When it released Bing last year, Microsoft hoped that users would be willing to click on a host of additional options presented in a column along the left side of Bing search results.
It turns out, though that disappointingly few users clicked on the added options. The low click rate meant that some of the pages that Microsoft invested the most in--topic pages, articles, and custom data feeds--were being overlooked by lots of users.
Aiming to try to get more attention for its special pages, Microsoft is testing a new look that will add a series of tabs in the center of its Bing results pages, prominently identifying when there are additional types of content.
Although the change is subtle, Microsoft's Brian MacDonald says that the tabs could have a significant impact on the way users interact as compared with the current options on Bing's results pages.
"When you see a list like that, it tells people, hey, choose one from this list," MacDonald said in a telephone interview. "Whereas tabs kind of mean, hey, check out what's behind door No. 2, check out what's behind door No. 3, and, hmm, what's behind door number four? You're expected a little more to engage with all of them."
Well, that's the hope anyway.
Starting Thursday, roughly 5 percent of U.S. visitors will start to see the tabbed look, with plans to make those pages the standard view over the coming weeks. It's the most visible of several changes Microsoft is making as part of its spring refresh for Bing.
Interestingly, the tabbed look is not really that new. It's actually one of the user interface ideas that Microsoft had considered but rejected when it first introduced Bing last year. Microsoft user experience manager Paul Ray showed some of the early Bing designs earlier this month in a session at the Mix10 event in Las Vegas.
Microsoft spent months testing all manner of tabs as well as left-side and right-side navigation panes before ultimately deciding on the left-side navigation system that debuted last year. With the new look, Bing isn't scrapping the left navigation altogether, keeping it for things like related searches, search history and other refinements that a user might want to make to their query. The changes to Bing's look will also include more prominent labeling of official sites and other smaller tweaks.
Not all of the updates Microsoft is planning are cosmetic, though. The software maker is also looking to pull in more of the kinds of structured data it already offers for things like weather and recipes, as well as changes that make the engine more "social."
For example, a Bing search for the New York Times will soon pull up not only a link to the main page, but also a list of the most popular New York Times links being shared on Twitter.
It's part of Microsoft's effort to continue to gain share in the search market. The company has gained share almost every month since Bing debuted, although much of that gain has come not against Google but at the expense of others in the market, including Yahoo, Microsoft's soon-to-be-partner in the search business.