Bing Hack: Seeing Geo-targeted results

Bing launched yesterday – a few days before everyone thought it would and I have been pleasantly surprised by the generally positive feedback from people within the industry. Last time Microsoft launched a search engine, I can safely say the response wasn’t QUITE so good. In the intervening years they have really tried to engage with the industry and it seems that this has paid off a bit.

A huge amount of work seems to have gone into user intent and user behaviour. This means that results can vary dramatically depending on the nature of the query. The decision to add images to the results, or local listings, or currency exchange rates all depend on what Microsoft can glean about you.

This means they have used some novel new GeoTargeting features which are a little unusual – meaning that most people around the world are going to see different results EVEN WHEN THEY TRY TO SEE RESULT FROM OTHER COUNTRIES.

Let me explain…

The first two “layers” of Geo-targeting are cookie based. One defines the country and one defines a much narrower area like your town. To change the country, you would think that you just need to click on the country button in the top right:  bing-counyry-code

But this doesn’t truly give you US results if you are in the UK….

The second Cookie related setting can be modified by typing in a very generic term like “plumbers”. You should get a local result. From there you have a button that lets you change your location:

bing-local

this will allow you to draw local results from anywhere. (I switched mine from Ealing, to New York.) But this still doesn’t guarantee you seeing proper US results in the main SERPS.

 

To properly see UK results from the US you need a third level of Geotargeting. The third level is IP location. Looking at the Bing SERPS from a computer hosted in the country you want to review does make a difference. To do this, the easiest way is to look through a US proxy from the UK or a UK Proxy from the US. If you want to look through a US proxy, but before you do that, you should probably disable all your cookies or at least set then to the country you are trying to view.

But even THIS isn’t perfect, we found. There is a FOURTH layer which even a proxy server doesn’t fix. This fourth layer has some unusual idiosyncracies.

Andy and I worked on this today and it looks like the accept-language headersetting is working differently in the US than in the UK. Changing the accept-language header is a bit of a pain, as it gets configured when your browser gets installed, although in Firefox I imagine that the “tamper data” plugin is abot to get quite popular as you can change the settings using this plugin.

We used this plugin, with cookies disabled, through a UK and through a US Proxy, to see whether IP location or accept language header too precendence. The results were geeky but interesting:

 

IP Location

Accept language setting

Result in Bing

US

GB

UK

US

None

US

US

US

US

UK

US

UK

UK

US

UK

UK

AU

AU

UK

CA

CA

The interesting element here is that on a US IP address, the accept language setting takes precedence, but from a UK IP address, the accept language setting defers to letting the IP address taking precedence.

So it seems that Bing does not trust an IP address being reported as coming from the US as it does from outside the US.

Summary and Conclusion

If you are in the UK and you REALLY want to see what the Americans are really seeing on Bing then you need to do all of the following:

1. Set the country in Bing AND

2. Set the town in Bing AND

3. View through a US based proxy server AND

4. Change the accept language settings by installing a Firefox plugin

If you are in the US, then you only need to do one of the two last elements to be able to see a regional result outside the US.