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12 ways bing is an absolute usability disaster

June 2, 2009 14 Comments

I went on holiday for a week. I came back to Microsoft's new search engine (or decision engine as it seems to be calling bing).

Here are 12 reasons why it's a usability nightmare. Imagine if I'd looked more closely ... (if you like this post, you might enjoy my one on tap usability and web design (honestly)).

<update>I am talking about Bing UK here. I've now distinguished between points which appy to bing UK and those which apply to bing USA as well. The comments upto Yohan's were made before this distinction was added.</update>

1 It doesn't say what it is

what is bing?

what is bing

Bing UK only.

What is it?

I've read elsewhere that it offers cashback if you buy stuff that you find via it.

And apparently it's going to be great at product search and maps.

Er, but wouldn't it be good if it explained its propositon somehow? I can see no reason to use it from a big picture, nice as it looks ...

2 What's with the wierd line that opens a little box?

bing line

bing line

Bing UK and Bing USA.

So when you get some search results, a wierd line appears at the right when you mouse over individual results.

At first, I presumed it was some sort of indicator of where your mouse was.

Eventually I discovered that if you move to the right of each result (about 80% along should do it) a box appears with some more information about the result.

Who the hell moves their mouse 80% along a search result on the off chance it might make a box appear?

OK, that could be fairly useful - but how many people will never actually notice this functionality?

3 The extra info box keeps vanishing when I try to use it

Bing UK and Bing USA.

Of course, I spoke too soon. Using the box is a nightmare. Look at this example.

How moving your mouse towards the box makes it shut

How moving your mouse towards the box makes it shut

So I moused over the bottom result, and moved the mouse towards the wierd line.

The box opened. Hooray. I moved the mouse up and across towards the first link - at which point the box closed and the box for the result above opened instead. (This is because the top link in the box for the bottom result is level with the result above.)

It reminds me of those awful multi-layer flyout menus where if you move one pixel in the wrong direction, everything closes and you have to start again.

4 The extra info box is a bit rubbish anyway

Old bing data

Old bing data

Bing UK and Bing USA.

And of course, the box is only as useful as the information in it.

In this example for the AA, it's showing some text from before the bank holiday 10 days ago.

Why would I want to see this?

If you're going to show this sort of thing as an integral part of your functionality, it needs to be more up to date than 10 days old.

5 And if it's not old, it's meaningless

bing pointless text

bing pointless text

Bing UK and Bing USA.

And this is the text for another of its results for car insurance.

Apparently some phone lines are open.

Great. Er, what's the phone number?

And why would I care anyway?

I'm sure they can't review each page's results manually - but surely they can do a better job at working out what's important on a page? That bit of copy is from underneath the left-hand menu.

What's the point of developing block level analysis if you're not going to use it?

6 Let's return to the search box: what are those links about?

Bing UK only - Bing USA is properly integrated.

OK, so let's look at the actual search box again.

Above it are links that say "Web | Images | Videos | Shopping | News | Maps | More".

bing options: very confusing

bing options: very confusing

I'm not quite sure where to start here.

If you click images, videos or news then the picture disappears briefly and then reappears. To no obvious purpose.

Even worse, click Shopping or Maps and you go to a completely different website. How unexpected is that? Why haven't they integrated shopping and maps into Bing?

7 The most pointless more link ever

bing explore page

bing explore page

Bing UK only - Bing USA shows xRank only next to relevant searches.

So one of the links above the search box is 'More'.

Clicking this gives you the same list of options (Web, images etc) on a virtually empty webpage but with a 6-word summary of each.

For images, you can "Find the pictures that you've been wanting to see". Oh, so that's what an image search is.

But look - the 'more' page has one another option: xRank.

So it gives 6 options, and if you click more, it gives you the same six plus one more.

Wouldn't it have been simpler to put xRank where it says More above the search box? They you wouldn't need the 'More' page. Let's not go into xRank. I haven't the energy.

8 That funny bit in the top left

bing top left links. or not.

bing top left links. or not.

Bing UK only - Bing USA has a proper link to a tour of Bing.

There's some funny links at the top left. They say 'Bing', MSN and Windows Live. Now, this does raise the question of whether it's Bing or bing.


The logo looks like bing, and in the sign-in page it's bing. But then this link here is Bing - as it is in the browser title bar.

