Optimizing Your Site for Bing

Bing, Microsoft’s latest search engine iteration, had 6% of the worldwide search engine market share upon its launch in May 2009. Six months later, Bing had just over 9.3% of the worldwide search engine market. While Bing is far from being a Google killer, its ability to attract new users is not going unnoticed.

So how do you gain top positioning in Bing?

For starters, you have to understand Bing’s innovative, sleek new user interface (UI), which includes features such as quick tabs, related searches, and hover displays of document previews. Perhaps most significant is Bing’s ability to organize search results into different categories.

With quick-tab categorization features, Bing puts many more links and listings on its search results pages than Google or Yahoo. In addition to the primary search query results, Bing lists the first three results from each of the quick-tab categories on its primary search results page.

This means that in Bing, users get at least 20 results listed on page one, rather than the 10 blue links that have long been the search engine standard. This represents new opportunities for Webmasters to rank for popular search results.

The key is to understand a little about how the search query results are clustered. If, for example, a Website other than the merchant’s is listed as the most relevant link for coupons, it would be in the merchant’s best interest to create and optimize a page expressly for that particular theme.

More than 300 factors are used in determining Bing’s categorization criteria, which means that Bing’s quick-tab results are dependent on much more than just search engine user behavior.

And instead of using thumbnail images with inline results like Ask.com does, Bing opts for hover capabilities when users linger just to the right of any listing. This is far sexier and more informative than the thumbnails.

Search engine optimization for Bing

In order to produce diverse yet relevant results, Bing must aggressively crawl, index and cluster information from a variety of different content types found on the Web. To optimize a Website for Bing, Webmasters need to be equally aggressive in creating crawlable content. Fundamental SEO principles for Bing include:

  • Develop well-architected code for Web pages, including fundamental SEO attributes such as HTML and XML Sitemaps, so that users’ Web browsers and MSNbot can read the content to be indexed.

  • Create great, original content that includes well-targeted keywords and phrases to help channel targeted visitors through Bing’s search results.

  • Focus on earning high-quality, authoritative and contextually relevant inbound links to the Website in order to improve its overall visibility in Bing.

Well-built Bing Websites

MSNbot doesn’t see the Web like we do. As a result, there are several Web page-related issues that can “trap” MSNbot, preventing it from “seeing” all of the content to be indexed from a Website.

For example, MSNbot sees frame-page elements only as individual pages with no interlinking, so frame-based programming will not generally be included in Bing search results. Other types of pages that can trip up MSNbot include forms, authentication pages, session IDs or cookies.

To keep the MSNbot from getting into pages that might make the crawler stumble, use the “noindex” attribute to prevent indexation of undesirable pages and robots.txt to disallow MSNbot from crawling larger sections or secure portions of the site. Additional best practices for creating optimal site architecture of Bing include:

  • Use keywords in file and directory names. Keywords are user friendly and easy for visitors to remember. Plus, the strategic use of keywords in file and directory names will further reinforce relevancy signals to Bing.

  • Provide a shallow directory depth. MSNbot can readily crawl static URLs when a Website’s directory structure is shallow. Go no deeper than four folders from the root to let MSNbot freely crawl the site.

  • Externalize on-page JavaScript and CSS code. If a Website uses JavaScript and/or cascading style sheets (CSS), file the content externally away from individual HTML pages. Doing so also makes simultaneous site-wide modifications a breeze and can improve page load speed.

  • Use permanent (301) redirects for moving pages. Doing so will help maintain continuity in inbound links and cue Bing that old URLs should be replaced by new URLs in its index. Avoid JavaScript or meta refresh redirects whenever possible, as both methods can dramatically impede indexation in Bing.

  • Implement custom 404 pages. Instead of letting users go away thinking your site is broken, make an attempt to help them find what they want by showing a custom 404 page. If a page is really gone for good, use a 410 error message to let Bing know the page is gone for good.

