Bing is now powering Yahoo’s organic results, and retailers wonder how this algorithmic shift will impact their organic traffic with holiday season just around the corner. Market share trends all seem positive so where’s the beef? While I’m a fan of the direction Bing is taking, don’t expect this market shift to produce short-term organic search gains. In fact, I’m predicting a rather bearish short-term organic loss, particularly if you’ve been Google-centric in your optimization strategies, and if Yahoo has been driving 10% or more of your organic traffic historically. So get ready!
Bing has become a media darling—the press is bullish, reports all show growth, it’s David against Goliath, right? Still, I’m talking bearish thoughts here. Why? My caution stems from a KPI (key performance indicator) known as engine yield—a metric and concept related to those I’ve introduced in prior, articles, as well as in The Art of SEO (see chapter 9).
Engine yield is about more than just engine traffic volumes. It’s designed to dig deeper and help you understand the efficiency of each engine at converting your landing pages into meaningful search traffic. In a single-engine race, the metric is not all that useful. But in times of change, when one known algorithm is replacing another, the metric wields some predictive power. Case in point: to estimate the impact of organic traffic re-distribution on your business. And I don’t like what I see.
Understanding engine yield
The media talks about Google’s 68% share to Bing’s 28% (comScore). Yes this makes for compelling advertising; underdog stories and the like. But market share and traffic share are different animals. Large sites (most of which have been Google-optimized) typically have organic search traffic distribution patterns that look something like: 80% Google, 10% Yahoo, and 6% Bing (pre-August), 4% “other.” Now, that boils down to 80% Google vs. 16% Bing (10% Yahoo + 6% Bing previously)—a 5:1 ratio in real organic traffic produced by Google over Bing+Yahoo combined. But between Yahoo and Bing, the traffic-share difference is nearly 2:1 (10% vs 6%). In terms of market-share, Yahoo has 17% to Bing’s 11%, a market-share difference of 1.5:1 . So it’s logical to assume that Yahoo’s algorithmic results and Bing’s algorithmic results are basically interchangeable: they can be swapped with no negative impact on site owner traffic volumes. Right?
Not so fast. This is where engine yield comes into the picture.
You should analyze how many of your landing pages Bing, Yahoo, and Google each send organic search traffic to, and how much traffic each engine sends. On large retail sites, for every one landing page Bing produces organic traffic for, Yahoo produces organic traffic for about 1.5 pages (while Google produces traffic to about four pages, though Google is not the point of my argument here). This differential gets compounded by the volume of search traffic each engine sends to each of those landing pages: Yahoo sends about 1.3 searchers for each one searcher Bing sends (while Google sends about two searchers for each that Bing sends, though again, not the point of my argument). The bottom line: Yahoo’s proven engine yield on a per-page basis has been about twice (2x) that of Bing’s—as a result of higher volumes of traffic to each landing page, and across greater quantity of landing pages than Bing. This is a material algorithmic difference in engine yield!
I accept this difference may be partially explained by Google and Yahoo having larger audiences. Larger audiences conduct more diverse search queries which theoretically get directed towards a more diverse set of landing pages. But more importantly this difference in engine yield reflects—and projects, in my view—how fundamental algorithm differences can negatively affect the long-tail findability of landing pages that have been basically optimized for Google. I see Bing’s algorithmic engine yield acting as a sort “glass ceiling” on what Bing will yield, even when placed before Yahoo’s larger audience with different demographics and psychographics.
This is not meant to be critical of Bing at all, but I think it would be illogical for marketers to assume Bing’s algorithm will not just backfill, but increase in engine yield, against heretofore Yahoo’s superior engine yield. This is why I believe the Bing algorithm (as it exists) powering Yahoo’s search audience (as it exists) will mostly likely result in a real drop in Yahoo’s organic traffic level for large site owners—by as much as 30%—from Yahoo’s current 10% contribution levels towards 6% (Bing’s pre-August single-engine contribution levels).
Maybe I’m splitting hairs here. Is a 30% drop in Yahoo organic traffic material? In the bigger scheme of things, perhaps not. We still live in a Google-optimized world. If such a drop were to materialize, it would represent a real organic traffic loss of no more than 5% overall. Not huge. But in a recessed economy, and going into holiday season, that difference begins to really accumulate month-over-month. One of the advantages of the engine consolidation is that SEOs have just two engines to strategize over, not three, and can more easily overcome such minor losses.
The irony though is that overcoming such losses would be more easily achieved using Google-centric optimization tactics. After all, Google’s resulting traffic-share (not market-share) would, in this scenario, now reach 85% to Bing’s 14%—widening the yield gap to 6:1 (from 5:1) and further reducing Bing’s relevance to organic search marketers. This would be bad for all. (For the record, I previously outlined 50 ways Bing could become more useful for search marketers in order to promote healthier search competition. Continued algorithm innovation belongs on the list as well.)
I hate writing gloomy articles—there’s enough in the news to last these days. And I hope I’m wrong in my prediction, of course. Then again, hope isn’t much of a strategy. My recommendation for large search marketers: Don’t be caught by surprise. Focus on traffic-share, not market-share. Anticipate a 5% organic loss in your forecasts in the coming months. Conduct your own organic research and analysis as I’ve done above, and watch your engine yield trend-lines. Adjust your optimization plans now to offset losses that are probably occurring as we speak. If I’m wrong, you will be the better for it.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.