Oh, it's except it's not a link. It's just the word bing, styled to look like the two links next to it.

Maybe it's some new pan-microsoft link bar? No, it's not on the MSN or Windows Live pages it links to. It's just pointless.

9 Where has that 'Add bing to your browser' link gone?

Bing UK and Bing USA.

I was looking at one page and it said 'Add bing to your browser' in the top right. That link has now vanished and I can't make it come back. (Actually, perhaps it's doing me a favour ...).

10 It's all ads anyway

It's all adverts

It's all adverts

Bing UK only - Bing USA gives you many more options.

Of course, when you do get some results, you can't really see them that well, as the whole screen is taken up with sponsored links.

How many sponsored links do they need?

They can't need that much money - they obviously didn't have a budget for user testing ...

11 Sign up? What for?

bing sign up

bing sign up

Bing UK only - Bing USA gives proper explanations.

So we're nearly at an end. Let us turn our attention wearily to the 'Sign up' link in the top right.

Sign up? For what? Why? Oh go on then, I'll click it just to see what it is.

I'd like to make it clear that when I'm using a site for real, I don't waste my time clicking pointless looking links on the off chance they might be useful.

Anyway, you get this if you click it. Sounds ... confusing. What is this stuff? Cashback? bing (lower case) map collections? Tell me how I can find out more. I'm not signing up until you do.

12 bing community

bing community. Huh?

bing community. Huh?

Bing UK and Bing USA.

If you click 'extras in the top right, and click blogs, you get to bing community.


I really don't understand. There are some blogs - are they written by Microsoft people? Can anyone write them?

Apparently "The Bing Travel blog provides the information you need to travel smarter and kicks off debates on the most timely travel topics."

It doesn't, as it ignores any best practice about writing for the web.

A large paragraph.

A large paragraph.

Check this one out. This one paragraph headed search failure has 168 words and 10 sentences.

The paragraph before is called 'Information overload.' You said it.


To sum up.

  • I don't know what bing is for.
  • I don't know whether to call it bing or Bing.
  • Its links are confusing or pointless.
  • Its functionality is unusable and pointless.

You can read some other reviews of bing here, here and here.

You might also like
  1. BUSTED: bing defender is Microsoft employee – and have they deleted my post on bing’s usability from bing?
  2. 14 ways Bing UK will get better when it catches up with Bing USA
  3. 6 ways Bing USA insults the British (and 1 the French)
  4. Google indexes 168,000 pages of Bing’s social search results
  5. Bing xRank – it’s rubbish as it can’t distinguise volcanos from 90s bands

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  • Raghavan says:

    I agree with you on certain points but not all.

  • Marcos Nobre says:

    Very well pointed Malcolm.
    It's so much easy just clone rights and wrongs from Google interface for the sake of familiarity.

  • Adam says:

    Brilliant. I sent them feedback when i viewed the first page. Luckily i was able to find the feedback link (more or less where I looked). Nicely written, LMAO.

  • Luke says:

    Well I'm sorry to say you obviously don't know much about usability, that's for certain.

      • yohan says:

        Well I won't speak for Luke but I definitely agree with him.

        First off, you that these 12 reasons are "Usability Disasters." Given your 12 reasons they are hardley disaster and some of even questionable as genuine usabilty problems.

        1. You don't know what Bing is for. Have you even considered the common scenarios for why a user would actually land on in the first place? Most likely they're going to the website because they've hard from word of mouth, a news article on the web, a friend, or have seen the add. Essentially, there's an ecosystem invovled that educates the user on what is. If it's a user whose used to the look and feel of, the design looks exactly the same so it leverages the user's past experience. Are you suppose that the user just stumbles upon without any purpose.

        2. What's that line that opens that little box. I agree with you hear about the points you make, however, I no way is this a usability disaster. With or without that line, the user is still able to accomplish his or her goal of finding information.

        3. You don't know whether to call it Bing or bing. Again hardley a usability disaster. Quite frankly, does this actually matter to the majority of users who are using bing?

        4.Let's return to the search box: what are those links about? I don't understand you're argument at all here. This design is taken directly from Google and other search. You claim that you are taken to entirely new page but I don't know what new page you are talking about. All search engines have a landing page that is different from the search results page, while these two pages are different in design they are consistent in look and feel.

