SXSW: Bing gets Social. Google Wants to Paint Too Much SEO Black.

The SEO community is all-a- buzz about an SXSW presentation on Search Engine Optimization. Two really interesting items resulted from a panel with “Mr. Google”, Matt Cutts and Bing’s counterpart, Duane Forrester. Both of them discussed interesting aspects to their approach. One that matters for larger businesses, one for smaller businesses.

The SEO blog-o-sphere is chattering about an audio post from SEOLand of the SXSW discussion. Essentially, Matt is pre-announcing an upcoming change that may target websites that are “overly optimized”.  He was defensively responding to a question about the increasing frequency of top results being irrelevant to the actual search. They want to stop fluff sites from over-ranking relevant sites, including Mom & Pop shops. Previously, his stance was a site couldn’t be overly optimized, unless using black hat techniques.

Most businesses seem to struggle with doing the basic fundamental best practices across all avenues of their online marketing, so this approach is likely a good thing. Now, don’t misinterpret Matt. Good, solid SEO techniques are still critical to ranking higher on Google’s Search Engine Result Page (SERP) as shown in this video:

The real news for smaller businesses is Duane’s response, just following Matt’s. Because of  Bing’s continued relationship with Facebook, their response to this issue is to promote what users on Facebook are sharing and liking. This will help content rise even if no links point to it.

Microsoft also announced more about their deal with Twitter.  Duane stressed that products or services from smaller or newer businesses will receive higher search results if social network amplification is occurring. (Meaning, someone sharing or liking something that was exposed to them from someone in their network, which is further shared by someone another degree away.)

Duane’s response exposes Google’s current weakness that Bing could exploit if it can attract enough searchers.

SEO Best Practices for Microsoft bing

How might bing affect SEO Best Practices?

Starting with Live.com, Microsoft reached out to various SEO professionals by providing their own XML Sitemap submission area. This area also shows you the site’s top 5 backlinks and other info.  Microsoft also added an Excel plug-in for keyword research (Microsoft’s AdCenter). Now with bing, they have released a Bing webmaster guideline white paper that provides SEO Tips for bing.

Typically, SEO Best Practices are the same for most search engines. The occasional real tricks, or ‘black hat’ short cuts, that are discovered generally only work with a particular engine;  are only effective for a short time period; and often are followed with some type of search ranking penalty if employed for long. Good SEO best practices are valid for most search engines.

Microsoft’s white paper is a great start and a recommended read, in its entirety, for any webmaster that wants to increase your exposure to bing searchers. However, I believe most experienced SEO practitioners would appreciate a key differences summary:

  1. Target Category Keywords that appear on the upper left of the SERPs. Microsoft is calling this a ‘multi-threaded’ SERP design and states that their testing has shown users will more frequently explore the left hand ‘bing dynamically suggested’ navigation choices over positions 6 – 10. This is a significant change in concept: it is more important to be ‘off-page’ in a suggested category than lower down on page 1. I think it seems supported for high traffic broad searches as these left hand menus are basically the ‘suggested key words’ that now appear dynamically on Google’s SERP. I will need to be convinced about more vertical niche, ‘low volume’ searches, however.. It doesn’t really matter, though, as you do want to research what categories are being displayed in your relevant arena and work to be shown within them. There seems to be no downside at this time for doing so.
  2. Optimize the ‘Document Preview’ of your pages. The biggest visual difference in bing can be easily seen by searching on pictures and videos. Bing has also added a ‘Document Preview’ which appear to be created from the initial content found on the page, increasing the importance of writing call-to-action in your first paragraph.
    bing - showing site preview pop up

    bing - showing site preview pop up

    SEO Best Practices have included unique Page Titles and Meta description tags and these seem even more important on the Bing SERP.  Now aside from these two items,  Document Preview will try to look for the address and phone number and place it in the preview window, or other items it deems useful. If you do not want this feature enabled, you can use the nopreview tag:   <meta name=”robots” content=”nopreview” />

  3. Implement these SEO Flash Best Practices. It appears that bing is attempting a more sophisticated approach to indexing and categorizing flash files…but my experience with Google suggests you may want to block off this capability until it is more obvious how well it works. Microsoft’s describes their approach in this fashion:

    When titles and/or meta descriptions do not exist on an HTML page, bing creates a best-attempt caption, created dynamically at that moment in time, from relevant and reliable external sources of information.  In an effort to to provide captions where flash exists and improve the search experience, it will even use inbound keyword link text from authoritative websites when no site publisher data exists.

    While this may seem to be an easy fix to flash content, using information based on other websites provides little control and leaves you a bit vulnerable. Even if your competition wouldn’t stoop to somehow using this against you intentionally,  their forums and slanted competitive ‘comparisons’ can have a much greater online presence (or higher Page Rank) and could be creating a significant amount of negative publicity about your business. What if bing were to show or summarize some of this information in a dynamically generated document preview? For now, I would proceed with caution and always implement Flash content carefully.

If bing traffic continues to grow and actually achieve traction, these differences could become more important.