Previous iterations of Microsoft’s search efforts were often met by many with skepticism. It’s not like they haven’t made the effort – Yukon, MSN, Live and now Bing – but they still haven’t been able to make significant inroads to compete with Google’s search engine dominance.
With the newly released Bing, an aggressive advertising campaign, and the impending consolidation of Yahoo! search into Bing, it’s inevitable that Microsoft’s search engine use is going to dramatically increase. That means search engine optimizers are going to need to spend a little more time thinking about how to influence Bing, not just Google.
We’re going to take a look at how Bing stacks up against Google and what you can do to make sure your website is fully optimized to take advantage of all that Bing has to offer; regardless of the quality of results Microsoft’s search engine provides.
In a Matt Cutts video posted on YouTube, he explained that Google takes into account the following factors when ranking websites:
- High Quality
There are also ranking factors and attributes that have been applied to it by search engine optimizers themselves. They include:
- Algorithm is easy to manipulate
- It heavily relies on keywords in domain and page title
- Includes too many spammy websites in its index
Since we have some vague idea of the metrics Google uses to value websites, it’s only fair that we assess Bing on the same metrics to see how it performs.
Bing’s Trust and Authority Issue
The issue of trust can be looked at from both a user’s and search engine’s perspective. A user will decide whether or not a site is worthy both visually and contextually. A search engine bot will take far more into consideration:
- outbound, inbound, and internal links
- domain age
- URL structure
- On page factors
- Many more factors, including linking relationships with other sites
Theoretically speaking, if we equate the human form of trust with a website, we would be more likely to trust [a website] if it was consistent, provided truthful/accurate information regardless of question (user query), was reasonably mature, and didn’t try to deceive us.
Casual Internet users are more likely to be taken in by less altruistic websites than more veteran Internet users. Unfortunately, casual users make up the majority of users on the Web.
Let’s take the term “weight loss.” Here’s a side-by-side comparison of Bing and Google as seen using Bing vs Google.
The first page results for both search engines contain what appears to be trustworthy and authoritative websites, but there’s a distinction if we look closer. Assuming most people searching for weight loss are looking to lose weight themselves, we can safely assume that they want to know how to lose weight.
Bing’s results are intriguing. The first result is an article from the Mayo Clinic about prescription weight loss drugs. It appears that Bing makes the assumption, based on the user’s query, that the user wants to lose weight and suggests a weight loss method. Wikipedia, About.com, weightloss.com and WebMD make up the top six search results. All are authoritative websites.
Let’s take a look at Google. It appears that Google is not placing as much emphasis on the most authoritative websites, such as Wikipedia and the Mayo Clinic (which still appears on the first page results, just further down below the fold). Google includes news results for weight loss which include news items from WebMD and Reuters.
Note that Google also included the quick links snippets in the first result with dieting tips – The Flat Belly Diet, Lose Weight Fast, and 9 Best Diet Tips Ever. Intentional or not, people will click on those links because of the domain with which they’re associated (WebMD).
Google provides me with local business results for weight loss near my current location. I can only presume that Google does this based off my IP or recent query history, because I made sure I wasn’t logged in to my Google account when performing the search.
What Can We Learn?
Bing’s query return lists appear to be heavily favored with authoritative websites. There are two different results from the same domain (about.com). We can surmise that Bing places a high relevance factor on authoritative websites and grants them a certain amount of trust.
I’m not arguing that there isn’t any useful information on these websites. I’m sure there is, but what’s disappointing is the lack of blogs, and universal / local results. This is probably more of an opportunity for Bing to improve. However, based on these results, one might surmise that they would need to direct their marketing efforts directly at these sites, instead of the SERPs themselves.
Switching query spaces, let’s take a look at the query fix my car.
This query is informational in intent. What I’m looking for is information regarding fixing my car and car repair (related). The first thing that strikes me is that there are no forums listed – sometimes the best information can come via the way of forums with user input.
The top 9 or 10 results reflect on the query space, and it’s easy to see that both engines rate Wikihow highly. Google seems to have placed a particular emphasis on the query in an informational context – i.e., the exact query fix my car doesn’t appear in the title of a website until the sixth result, whereas Bing’s second-placed result includes the term in both the title and the domain. The content on that blog is about an unfortunate incident about the blog owner’s car being flipped – great story, but really doesn’t help me if I want to get my car fixed.
Bing’s ninth-placed result (a free online game) is completely unrelated and provides no substance or value to my query. Google’s results are much more information-oriented. However, the blogspot domain we just mentioned is listed as #6, so Google doesn’t totally get full marks for the quality of the result it returned. Could this be a domain issue? Another thing to take note of is that Google isn’t without mishaps in its top-ranked terms for the query, either. Take a look at 7th and 8th results, both results for a baby book called Baby Fix my Car. Not the result you would like to see for an informational query.
What Can we Learn?
Something to take into account when you’re in a competitive query space is that a combination of keywords in the domain and title are important to both Bing and Google.
However, it appears that they both can be trumped by domain age. A mature domain with a good reputation, seems to consistently take top spot for a lot of queries. It certainly did in our example with the top result in both Bing and Google being approximately 13 years old.
