Microsoft’s Bing announced a relaunch today that revamps how it integrates social media into its search results to make those elements more useful but less intrusive.

It’s doing this by presenting search results into three columns: Core Search, Snapshot and Sidebar.

Core Search returns results based on algorithmic relevance, which is the information most people expect. Snapshot gives a preview of the results without the need to leave Bing. And Sidebar presents results returned from Facebook and other social networks.

The changes, which Bing said represent the most significant update since its 2009 launch, will be gradually rolled out over the next several weeks.

This structure is intended to reflect how people actually use search and social. Bing said that consumers increasingly intend to take an action of some kind – buy something, find a restaurant, locate somebody – when they search, and this purpose needs to be addressed to stay relevant.

“People are using the Web to do things in the real world, and that’s a big change from where things were a decade ago,” said Bing senior director Stefan Weitz. “And so the 10 blue links that search has been predicated on for the last decade no longer makes sense. Simply put, that’s not how you get things done.”

The Bing updates separate the relevant, algorithm-determined results from social updates and results, minimizing clutter while still providing a full spectrum of what searchers want, he added.

“Increasingly, the Web is about much more than simply finding information by navigating a topically organized graph of links,” said Qi Lu, president of Microsoft’s Online Services Division. “We’re evolving search in a way that recognizes new user paradigms like the growth of the social graph, and will empower people with the broad knowledge of the Web alongside the help of their friends.”

Related links:

Microsoft – press release

Bing – blog post

Search Engine Land – The New Bing: Relaunch Features With Social Sidebar

Search Engine Watch – Bing Introduces 3-Column Search Results With Snapshots, Social Sidebar

Bloomberg – Microsoft Redesigns Bing in Bid to Win Share From Google

Reuters – Microsoft redesigns Bing, plays up Facebook link

New York Times – Bing to Be Revamped in War for Search Engine Supremacy

Photo by Flickr user kawanet, used under Creative Commons license