        I'm sorry but the reasons that you stated in this post are not disasters. While there are many things that can be improved with, I would hardley ever take your 12 reasons as credible reasons of how bing needs to be improved. None of your usability issues are centered around a user failing to accomplish a goal while using Bing. Instead your usability issues are just littered with hyperbole and are in no way structured for any design professional to take seriously.

        If you decide to do any further evaluations, please center them on user goals, and show how the usability issues that you discover related to how your users failed at accomplishing their goal.

        Lastly, usability professionals usually provide recommendations on how to improve the design. I see none of this in this post. Only hyperbole and brash criticism. ALthough criticism is needed, it's hard to take yours seriously at all.

  • Hi, Yohan. Thanks for taking the time to comment. It was obviously a blog post, not a usability report, hence the lack of recommendations - but I'll try to make some below.

    The proposition
    I agree it's obvious bing is a search engine. But why is it better than any other one? I would expect at least to see an 'About bing' link.

    As it's in beta, I'd expect to see an explanation of its benefits and features. There is nothing like this. Recommendation 1: Add this.

    One way users might have got to bing is when Microsoft hijacked the default search setting on IE6 and forced IE6 users to use bing, even if another search engine was set as the default (the issue lasted a week but is now fixed).

    These users would have been left completely confused by the inability to find out what it was that they were looking at.

    2 The line
    Agreed, not knowing the line is there won't stop you using it. But what's the point of an invisible feature?

    However, the problem of diagonal mouse movement collapsing the box and making a different one appear IS a usability problem and a well known one. Jacob Nielsen makes some interesting suggestions about how to handle this issue in his post on mega drop downs (see point 3 under 'Speed'). I suggest Microsoft implements them (<--recommendation 2).

    3 bing or Bing
    To be fair, my point here was actually about not using different styles for links and non links, and having something that looks like a universal topbar but isn't.

    The fact they can't get the branding right is funny, but wasn't the main point. However, poor grammar / spelling are known to reduce users' trust in a site, so I'd recommend correcting this. It's not top of the list though. ;)

    4 Links above search box
    The issue here, sorry if I didn't explain it well, is that there are 7 links with different and unexpected behaviours. This will confuse the user and reduce their confidence in clicking links.

    This is what they do ...
    Web - Web search on Bing
    Images - Images search on Bing
    Video - Video search on Bing
    Shopping - Go to a completely different website (
    News - News search on Bing
    Maps - Go to a completely different website (
    More - Go to a list of 7 links. These are the 6 just shown plus xRank, rendering the More link pointless (as it could have just said xRank).

    To me, it's poor usability to take people to different websites as a part of a page element that looks like a list of internal links.

    My recommendation would be to integrate ciao/multimap functionality within the bing look and feel. Or to clearly distinguish between bing services (web, images etc) and links to other microsoft sites that can help you search other things.

    Your other points are just insults and "just littered with hyperbole and are in no way structured for [me] to take seriously", so I won't respond to them ... Thanks for taking the time to comment though.

  • So one source of our confusion is that I'm talking about Bing UK. Yohan is presumably talking about Bing USA which has many more features.
    I've updated this post to explain the differences. Although Yohan ought to have known this as he seems to be a Microsoft employee.

  • Darren says:

    Your observations are pointless... You're looking at it from a point of view that doesn't make sense... It's like if I go to Google for the first time, what the heck does "I'm Feeling Lucky" mean?? CLICK IT AND FIND OUT!!! Otherwise, SHUT UP AND DON'T USE IT!

  • Robert says:

    I think my problem with Bing is that clicking on maps and shopping takes you to another site. This can be a little annoying changing interface. Google stays with the same interface and so that would be a reason for me to stick with Google.

    As for the pretty pictures...its ok the first time you see it but gets a bit busy the next time you go there and kind of distracts the eye from the search box (well, for me anyway).

  • Robert says:

    One more thing: they may want to check the contrast ratio of the bottom links as you can hardly see them. Kind of a grey on a not so dark grey? Suppose that comes under both usability and accessibility.

  • Am I the only one who noticed how poor the grammar and spelling were on that entry?

    We can only hope it was English as a second language I suppose. If not where are MS finding these people.

    R! ;-)

  • [...] If you enjoyed this, you might also like my post on the usability of Bing. [...]

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