bing in the lead for the rest of the categories of search. As far as calculations were concerned, both Bing and Google were fairly similar so we decided to raise the bar, and queried speed of light in furlongs per fortnight. Google calculator displayed the result correctly, while Bing pointed to the result. Bonus points for Google on that one. For local search, let’s take the case of mumbai sweet shop. Google returned literally hundreds of results with direct maps and direction support that worked quite well. There were even reviews available for some of the listings. Bing on the other hand returned only a handful of local results; six to be precise. It had map direction and the capability of reviews, but none were available for our search. Also, driving directions didn’t work. For Roti, Bing, Google and Yahoo! offered similar results. However, Bing showed a few videos right at the top. Other than these, as far as the index size or number of results go, Google was ahead. For images, Google and Bing were almost the same, while Yahoo! certainly lagged behind for difficult searches such as “Naneghat map”.
Going by overall scores and relevance of results, Google was the winner. But certainly not by a mile, and Bing is close on its heels. With the imminent integration of the two runners up, Bing may just have some tricks up its sleeve in the near future to overthrow the reigning champion. But Google has also revamped itself with Caffeine, so we’re in for a lot of action in the months to come.