Has Bing really hit 26% of the UK market? We’re sceptical

Do you know anyone who uses Bing as their search engine of choice? Me neither. So I was somewhat surprised to see TechRadar reporting on a Bing search surge. The report claims that in March 2017 Bing hit a whopping 33% of the US desktop market share and 26% of the UK’s.

Has Bing really hit 26% of the UK market? We’re sceptical

There are a few reasons this could be true. Windows 10 now occupies around 27% of the global market share, and pushes both Edge and Bing heavily. Also, the numbers include Yahoo search (powered by Bing) and AOL searches. But even then, anecdotally, it just doesn’t sit with what I see around me every day.

Let’s park the fact that paying people to use your service doesn’t sound like the behaviour of a company with a quarter of the market sewn up for a second. Where are these numbers coming from?

The numbers come from a customised Microsoft ComScore search. ComScore, for those unfamiliar, involves monitoring software being installed on user’s computers worldwide – it’s a mixture of self-selection and random digit dialling. It takes this undisclosed sample size and scales it up for a global audience. These are the numbers that Microsoft is trumpeting:bing-worldwide-market-share-march-2017

No model that extrapolates global data from a small sample is going to be 100% accurate, but it could still be in the right ballpark. So I dug into a number of other sources seeing if the trend for Bing in March was replicated.

First up, I logged into our company Hitwise account. Hitwise, for the unfamiliar, does the same thing as ComScore, only it gets anonymised data from 3 million UK internet users. That’s a big number – which isn’t to say it’s infallible. It’s just a good point of reference.hitwise_uk_search_data

Nope. According to that, Google has a combined market share of 96%. Bing is on 3%, Yahoo is on 2%.

Okay, let’s try Alexa. Historically it’s been pretty flakey as it relied in people having the Alexa toolbar installed – some browsers installed it automatically, but not all of them, which meant it was skewed in favour of tech sites. Nonetheless, in the name of data journalism, I registered for a seven-day trial, daringly running the risk that I might forget to cancel and be on the hook for $49 per month.

Turns out it’s even more useless than I thought, and it wouldn’t let me burrow down into just UK only, so this is global, but even then it gives you an idea that a Bing surge is massively overstated:alexa

It’s a similar story with Netmarketshare, which gave Google a global share of 77.43% to Bing’s 7.31%. This is global, of course (geolocation required a subscription that my wallet overruled), but it doesn’t look like the story of a search engine surging to me.netmarketshare

Statcounter, which is installed on over 3 million websites, had all kinds of options to play with, and none of them were kind to Bing. 11.28% of UK traffic for March, to Google’s 84.37%.statcounter_bar_graph

The final evidence comes from Alphr’s own Google Analytics account. This is the breakdown of search traffic for the month of March:google_analytics

In March, 95.39% of our search engine UK-based desktop traffic came via Google. In its defence, Bing was second with 4.02%. Okay, we may just be better optimised for Google – that’s very possible – and tech enthusiasts are probably more likely to use Google, but these aren’t the numbers of a company that’s supposed to have a quarter of the market share.

None of these stats are conclusive on their own – especially given that some are global – but they add up to an inescapable conclusion: these Comcast Bing figures are far from certain.

It’s also worth remembering that even if they are 100% accurate, it’s desktop only, and we’re in an increasingly mobile world. Microsoft has a stranglehold on the desktop market with Windows 10, where it can funnel people towards Bing, but on mobile, it’s a different story. That’s Google country, and Alphr’s own stats back this up (that 4.02% search traffic drops to 1.57% when mobile is counted.)

Is Bing growing? Quite possibly. Should Google be worried? Absolutely not – the chances of it joining Lycos, Excite and poor old Jeeves on the dead search engines pile anytime soon are, to all intents and purposes, non-existent.

Update: An earlier version of this article claimed that Hitwise used data from 8 million UK internet users – that’s the global number, with 3 million based in the UK.

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