The biggest problem facing Bing? Loyalty to Google.

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    A new focus group study shows that some users prefer Bing, Microsoft's new search engine – but that most, in the long run, would stay with Google.
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We've written a lot about Bing in recent months, because let's face it – any legitimate challenge to Google is worth watching very closely. But a new focus group study released yesterday by Catalyst Group shows exactly how steep the climb will be for Microsoft's new search tool.

The focus group was comprised of 12 Internet users, all of whom named Google as their search engine of choice. (None of the users had ever tried Bing.) The group was given two tasks: a search for local hotels, and a shopping search for a new digital camera. Each user was asked to try the search on both Google and on Bing. The Catalyst Group then employed eye tracking technology and a general survey to monitor how the group responded to each engine.

Score one for Bing

Recommended: Innovation

Interestingly, most of the users preferred the visual design and feel of Bing. One test subject said Bing was "warmer and more inviting." Another opined that "Bing's search refining features were more helpful than Google's." So far, so good – Microsoft has obviously put a lot of thought into the layout of their newest engine, from the glossy opening photos to the structure of the results page.

One more piece of good news for Bing: When users embarked on their search for a new digital camera, they spent 150 percent more time viewing the ad space at the top of the page. A plus, obviously, for Microsoft's sales teams.

But we'll stay with Google

In the end, 8 out of the 12 users said they planned on sticking with Google, despite a positive experience with Bing. Some users cited the fact that the engines were producing essentially identical results. Others pointed out that since they already used a lot of Google applications, such as Google Docs, that it wouldn't make sense to switch to Bing. The biggest sticking point, though, was loyalty: users were familiar with how Google worked, and saw no reason to ditch their favorite search engine.

"Bing generates interest," one user wrote, "but it's hard to take me away from Google because I'm so comfortable with it."

The numbers game

In the end, of course, the victor in the search war between Google and Bing will be the one who ends up with the most toys traffic. And in that race, Bing has gained some serious momentum.

Earlier this month, the tracking firm comScore estimated that Bing's average daily penetration among US searchers had reached 16.7 percent during the week of June 8, a 3 percent increase from the week prior to the engine’s introduction.

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