Natural Search Blog

MSN and Yahoo! sneaking up on Google

A new study on users’ search engine preferences from Keynote found that MSN and Yahoo! have gained favor with users since Spring 2004:

Indeed, the latest survey determined that 81% of Yahoo! users and 61% of MSN users say they would go back to those sites in the future. In May, 72% of Yahoo! users and just 55% of MSN users said the same. Dr. Bonny Brown, Keynote Director of Research and Public Services, notes, “MSN’s recent separation of sponsored results from actual Web results greatly improved user perceptions of MSN search results. This move has increased the loyalty of MSN users and improved perceptions of advertising and sponsored results on the MSN site.”

Although Google is still the favorite, MSN and Yahoo! are catching up. For those who equate natural search optimization with Google optimization: stop. It’s time to take MSN and Yahoo! seriously. Very seriously. They are distinctly different engines; different marketing channels really.

As distinct channels, astute marketers will execute different strategies and tactics for each engine. By that I don’t mean engine-specific doorway pages. I mean things like developing different ‘use cases’ based on the unique user profiles of MSN users, versus Yahoo! users, versus Google users. And then developing unique keyword portfolios, unique landing pages with unique offers, etc.

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Ready for Microsoft’s new MSN Search?

Rumor has it that the MSN Search beta will make its official debut on on February 1st. The source (a moderator at SearchEngineWatch Forums) seems credible, so I would put some stock in the claim.

Here’s a sneak peek at what will probably be MSN’s new home page layout with the new MSN Search integrated in (including the “Near Me” feature).

I’ve written an article about the new MSN Search technology — a kind of a “how-to” for marketers — for Catalog Age and for MarketingProfs. It will be published within the next several weeks. I’ll let you all know when it’s available via this blog.

Exciting times ahead…

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An objective approach to choosing an SEO vendor

In the midst of choosing an SEO vendor to advise or implement search engine optimization for you? Don’t base your decision on just a ‘gut feel’. Effectively separating the wheat from the chaff requires that objective rather than subjective criteria be used. These include:

  1. PageRank scores
    Review PageRank scores of your candidate SEO firms’ home pages and their clients’ home pages. PageRank is Google’s scoring system for importance; it’s logarithmic like a Richter scale. Check PageRanks with the Google Toolbar. If you don’t have the Google toolbar installed on your browser, it’s probably easier just to use the free service at Probably more enlightening however is to use the Google Directory to check PageRanks, because then you can see where they sit in comparison to a bunch of competitors in that same category, since the sites on each category page are listed in order of PageRank score. To do so, go to and type in the name of the business into the search box (e.g. “Netconcepts”), then when you find its listing in the search results, click on the category name (e.g. “Computers > Internet > … > Designers > Full Service > N”). Look for that company’s listing on that category page. Hopefully it’s near the top, and hopefully the little green bar in the left column is more green than gray.
  2. Rankings
    Get a list of keywords from the SEO firm that they consider important to their business. Get a list of keywords from them that are important to their clients too. Check where they rank in Google for those keywords. If you have time, check rankings in Yahoo too (Yahoo has 32% market share, Google has 45%). Then, and here’s the important bit: check how popular those keywords are with searchers, using the Overture Search Term Suggestion Tool at (or better yet, on if you have a paid subscription to it). If the keyword is searched on infrequently, then a high ranking for that keyword is not so impressive.
  3. Evidence of thought leadership
    Everyone claims to be a thought leader. A true thought leader, however, demonstrates this through such things as:

    • known reputation in that topic area by other thought leaders you know and trust
    • number of published articles written in that topic area
    • the caliber of those articles
    • number of conference presentations given in that topic area
    • the caliber of those presentations
    • number of books written that adequately cover that topic area
    • the caliber of those books
    • the extent to which they are quoted in the media in that topic area
    • a well-read, well-linked, and oft-quoted blog (web log)
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Google happenings

Lots of Google-related happenings of late. Here’s a quick list:

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Google bug reveals favored web sites

A couple months ago I shared one of my Google secrets, since that secret no longer worked. 😉 Specifically, it was how to obtain a list of the most important web sites according to Google.

Now, surprisingly, this little trick appears to work again (it stopped working in 2003), thanks to a bug introduced into Google’s algorithm. Two months ago, a search for http would have revealed results like HTTP – Hypertext Transfer Protocol Overview and Welcome! – The Apache HTTP Server Project. Today, these sites appear nowhere near the top of the results. Instead, the top results are occupied by a “who’s who” list of highly important web sites — sites that don’t include the word http anywhere in the text of the page.

As already noted by blogger Nathan Weinberg, this same phenonemon occurs when you search for www.

One thing I found curious is that http and www Google queries return different results. Now these results are NOT in order of PageRank score, at least not the PageRank scores as revealed by the Google Toolbar. You can verify this to be the case yourself simply by using SEO Chat’s PageRank Search tool. Indeed, it’s a well-known fact within the SEO community that the PageRank scores served up by the Google Toolbar servers are not the actual PageRanks used by Google in the ranking algorithm. PageRank debate aside, perhaps this list offers us a (now) rare glimpse at some of Google’s Chosen Ones — the most important sites on the Internet according to Google.

What makes me say this is due to a bug in Google? For one thing, these results are NOT relevant to the search query. Secondly, I’ve uncovered another bug newly introduced into Google’s algorithm, namely that the inurl: query operator does not work properly, and I think these two bugs might be related. For an example of this second bug in action, search Google for scoble inurl:msnsearch and the top search result is currently Note there’s no msnsearch in that URL!

I’ve compiled a list the top 1000 results for each of the two queries for your convenience. You’ll see, they do vary quite dramatically:


MSN Search embraces wikis as a customer communication channel

A few days before Christmas, Microsoft’s MSN Search team announced their MSN Search Wiki. The word quickly spread to blogs like ResearchBuzz, SearchEngineWatch Blog, and Google Blogoscoped. Of the major search engines, MSN Search is the only one to employ wikis as a way to encourage customer participation in the product development process. Hats off to Microsoft for showing such leadership!

A wiki, if you’re unfamiliar with the term, is essentially an interactive website that any visitor can edit, with a view to improving or enhancing it. In other words, a “website run by the community.” It’s not uncommon for entire websites to be built by web visitors. A great example is the Wikipedia, an entire encyclopedia written by and maintained by its online visitors.

I’ve just made some contributions to MSN Search’s wiki, including:

Come on everyone, join in and help Microsoft make a killer search engine!

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