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SEO for Bing: Don't Ignore It

audette-adam
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It's all about Google in search today.

They have the market share. They have control of the press (can you think of a day in a recent memory that Google wasn't in the news?). They have the innovation. They have some of the smartest minds in the world, although that trend is shifting of late.

Ignoring Google means ignoring online marketing, period. Ignoring Bing, on the other hand, or Yahoo usually means ignoring nothing more than a few extra clicks; like having a meal a la carte or ordering your pie without whipped cream.

bing-interface.png
Even Google likes Bing's interface.

But there's a problem with that mindset. The problem is, marketers -- especially SEOs -- are ignoring Bing entirely, and in the process, ignoring a heavily e-commerce-focused demographic that can provide modest, but incremental, traffic, and revenue.

What if I told you that your company could experience between 5 and 10 percent incremental traffic and revenues by focusing on Bing? Who wouldn't be interested in that! That stat is fairly accurate for sites which haven't focused on Bing and have untapped opportunity, and I've seen it as high as 15 percent!

Head-Slapper: Bing Isn't Google

Bing suffers from a stigma today. It's no Google. We get that.

But it's a hell of a lot better at search than MSN was just 3 years ago. Bing today represents legitimate competition to the best search engines of the day.

Even Google's CEO Eric Schmidt admitted Bing is their "biggest problem" and competitor, saying, "Bing is a well run, highly competitive search engine." Google is absolutely watching Bing's every move, and search marketers should be doing the same thing.

Surprisingly, Bing is more innovative than Google at some aspects of search, such as their interface, which Google even went so far as to blatantly copy (to much mocking by the web, including Microsoft).

For current trends such as video, and especially, video search, Bing is right at the forefront and firmly invested.

bing-visual-search.png
Watch visual search to be big in 2011.

Why Bing Will Grow Market Share

Bing will surely gain popularity over the next few years. A few reasons why:

  • They are on a long-term strategic plan. They don't care as much about next year as they do about the next six.

  • They are heavily focused on, and investing in, search. I recently attended a private Bing summit for SEO teams from a select few retailers and publishers. While I can't disclose the details of the event, it was proof to me that they're focused on furthering relationships with in-house SEO teams.

  • They are innovative. Sure, their algorithm appears to be a bit susceptible to link manipulation, but that will surely improve over time (just as it has at Google).

  • Google is becoming more explicitly commercial. Disa Johnson recently pointed out to me what a non-commercial engine actually looks like, because I'd forgotten: it's called Wolfram|Alpha. Wolfram was Google circa 2002. Today, Google is a monetize-forward search engine getting more bloated and, yes, even greedy.

    In time this will turn off users, at least advanced users, who tend to be influential on the web and may sway market share for the web population at large.

    While Bing is no Wolfram|Alpha and is absolutely a commercial engine, they aren't nearly as invasive in their commercialism as Google has become.

[image_library_tag 596/171596, width="460" height="420" alt="Wolfram|Alpha" class="mt-image-none" style="" ,default]
Remember what a non-commercial search engine looks like?

  • Microsoft has deep pockets. They can afford to invest in search. (See their Q4 numbers yet? It was their best Q4 ever.)

  • They are running Yahoo's SERP, too. ComScore reports Bing's marketshare is up near 30 percent because of the deal.

Bing Has Room for Improvement

Certainly Bing is playing catch-up to Google's superior technology and earlier start. This is most noticeable to SEOs in the form of delayed indexing, difficulties crawling, and poor handling of redirects. It is notable that Bing will officially support the rel=canonical meta tag, which handles duplicate content issues, in January or February of 2011. That's a full two years after Google announced its support, and I doubt cross-domain rel=canonical support will ever come.

The issue with redirects, specifically 301s, is especially troubling for SEO. The Bing team has reported that they require up to two or three crawls to successfully update their index.

This is a serious problem when moving URLs, and it's also an issue when dealing with duplicate content. The best tool to use at Bing for duplicate content is their parameter handling tool, available in the Bing Webmaster Toolbox.

SEO for Bing

Bottom line: Bing is an important component of a well-ordered, strategic campaign. In addition to incremental increases in traffic from Bing, e-commerce sites can expect a demographic that's ready to shop: numbers released by Microsoft state that Bing users are 11 percent more likely to buy than Google users, and 31 percent more likely to purchase than the web's general user. Bing's is a decidedly "shoppy" demographic that e-commerce companies should not ignore.

So what's it take to rank in Bing? Hearken back about 4 years to the old Google, it's pretty much the same (with a few important differences).

General SEO Approach for Bing

  • Consistency: Ensure the signals are pointing in the same direction. URL structure and canonicalization, internal linking, rel=canonical tags, XML sitemaps, robots exclusions, should all follow canonical standards for your site.

  • Efficiency: Enable compression and http conditional GET with If-Modified-Since to give the crawler a break. (Bingbot supercedes msnbot, but the latter should still be used in robots.txt and elsewhere redundantly with bingbot until officially deprecated.) Microsoft has a handy tool for checking both compression and conditional get requests.

  • Quality: Have high-quality content. Don't try to squeak by with thin content and lots of authority pushed through the link profile.

  • Links: While I hate to say it, Bing's engine certainly appears susceptible to link spam. Not a good thing, and I'm not advocating anyone follow the path of paid links, but they sadly seem to work all too well on Bing today.

Specific SEO Tactics for Bing

  • Bing makes strong use of XML sitemaps (especially for large sites). Keep them up to date and use an index file to centralize multiple files. Use canonical URLs and ensure product-level URLs are included (or article-level if a publishing site). Any deep content should have explicit, canonical URLs defined in a XML sitemap file for Bing.

  • For publishers, use a centralized RSS page featuring all new and updated content. Ensure this page is featuring canonical URLs that are relevant for the site. This is the best way to let Bing know about your fresh content.

  • Parameter handling is the best way to deal with URL normalization for Bing, since 301s are problematic and rel=canonical isn't yet supported. The parameter handling tool in Bing Web Tools is your friend, use it.

Conclusion

There is nothing groundbreaking here. It's all about following best practices and keeping things simple. The crux is that, while the approach is simple, getting it right is actually very difficult, especially on complex websites.

Following the above tips and focusing on Bing should pay off in bottom-line revenue rewards for your company in 2011. Good luck!


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