The second-placed result that we discussed (the blogspot domain) reaffirms that not including high priority, target keywords in your domain and title tags could see you getting ignored by Bing. Indeed, it confirms the majority of reports that show Bing placing heavy emphasis on keywords.
Interestingly enough, Ask.com seems to have picked up on the lack of informational targeting – check out their PPC ad:
Bing’s Version of PageRank: Page Score
The removal of the PageRank metric from Google’s Webmaster Tools was seen by many Search marketers as a step in the right direction — that there’s far too much emphasis placed on PageRank.
Matt Cutts’ reference to PageRank as one of the determining factors when ranking websites is an interesting one. Will the removal of the PR metric lead to the removal of it in the Google Toolbar? Will Google remove it altogether from visibility but still use it as a ranking signal?
Bing has their own version of PageRank which they have named Page Score.
The effect of Page Score as a ranking factor is yet to be known. Many people at the Bing community are asking the question, only to be given a somewhat cryptic answer. However, another thread on the Bing forums point to the page score system as a scoring method for inclusion in Bing’s index. If a site has a low page score (a zero), it could theoretically be removed.
Bing’s official stance on how it ranks your website is as follows:
Bing website ranking is completely automated. The Bing ranking algorithm analyzes factors such as webpage content, the number and quality of websites that link to your webpages, and the relevance of your website’s content to keywords. The algorithm is complex and is never human-mediated. You can’t pay to boost your website’s relevance ranking. However, Bing does offer advertising options for website owners. For information about advertising with Bing, see How to Advertise with Microsoft.
Each time the index is updated, previous relevance rankings are revised. Therefore, you might notice a shift in your website’s ranking as new websites are added and others become obsolete.
Although you can’t directly change your website’s ranking, you can optimize its design and technical implementation to enable appropriate ranking by most search engines.
Interesting. No mention of Page Score at all.
What Can We Learn?
The inclusion of a metric that only appears in Bing’s webmaster tools speaks volumes. Assuming that Bing is using Page Score as an indexation method, rather than a ranking method, is interesting. It could be a way to encourage webmasters to work on improving individual pages to provide higher quality results. Alternatively, it looks like Bing is having trouble even indexing sites. Many of the threads in Bing’s user forums suggest that the MSN Bot hasn’t visited their site as often as the Google Bot and isn’t picking up on 301 changes as quickly as Google.
My suggestion for indexation in Bing is to focus on enhancing and optimizing individual pages, instead of building out a copy-thin website. Once you’re confident that Bing is indexing the site, continue to build it out at a steady pace. Know which of your pages has a high Page Score and compare those pages with pages indexed by using the site:http://mydomain.com search operator.
How Does Bing Determine Quality?
To determine if information is high quality, we need to look at an unbiased query term that could be informational, transactional, or branded. Let’s take a look at the results for the term Mac or PC?
When describing something as high quality, we would expect it to be up-to-date, reliable, and reasonably consistent. We can say the same for search results. The query we entered is trying to find information about Mac or PC, but it has a question mark at the end of it — meaning that we’re looking to make a decision.
Immediately, we can see that both Bing and Google have apple.com as their first result (in Bing’s case, the first two). What surprises me is that there is not one Microsoft blog post, website referral or mention (nor PPC ad). Whether this is down to lazy Search Marketing or it’s a fault of the algorithm remains to be seen. However, Microsoft cannot expect to compete for this query with no results whatsoever. If I’m looking to make a decision and all I see for the top results are Mac, I’m going to lean pretty heavily toward making a purchase decision (by the way, if you reverse the search term and enter PC or Mac?, apple.com still dominates).
Let’s take a look beyond the top two results. Bing’s third result is a Wikipedia page for the Mac vs PC ad campaign, the fourth is about Mac PC conversion, the fifth about converting files. It’s not until the sixth result (Wikihow) that we actually get a decent return on our query. Meanwhile, Google provides us with information which actually relates to what we’re searching for – which platform provides better value, an interview with an Apple COO, news results, and returns from related media sites that provide us with information about our query.
What Can we Learn from This?
The fact that there are zero results from Microsoft for this term is staggering. You would think someone at Microsoft would at least be aware that people are wanting to make a decision – a lack of presence in the top SERPs almost makes a user’s decision for him.
Bing’s failure to provide us with any results of value until the eighth result shows Bing to be quite unreliable. Again, Bing’s’ reliance on keywords and matching the user query are its downfall. If you’re looking to gain a SERP increase in Bing, you’d be wise to heavily target keywords in your page titles and content.
The results in Bing (in this brief study at least) have revealed several nuances about Microsoft’s latest search effort:
- The first result is generally always from a highly – authoritative website
- The third through tenth results are up for grabs. You stand a good chance of ranking highly if you focus heavily on user search queries. Do your research and build your site around it.
- Depending on the user query, it seems like Bing is ignoring user intent and is unable to distinguish between the different variety of searches.
An article this year in June on Tom’s Hardware suggests that one of Google’s co-founders is heading up a team to study Bing’s algorithm in an effort to stay ahead of its competitors. They needn’t bother – Bing has a lot of work to do to be able to even come close to Google’s complexity.