When it comes to search marketing, the Big Three is about to become the Big Two.
The deal heard round the world this past July comes to fruition in 2010—and the much-anticipated partnership between Microsoft and Yahoo! will have significant implications for search engine optimization. Paid search will no doubt face its share of opportunities and challenges, yet I suspect the crux of the one-on-one match-up between Google and Bing will lean toward the algorithmic side.
In the months following the announcement there’s been no shortage of uncertainty around what exactly the partnership will mean for SEO, and consumer search habits on the whole. Will Bing really solve the more complex nature of users’ search intent? Will the partnership truly create a strong and viable competitor to Google?
The answers to these questions are important elements to the Google vs. Bing story, as both search technologies are hindered by what can be interpreted through a keyword phrase, or consumers’ “natural language,” alone. Microsoft is focused on this root issue and continues to innovate at a rapid pace. Both engines are working to resolve current query search challenges and simplify our decision process to get information. Another big change emerging surrounds “real-time” results. Both engines announced their agreements with real-time data sources recently, raising questions about the SEO implications for marketers’ social media and content strategies in 2010.
With so much afoot, here are some recommendations for approaching the natural search landscape in 2010:
Don’t panic—SEO Best practices aren’t changing much
Since Bing and Yahoo! engines use similar weighting to rank web documents (.html .pdf, swf, .txt, .gif, etc.), the technical SEO playbooks for these engines are quite similar. Post-partnership, marketers who follow industry-accepted SEO best practices will continue to reap rewards from these engines. These practices include:
- Optimize title & meta tags
- Remove technical issues that hinder the crawl process
- Optimize all HTML coding to emphasize structured data and hierarchies throughout your pages
- When leveraging rich internet applications (RIA), consider text alternatives for the search engines’ robots
- Continue improving site architecture, domains and/or directory structures to better categorize information for both users and the engines
- Provide clean, user friendly URL structures
- Optimize internal and third-party links
Bottom line: When it comes to proven SEO practices, marketers can continue to draw from the same list of tried-and-true tactics.
Sharpen your tools
Marketers should make it a priority to participate in both Microsoft and Google’s webmaster tool centers. Competition will undoubtedly heat up between Bing and Google—and when it does, advancements will follow close behind, thereby providing marketers more transparency into the methodologies of both engines.
Links to the major Webmaster Tool Centers:
Bottom Line: Sign up for these tools today. Diagnostics from these tools provide marketers greater insight into how the engines are actively indexing and scoring websites, granting you a better position should any changes occur.
Get past the semantics
Understanding that Google’s “universal search” and Bing’s “decision engine” are synonymous will help marketers cut through the jargon. Both engines are referring to a more simplified display of multiple data types within search results. Also known as “blended results,” all of this industry parlance just means that the search results page displays information from multiple databases—such as video, images, maps and more—on the same page.
In the end, both search engines are striving to hand-hold users during the process of “searching,” feeling out user intent based on the initial keyword phrase, and then providing paths to more specific results or result types.
With this in mind, marketers should aim to diversify the type of content they have on the web to best capitalize on the varied subsets of results available to searchers. Brands will need to better evaluate their available content and note any gaps in Universal/Decision content and data categories, specifically those with the largest influence on their keyword list.
Bottom line: While web listings will remain a core results type, marketers who craft a highly strategic and prioritized approach to multimedia content will be best primed to reap the benefits of an ever-expanding search landscape.
Content is still king
Trusted and structured data is vital to SEO success with both Bing and Google, and those brands working to maximize a digital footprint must be ready to push their arsenal of content types. This includes (though is not limited to) web pages, web documents, videos, images, business locations and mash-ups. Programs like XML Sitemaps, Search Monkey, Google Base, Rich Snippets and Co-op are just a few programs that help marketers streamline technical infrastructure so they can share their data with greater efficiency.
These are just a few avenues marketers can leverage to more proactively communicate with search engines to increase visibility, relevance and search display.
Bottom line: Data is still king for SEO. The more diverse and well-structured your data management and delivery systems become, the better equipped you’ll be to take advantage of the engines’ changing indexes, verticals and algorithmic display for searchers.
Invest in analytics
Leverage rankings and SEO analytics to segment referral traffic and positioning. Understanding which result types drive searchers to a site will ultimately improve your content and data delivery strategy.
Many analytics programs do not properly segment referral information on the most basic level. As engines slice and dice these referrals into buckets, understanding their true origin—whether the searcher clicked on a video, local listing, etc.—is critical.
Bottom line: Marketers will be best served if they invest time in understanding the web analytics tools available today and ensure that the tools they use are properly configured to report against critical SEO metrics and appropriately segment each referral source.
Get real with “real-time” results
The recent announcements of Bing and Google’s real-time data sources has led to uncertainty about the amount of “real-time” results that will be displayed across the engines in 2010. Brands that remain on the social media sidelines should reevaluate the impact of real-time results for their brand, products or services given that these data sources are being unleashed by Google and Bing on the search pages!
Bottom line: These deals increase the impact of social channels on SEO since the new streams will supply another layer of data relevance for the Bing and Google algorithms to crunch. Marketers will need to find out the optimal balance of social media participation that fits within their overall brand strategy and allows them to capitalize this new tactic for improving search visibility (example: Bing’s Twitter integration).
More caffeine this year!
Expect a full rollout of caffeine, the new infrastructure that sits under the hood of Google’s search engine. According to Google, “most users won’t notice a difference in search results.” However, some studies (like this 360i report) show changes could be significant for certain types of keywords. And, while Google’s goal of this index update ( Matt Cutts answers the question: “What’s an update?” in his 2005 post) is to improve “index size, indexing speed, accuracy, comprehensiveness and other dimensions”—not the scoring algorithm itself—marketers are likely to see flux in their rankings and competition occupying natural shelf space on their specific keywords.
Bottom line: The deck is about to get reshuffled and brands might get dealt a new hand. It’s important that brands review their keyword list before now and get a baseline of current traction and positioning on Google so they can assess whether a new approach might be required during the coming year. Will the new results produce a caffeine buzz or hangover? Even Google can’t possibly predict the resulting impact on any given keyword, yet marketers should monitor their own keyword turf today, and prepare for possible changes as Google gets a caffeine jolt!
Marketers have plenty of new search-related resolutions to consider heading into 2010. Bing and Google’s battle for real-time search relevance will be a developing saga. Social media and SEO tactics will likely require new best practices and considerations that exploit natural search results. Each tweet, re-tweet or user-generated comment could be subject to a first page result on the major search engines. However, marketers should not forget SEO fundamentals—content development, web diagnostics and methods to share your data directly with engines. These tried and true tactics will remain central to any SEOs toolbox, proving that no matter what the year ahead brings, thankfully some things never change.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.