Bots are coming to Bing in a big way. Through its Bot Framework, Microsoft is starting to integrate chatbots into search results — to make search more interactive and transactional.
In April, Matt McGee spotted the appearance of chat functionality for selected Seattle-area restaurants. That is now rolling out officially (still only to restaurants) through Bing Places and the newly launched Business Bot program. Microsoft will automatically create a bot from the data in Bing Places.
The business doesn’t need to do anything technical. It just answers a few structured questions and accepts the bot agreement terms. Thereafter, when users search for the business, a screen like the following will appear:
Users can then get basic questions about the business answered through the bot (e.g., “do you have outdoor seating?”). If there’s a question it can’t answer, the bot will refer the user to a phone number.
The bot can also ask business owners additional questions, depending on what information users are seeking. The new information will then be incorporated into the data set the bot uses to respond.
There are three noteworthy aspects of this development:
The consumer experience: ability to get deeper questions answered and possibly conduct transactions within the SERPThe automated creation of the bot using data provided to Bing PlacesThe fact that the bot will be available across channels and platforms (create once, publish across sites)
Local businesses will be able to add “channels” with the click of a button, such as Facebook Messenger and Cortana. Currently, Business Bots is available for Bing, Skype and SMS. Facebook Messenger and Cortana are coming soon.
Microsoft envisions rolling bots out broadly to local businesses. I assume that questions and functionality will need to be tuned by vertical as they go. The company also sees large enterprises deploying bots and chat in search results. Transactional capabilities will be added over time.
Google offers Message extensions for AdWords but doesn’t have comparable chat functionality in organic results — although that will likely come. But with Business Bots, Microsoft has made chatbots (and AI) immediately accessible to SMBs.