Practical Ecommerce

Ecommerce Know-How: Optimizing Your Site for Microsoft Bing

The Microsoft, Yahoo! search deal announced in July still faces legal hurdles, but as more details have become available, it is clear that the companies’ combined search share has—for the first time in perhaps a decade—created some real competition for Google.

Depending on which poll or survey you favor, Microsoft and Yahoo! will control between 15 and 30 percent of the total search market right. And if historical data applies, the duo will generate better click-through rates, grow more quickly, and present different results than Google, the current search-engine king. And for these reasons, ecommerce marketers should reconsider how their businesses manage search engine optimization (SEO) and search-based, pay-per-click (PPC) advertising.

Video: Time To Optimize for and Market on Bing

Prepare for the Microsoft Decade

For the past few years, Google has been going after Microsoft. Gmail, Google Docs, Chrome, Android, and the recently announced Chrome OS were all assaults on Microsoft profit centers and apparent sidesteps from Google’s core business. I am betting that Microsoft, which has approximately $68 billion more in market capitalization than Google, more than double Google’s revenue, and roughly triple Google’s gross profits, will start to fight back. The Yahoo! deal is the first real salvo from Microsoft. Look for Bing, which will be the search algorithm for all Microsoft and Yahoo! sites, to release some impressive new tricks in the near future (Bing’s Visual Search is an early example). And don’t be surprised if 2010 is the beginning of the new Microsoft decade.

Competition is Good, Remain Neutral

Competition breeds innovation, so for ecommerce marketers, I believe it is a good thing that Google, particularly where PPC is concerned, is getting some heavyweight competition. Earlier in the search engine advertising wars, too many marketers took sides, placing all of their advertising dollars and SEO efforts in Google’s basket. But as the Microsoft decade begins, it is important to remain neutral. Both Google and Microsoft have a lot to offer us in terms of search and search marketing, and I believe smart ecommerce marketers will use both.

Bing Has Changed SEO

I am the first to admit that until recently, when I thought about SEO, I thought about optimizing for Google. It was the only search engine that mattered, and, for the most part, all other engines followed Google’s lead.

Bing is different. It returns different results and displays those results differently than Google. So now, marketers need to be concerned not just with how their companies rank in Google or with what Google’s algorithms are doing, but also how their companies rank in Bing.

As an example, try searching for “golf clubs” in both Google and Bing. For me, the Google search showed Worldwide Golf Shops, an online store, as the top result (preferences could be influencing this, but you get the idea). But on Bing, Worldwide Golf Shops was listed 12th, which put it on the second page of results. Clearly, there is something different about the Bing algorithm, and if I were the marketing guy at Worldwide Golf Shops, I would be scrambling to figure out what that difference was before Microsoft gobbles up more of the search market.

Bing search results for "golf clubs".

Bing search results for “golf clubs”.

Three Things You Can Do To Optimize for Bing

First and foremost, SEO should start with real content for real people. A lot of smart engineers at Microsoft (and at Google for that matter) spend their working life trying to return the best search results for their human users. So smart SEO should focus on human interest, readability, usability, and value.

Once you have provided good content for your human site visitors, there are at least three things you should do to pave the way for Bing’s search algorithms.

  • Have a good site map. There are some indications that Bing’s search algorithms might be more dependent on site maps than Google’s algorithms and search bots. So make sure that you have a good one.
  • Use keywords in sub-domains. There has been a lot of discussion in the SEO world about how Bing weighs keywords in domain names and in sub-domains. And it is relatively clear that Bing favors sites that have the search term in the domain or sub-domain. So considering making category landing pages sub-domains—for example, http://widgets.somestore.com rather than http://www.somestore.com/widgets.
  • Write good code. Bing seems to be less tolerant of poorly composed, non-standards-compliant HTML. For example, the aforementioned Worldwide Golf Shops uses a poorly devised and deprecated table layout. While I am not saying this is the reason the site did relatively poorly in Bing, I am saying that it could be a factor. If your site is using tables for non-tabular content, redesign now.

Start Using Microsoft AdCenter Now

Microsoft AdCenter has always been a good choice for ecommerce marketers, since it converts at a much better rate than Google’s AdWords—42 percent better by some accounts. And it generally has better demographics for ecommerce marketers. Now AdCenter will become the self-service PPC ad portal for all Microsoft and Yahoo! sites, making it a very important way to address your target audience.

Summing Up

The Microsoft-Yahoo! search deal will have an effect on ecommerce marketing, and smart merchants will take at least three steps to boost their Bing SEO and start (if they are not already) using both Microsoft AdCenter, as well as Google AdWords.

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Armando Roggio

Armando Roggio

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Comments ( 5 )

  1. LexiConn September 22, 2009 Reply

    Good tip for the site map and keywords in the sub-domains. I’ll disagree with the tables comment though. I have not seen any indication that using table tags instead of divs/spans will affect a site’s ranking in Bing. Using html code that is compliant and is not "broken" is important, but I do not think the style of the modular layout of a page is a ranking factor…

    Rob – LexiConn

  2. Mireya Pizarro September 24, 2009 Reply

    good tip for the sub domains and the content. I am working on new changes. I think bing will be great. I love it and think it is better than google!
    mireya-expressionableshopping.com

  3. Armando Roggio September 24, 2009 Reply

    @LexiConn, thanks for the comment. Perhaps, I need to clarify that I am referring to using table layouts for _non-tabular_ content.

    There are many SEO problems–not to mention accessibility problems, etc.–with using HTML tables to layout non-tabular page content. For example, I believe the Bing issue has to do with linearization, which as you probably know can change how a search engine understands content in context and thus have an effect on relevance. So the "style" is a huge factor.

    I also want to point out that it has been 11 years since the table layout debate ended at the W3C and it was determined that CSS was the better way to layout non-tabular content (and in the near future, tabular content).

    Bottom line, my point about a table-layout affecting indexing related to _non-tabular_ content. And remember, using an HTML table for non-tabular content is always wrong.

  4. Sean Collins September 28, 2009 Reply

    Leave it up to Microsoft to pull away from the crowd. It’s bad enough we have to design for multiple browsers. Now we have to plan SEO for multiple search engines?

    I know competition is good, but "cross-search-engine" compatibility is not something I’m looking forward to. I can see it now… we’re going to have javascript code identifying the incoming search bot and feeding it search engine specific Meta Tags.

    Personally, I don’t think Microsoft will become a major threat to Google. But that’s just me.

  5. Armando Roggio September 28, 2009 Reply

    @Sean Collins. I know what you mean about "cross-search-engine" compatibility. But you have not even considered personalization, which will make SEO even harder just on Google.

    As for your prediction about Microsoft being no threat to Google, you may be right. I personally waffle back and forth. But Microsoft has a lot of money at stake, and, in truth, for shopping, medical, and travel searches–which Bing has focused on–Bing seems to provide much better and richer results. But without a doubt, Google is still the search engine king.