The SEO Implications of Bing, Part I: Algorithm

The release of Bing, Microsoft’s new search engine, was accompanied by much commotion among SEO specialists. The early public release shook up the day-to-day lives of search marketers – all of a sudden, one of the familiar “big three” got a facelift.

Much of the uproar was focused on the marketing surrounding Bing, its share of the search market, or its new features. Very few authoritative sites made observations specifically about how the release would affect SEO. Microsoft’s own whitepaper Bing for Webmasters most directly addressed how to optimize for Bing by basically saying to optimize as one normally does:

“Best of all, the type of SEO work and tasks webmasters need to perform to be successful in Bing haven’t changed—all of the skills and knowledge that webmasters have invested in previously applies fully today with Bing.”

Some bloggers noticed variations between Google’s SERPs and Bing’s SERPs and used that to guess about algorithmic differences between the two sites. While these initial studies were pseudo-scientific at best, they at least noted a difference and tried to identify which ranking factors were more important for a given search engine.

The purpose of this post is to examine these initial observations in the light of current Bing discussion. Some of these factors have been confirmed or at least affirmed by outside sources; others were either wrong to begin with, or had such little significance that they were unnoticed by other SEO specialists.

Probable Algo Differences

  1. Keywords in URL
    This factor has often been discussed as a difference between Yahoo! and Google ranking algorithms. But sound research that compares SERPs on a large scale found that including keywords in the URL is almost definitely a bigger factor for Bing than it is for Google, returning more pages with the search term in the URL 92% of the time.
  2. Domain Age
    This factor was found by the oft-cited initial post to be the most glaring difference between Bing and Google’s organic results. More scientific tests by Tim at SEOwizz affirmed that, at least among the three search terms he tested, the age of the site was a more important ranking factor for Bing than it is for Google.
  3. Textual Content
    This factor is almost definitely more important for Bing than Google because the Bing for Webmasters whitepaper says that Bing scrapes information from Flash only if there is no other content to show for the description. Unlike Google, it seems that Bing does not consider the contents of Flash files when ranking sites – it is only to find a description if no other content is available. Thus, it is important for Flash-heavy sites to write textual content in both meta tags and body content so users will get a description (and a summary, if using Bing’s Quick Preview function).

Commonly Cited (but not confirmed) Algo Differences
The contents of this blog post have been repeated without attribution, creating a sort of false knowledge that these factors are different for Bing than they are for Google. The problem is that even the original post lacks any sources or verifiable research. Without verifiable research or at least similar observations by other search professionals, these commonly cited algorithmic differences are much less likely to be true than the ones above:

  1. Outbound Links
    According to the original post at Vedainformatics.com, even Google places importance on links out to other websites – if Site A links to a reputable site, Google will consider Site A more reputable than before. It is actually a very hotly debated topic, with no conclusive evidence of outbound links having an effect on rankings. With this in mind, I find it hard to believe when this post explains that Bing’s algorithm considers this factor even more than Google’s.
  2. Title Tag
    Vedainformatics.com also said that the title tag was of higher importance for Bing, but the SEOwizz studies concluded that there is little difference – in fact, Google seemed to weight title tags more than Bing in those examples.
  3. Title Tags of Other Pages
    The site also says that Bing places more importance on the title tags of inbound and outbound links than Google. Again, the unequivocal declaration that outbound links are important to search engine reduces this statement’s credibility. Like the other statements, this one is not backed by any research and has not been mentioned by any other sources.

Keep in mind that Bing is constantly updating minor features of the site. Bing program manager Brett Yount stated on the community forums:

“We are making some fairly large changes to quite a bit of our backend — most of which I cannot go into right now. But stay tuned for a better experience.”

Also, Apogee Search’s contacts at Microsoft have hinted at a series of changes soon to come but remained quiet about the details. Any adjustment of Bing’s algorithm could occur in the next few weeks.

Look for Part II of this series, which will focus on Bing’s new features (rather than the algorithm) and their effect on search engine optimization.

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