I’ll admit I don’t follow Bing’s SERPs very closely so I came across this completely by chance. Last night I was doing some research on a client account when I noticed a familiar little thumbnail photo alongside the traditional link and description results. Seeing this on Bing first confused me – a lot. You know that feeling you get when you’re really tired and you stop in your tracks because you forget what you were just doing ? That’s what I felt like when I first saw this. And I hadn’t read about it anywhere before, so I double-checked and, sure enough, Bing was displaying an “Authorship” thumbnail in its search results:
Now, whatever this is I’m sure it’s very different than Google’s Authorship project as there’s no backbone attaching this photo to a Google+, Facebook, or equivalent account establishing this particular “author” as an entity. If there is, it’s at least not obvious.
It could just be that Bing is pulling schema-fied objects out from a page when it feels it’s appropriate. Bing’s head of webmaster outreach, Duane Forrester, was recently live-blogging quoted as answering the following when asked about Bing’s response to Google Authorship:
We’re watching what’s happening with Google and authorship. They may have their own version in the future but that’s not confirmed. In the meantime, Schema.org is open to anyone. Make sure you are testing your markup language using tools. Be very careful about it as so many people get it wrong.
It’s a good little read, if you haven’t yet and he takes some really witty jabs at Google via Matt Cutts at the end there.
So I thought it could be schema. The problem with this idea is that the particular photo Bing decided to attach to that search result was not marked-up with any structured data – schema.org, rdfa, or otherwise – that I could find.
Just A Glitch In The Matrix?
Replicating this is not real easy, and I’m surprised the thumbnail popped up in this client’s case, but I was able to do so with a rather appropriate example – Matt Cutts. A “branded” search for Matt’s name brought up a very Google-esque snippet, including an awkward thumbnail photo of the Distinguished Engineer. Another interesting thing about these results is that there were a total of four little “Author” thumbnails on the first page – and they were all different!
What they all did have in common, was that each of these photos existed in full-size somewhere on the page of the listed result. (The result in my screenshot above is from his blog and that’s a picture of him going as “Matt Romney” for Halloween lol). His Linked In page was one of the results, and probably the only one implementing any hardcore structured data, so it seemed to rule out that thought (Though I did not and am not going to verify that right now. It’s late, sorry, I’ll let someone else do that).
So it seems to me Bing is just pulling photos located on the pages it returns in its SERPs and displaying a thumbnail of it in the SERPs – much like some WordPress plugins will automatically display a thumbnail of the first image you add to a post.
How they know to display an actual photo of Matt instead of the other photo of a bag of Halloween candy from the same post on his blog is another question. I initially thought Bing was using some type of facial-recognition high-tech stuff, but since one of the thumbnails in the Matt Cutts example was a picture of some cake, I had to come up with another explanation.
Taking a look at the cake photo result, it looks like some good old alt and title tags at least helped do the trick here. That with the combination of a lot of mentions on the page for this very focused search, and, there you have it – thumbnails in Bing SERPs. It would be interesting to see some test examples of people “gaming” this by using photos on their page that were maybe more likely to get the click-through, but have little or no relation to the query.
A Different Approach
While at first this may look like Bing is slapping together an under-achieving version of Google’s Knowledge Graph, I think it’s really just a different approach to semantic networking. While Google has decided to connect the published works of “verified” Authors to their Google Plus identity via rel=author, and serve those now more-trusted results as the answers to a search query, it looks to me like Microsoft has decided to display structured information about that query. In other words, Bing is kind of displaying what Google typically reserves for it’s “Knowledge Card” area (little box that will sometimes appear on the top, right of results with pictures and other info) inside the main SERP section. Note Bing also has a “Knowledge Card” area (not sure what they call it) with the same type of overview (form Wikipedia) and format of information that Google uses.
You really understand the difference (and my point), i think, when you see the Google and Bing results side by side for the same query – in this case “Matt Cutts”.
Bing It On
So, it’s an interesting development – even if it’s been around for weeks and I’m just noticing it – and it’s honestly made my preference lean a little more towards Bing’s search results. And I’m not just hating. Lately I’ve found that finding an answer for something when it’s crunch time has become more and more frustrating using Google – particularly techno-related, how-to type questions. A lot of the times I find myself actually going to Bing after a few failed, and very frustrating, attempts using the big G.
If the “Authorship” approach is indicative of anything, it seems to me Bing’s search results may continue to provide more results from more diverse sources, giving the Intelligent Searcher several different options from which to select to solve their problem. Google, meanwhile, is bent on knowing what you want even before you want it (the quotes and sources are out there) and providing us with the answer. I believe this is being reflected in the homogeneous search results we have been seeing this past year that have caused a lot of us to scratch our heads in confusion or throw up our hands in frustration – depending on the desk we’re sitting at. Whatever the end result, at least for now, Bing has my attention.
EDIT: Something very interesting that I forgot to mention is that in my original, client example after I clicked on the search result attached to the “Authorship” photo and spent some time on the site, I clicked back to the SERP. Lo and behold – Bing had replaced the “author’s” website with his LInked In page. It was still in the #6 spot, just completely swapped out for the previous result. I thought that was very interesting and, I think, further argues the point that Bing is interested in diversity of sources for providing the information sought.
Other thoughts on this topic from around the Web:
- 3/16/13: “Bing testing ‘Authorship’?” (original WW thread that is prob dead now)
- 3/19/13: “Bing People Snippets” by AJ Kohn
- 3/21/13: “How a Search Engine Might Identify and Rank Authors in Search Results” by Bill Slawski