  • Create and update sitemaps. Static, HTML sitemaps within the site help MSNbot deeply crawl a Website. And setting up XML Sitemaps for auto-discovery from the site’s robot’s.txt file, in tandem with authenticating the site and files at Bing’s Webmaster Center, will keep the MSNbot coming back for new content on command.

Content is king in Bing

When you are planning the content design for a Bing-optimal Website, organize it in a broad-to-specific sequential flow of hierarchical information. Introduce contextual themes in navigation, and always provide basic overview information on each page. Think in terms of buckets of content to optimize the Website into logical groupings and landing pages that mirror Bing’s categories of search results.

Content optimization in Bing requires prominently incorporating targeted keywords and keyword phrases into the copy on each page of a site to appeal to prospects searching for specific goods and services. This ensures that the content has a chance to be found for all the right words. Ideally, these are highly searched terms and phrases that convert, based on the site’s Web analytics.

After keyword research has affirmed which phrases are relevant to content in the Website, it’s important that Bing can readily read the words and phrases. This means that targeted words and phrases should be part of each page’s unique title tag and meta description.

Reaffirm targeted terms with content on the page, and accentuate the same keyword themes behind the page in heading tags and alternative attributes to amplify the contextual signals that each page sends to Bing.

For optimal results in Bing, visible body text should be clean and free of errors. Bing won’t do a Website any favors if keywords in title tags, headings and page links are misspelled. Strategic spelling errors might anticipate end users’ mistakes and look like good keywords to target, but save the spelling errors for display in the meta tag using the name=”keyword” parameter for Bing.

Linkbuild for Bing

Bing, as well as other search engines, places a high priority on helping searchers find useful content by producing relevant search results. Link-building best practices for Bing optimization should focus on helping users and MSNbot discover great content.

Not all inbound links are equal in Bing, because the “decision engine” gives deference to backlinks from relevant, topically authoritative, high-quality sites. Since relevancy is critical to search engine users, link-to-link relevancy is essential. Stay on-topic when link building for Bing.

Authoritative sites are highly regarded by Bing because they have earned a strong inbound link history in their space, but history is not just a matter of domain age. The more relevant, authoritative inbound links you earn for your Website, the more of an authority your site becomes in the eyes of Bing.

MSNbot is continually crawling the Web, so it understands relationships between linked sites, historical linking patterns, and which sites tend to link to one another. Potentially harmful and unnatural link building patterns are easy for Bing to spot — anything that might be perceived as abnormal is likely to garner a closer review by search engineers.

Avoid tripping Bing’s link spam filters by staying away from paid link farms, link exchanges, or known “bad neighborhoods” on the Web. Bing will notice if the number of inbound links to a Website suddenly increases dramatically over a short period of time. Remember, different algorithms apply to news related sites that exhibit these types of bursty linking patterns.

It’s also a good idea to avoid having a majority of links spawn from irrelevant blog comments or other unrelated sites. And as always, avoid using hidden links anywhere in a Website. Bing is less concerned about the link building techniques used to promote a site than the intentions behind the effort. To Bing, the link building techniques used are often indicative of intent.

If Bing suspects linking manipulation is in play, it will apply a spam rank factor to a site. Bing’s link dampening varies with the type and severity of the infraction.

If the spam rating is high, a site can be penalized with a lowered rank in Bing results. If the spam violations are egregious, as in cases concerning malware and fraud, a site may be temporarily or even permanently purged from Bing’s index.

Providing high-quality content is the single most important thing Webmasters can do to attract inbound links to a site. If content is unique and useful or amusing to people, the site will naturally attract visitors and, as a result, automatically get good links, which will improve the site’s visibility in Bing.

Ultimately, Bing doesn’t change SEO fundamentals. But its impressive UI design adds new opportunities for searchers to readily find what they seek — and that benefits Webmasters who work on improving the quality of their content, Website architecture, and inbound link counts.

So it’s worth your time and effort to take off your Google goggles and give Bing a whirl today.

P.J. Fusco (pfusco@covario.com) is an organic search consultant for SEO firm Covario (formerly Netconcepts).

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