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Climbing the Beanstalk
January 19, 2005

Welcome to the January 19, 2005 edition of "Climbing The Beanstalk", the bi-weekly newsletter on search engines and search engine positioning from Beanstalk. In this edition we will be focusing our attention on a single issue that will have a huge impact on your website traffic and on the search engine world in general. So without further ado, let's get to it.

Live From Redmond ... It's MSN Search!!!

For those of you who have been subscribers to this newsletter for a while you'll be well aware of the fact that I've been anxiously awaiting the launch of the new MSN search engine. Well starting about a week ago they began rolling it out and it looks like it's available now pretty much everywhere. There are still some regions where MSN search results are being drawn from Inktomi however they appear to be few and far between. The rumored "official launch date" is February 1 however pretty much everyone seems to be getting them early.

Until very recently when you ran a search on www.msn.com your results were actually being drawn from Inktomi, an engine owned by Yahoo! Microsoft has invested enormous resources and time developing their own engine and it appears they are satisfied with what they currently have. In this SEO's opinion, they certainly should be.

While I will admit an obvious bias in that all of our clients are doing very well on the new MSN search engine, this is due in large part to the tactics we use. Don't spam, use internal links intelligently, and build quality, relevant incoming links. This may seem simple and obvious and it is. That they have done a good job of writing their algorithm around this produces far less irrelevant and/or spammy sites in the results. this should not be taken to mean that you won't find inappropriate sites in the results however if we compare the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) with those of Google you'll generally find equal, if not better sites listed.

What Does This Mean To You?

First and foremost, this new development means you're going to have to take three engines into account as opposed to two. Until recently webmasters and SEOs would only have to optimize their sites for Google and Yahoo! to get good rankings on the three major engines. Now however there are three completely separate spiders and algorithms to take into consideration.

While many of the SEO basics are the same, MSN definitely operates by different rules than the other two (though definitely closer to Yahoo! than Google). This can be seen by running searches on all three. Usually you will end up with completely different top results for generic phrases (i.e. not brands or company names).

How Do I Optimize For MSN Now?

First and foremost, always follow the basic rule of keeping it clean. This refers to your code, your site, and your SEO tactics. Cluttered code is not enjoyed by the new MSN. There are rumors that sites with W3C compliance will rank higher. I haven't seen any solid evidence of this specifically however I can say that there's evidence that sites with cleaner code tend to rank higher.

If you would like to check if your site is W3C compliant you can do so at http://validator.w3.org/.

Another important factor, like the others, appears to be incoming links however MSN seems to enjoy a variety of different anchor texts being used. Google has recently started adopting this into the algorithms however sites that rank highly on MSN almost always have a variety of different anchor texts used in the inbound links to their sites.

Develop a good internal linking structure designed to boost the relevancy of key internal pages on your site and your site will rank well for those phrases (provided you have the inbound link popularity and well-optimized content already in place).

Is Google Still The King?

Google still rests atop a very high throne as far as it's positioning in worldwide popularity, however people are statistically becoming less-and-less satisfied with the results they're getting. This basically means that if MSN can show the average search engine user that they can provide a more satisfying search experience, Google users will switch.

Yahoo! users report a much higher satisfaction rate and are less likely to switch to MSN.

If we think about the fact that MSN has the power to integrate their search into the computer owners browser (Internet Explorer), media player (Windows Media Player) and even Desktop (Windows) we quickly realize that this game quickly becomes theirs to lose. All MSN really has to do is produce a great search engine and they will win. Getting their product in front of the vast majority is a field Microsoft has already won, getting them to switch just requires excellence. And as much as I may complain about Windows, the folks at Microsoft do know a little something about excellence.

The Future

While I've never been approached to work for Jojo and her psychic hotline, I do feel comfortable making a few predictions as to where the search engine world will lie a year or two down the road. Let's take a look at current statistics.

41.6% of searches are done on Google
31.5% of searches are done on Yahoo!
27.4% of searches are done on MSN

I don't think Google will be dethroned in the next year though I wouldn't bet them to be the #1 player in two years time. I would guess that on January 1, 2006 the percentages will look something closer to:

Google - 38%
Yahoo! - 29%
MSN - 33%

As you can see I would predict that MSN will take some from both of the big players pulling itself into the #2 spot. You're free to remind me about this prediction on December 31st. I'd bet that while the numbers may be a bit different, the trend will look something very close to what's predicted above.

If you would like more information on the launch of the new MSN search engine you can find some great information at the WebproWorld forums at http://www.webproworld.com/viewforum.php?f=51. (Note: link removed as the page no longer exists.)

Thank You

Thank you very much for subscribing to "Climbing The Beanstalk", the bi-weekly search engine positioning newsletter. If you have any questions about the areas covered or if there are any areas of search engine positioning that you would like to see covered in future articles/newsletter please don't hesitate to contact us. We want to write what you want to know.

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