Over the last few weeks I've been to several online marketing conferences that specifically focused on Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Marketing (SEM) strategies. Bing was a big sponsor of all of these conferences so I got to hear several Bing employees talk about the benefits of their new search engine and I also got to try it out myself.
Bing's marketing campaign is promoting that they are not a search engine, but rather, a 'decision engine.' Bing is focused on better understanding user intent and displaying fewer, but more relevant/accurate results based on your intent. Since their inception, search engines have always been on a mission to
better understand user intent and deliver better results so in a sense, this is not new. In addition, with Google's recent introduction of personal
search results they too
seem to be headed further down this path.
In theory, this all sounds great to me. However, I personally don't like where this could lead. Bing seems to be narrowing the results returned based on the assumption that they better understand your intent. They make it more of an effort to get passed these limited options and expand your search in case they got it wrong.
Others are getting into the game as well. Take a look at this screen shot from Travelocity. In performing a search for a plane ticket I was presented with one option they selected for me based on what they felt was my 'intent.' Not only were they wrong but it is somewhat frustrating and confusing to expand the search results and chose the best flight for my trip.
What was most interesting to me during this process though was how I felt about it. Even if the trip Travelocity presented to me was the cheapest, fastest, best flight available I had one simple problem with the selection presented to me. My problem was that I didn't have choice. Call me old fashion but I'm not yet ready for the machines to start making all of my decisions.
Although the convenience and efficiency of a decision engine is somewhat appealing for many reasons, personally, I want to have the ability to choose for the following reasons:
- I don't follow the crowd. If the decision engine is presenting options to me based on aggregated user data I can guarantee that 80% of the time it's going to be wrong. I find I tend to not follow the crowd all that often and I don't want to start.
- Brand trust. I need to have significant trust in a brand before I will allow it to make decisions for me. I assure you, I don't have that trust in Travelocity or Microsoft. In fact, I can't think of any brands I trust this much.
- The end of discovery. If these decision engines make our choices for us pretty soon all the available tools will have the same problem Apple's app store has. All of the 'popular' items will bubble to the top and new, innovative, exciting options will never get discovered because they never get 'recommended'. Once something is deemed popular it's like trying to beat an incumbent politician. It's somewhat of a frightening prospect to think how limiting search results will stifle information and decision making. Imagine how it would be if every time a hospital searched for 'healthcare staffing agency' they were presented only with the selection of On Assignment. It's great if you're On Assignment, but not so great if you're – any other agency.
- Choice. Even if the engines are using 'my preferences' to present me with optionsm I still want to have the final decision. In fact, I don't want the results to be skewed in any way toward my previous choices because who's to say my preferences won't change from one day to the next. I certainly don't think the robots know better than I.
Again, I'm all for more accurate and relevant search results being presented to me. However, I want the option to opt in to any decision making functionality each time I engage with the product. Further, I don't want the options presented limited for any reason. I still want to choose. I want a search engine, not a decision engine.