Bing Is About to Get Bigger; Can Its Users Find Your Brand?

Yahoo Deal Makes Search Optimization More Important

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Collin Cornwell
Collin Cornwell
Two questions that often come up when we're educating clients on the best practices for natural search -- making sure your brand is present in relevant search results -- are "What are the differences in tactics when dealing with the various engines?" and "You guys seem to place more emphasis on Google; what about Yahoo or Bing (or now Binghoo)?"

Now that Bing will be powering Yahoo's search engine, it will move from a minor, third-place player to a second-place player that handles about a third of all consumer searches. The Yahoo and Microsoft partnership has made this is a very hot topic in the SEO community, and there are a few ways to answer these questions.

First, Bing presents new opportunities and challenges because it has features not currently on Google. But there are also differences in traditional ranking factors. I'll go over these -- and what steps can be taken to help ensure top placement.

Bing: opportunities and challenges
Although Bing has some interesting new features that are not available on the other engines, the one that affects SEO the most is the inclusion of Quick Tabs, which groups some, but not all, of Bing's results in a categorical format. Based on several third-party studies and Live Search user testing performed in 2008, the Bing team decided to help users find what they are looking for faster by including Quick Tabs on the top left of the first search-engine results page, or SERP. Knowing that users refine their queries (roughly half the time, according to the Bing white paper), the results on page one are categorized into multiple sets of search results related to the user's query.

Some of the issues this new layout presents include:

  • A big challenge: To gain a page-one listing for "generic" keywords, you now need to be found within the top five positions, not the top 10. Bing SERPs that are "categorized" show only five results for the user's initial query. Results that fall outside of those top five are pushed down to page two of the results. This is good news, for obvious reasons, if you are lucky enough to be found within those top five.
  • A secondary challenge: Reporting teams may have difficulty in determining how to best report on rankings given this new format.
  • A big opportunity: Identifying gaps in content is a no-brainer. Categorized results may provide insight into what content you should develop and optimize, or how your website taxonomy should look.
  • A secondary opportunity: Due to this categorized layout (essentially multiple search queries on one SERP), domains may be able to obtain multiple rankings on the first results page for non-branded search queries.

How can you optimize for Bing?
It's important to note that most, if not all, of the traditional ranking factors apply to Bing (and Yahoo). However, some factors seem to carry a little more (or less) weight than others. From what we have seen, Bing seems to place more emphasis on the age of a domain and less emphasis on off-site anchor text. While several folks seem to think that linking out plays a role, we are having a hard time validating that (but it is a common best practice nonetheless). What does seem to influence rankings is the simple inclusion of keywords in the URL and the domain name, but this is not unique to Bing; it is something that influences rankings on both Google and Yahoo, as well. For optimal results, consider the following:

  • Domain age plays a role. The older your domain, the better it will do. If you are considering a microsite, you should probably weave it into your existing domain. If you are starting a new site, pick up an existing domain that may be expiring or try to purchase an established domain.
  • Build your website's taxonomy properly. If you are optimizing for Bing, take a look at the categories that are presented for your most critical search terms (if applicable). The names of your site categories/sub-categories and the content found within your site should reflect what Bing thinks is relevant for your original query. Meaning, if you want to gain visibility for kids' furniture, you should ensure that your website has a "section" to support that keyword query. Several big brands may need to take a close look at this, as Bing isn't showing favoritism to well-established brands, like Google does. In addition, support your keyword theme by ensuring that crawlable anchor text (the clickable text when linking to a page) is being used within your tier-one navigation (a site's primary navigation), and that it supports your category or sub-category naming convention; your URLs are rewritten to support the keyword theme; and keywords can be found within the title, headers, content and meta data.
  • Link optimization is still key. While it seems that optimized anchor text (again, that's the clickable text when linking to a page) plays less of a role on Bing, back links (when other websites point to you) from other relevant neighborhoods are still vital. Do your best to associate your website with other authoritative domains that are on topic with your keyword themes. Syndicate relevant content and point back to the most relevant page on your site.
  • Leverage the Bing Webmaster Center blog. Bing Webmaster provides tools similar to Google Webmaster tools. Furthermore, the Bing website has a wealth of SEO-related information specific to Bing. A good place to start is by downloading the "Bing New Features for Webmasters" white paper.

As the old saying goes, some things never change. With these new enhancements come a handful of new challenges and opportunities. Most of these recommendations are relevant to the other engines, and more than likely echoed by any reputable SEO agency in the industry. For the most part, Bing has received nothing but positive feedback from the SEO community -- let's see how its market share stacks up in the coming weeks, months and years.

Collin Cornwell is VP of natural search at iCrossing.
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