Natural Search Blog


MS Live Search Tip: Keyworded URLs

Nathan Buggia, Microsoft Live SearchI was pleased to sit in a presentation by Nathan Buggia last week at the Web 2.0 Expo conference in New York. Nathan is the Lead Program Manager for Microsoft’s Live Search Webmaster Center, and his talk was on “Getting More Traffic from Search: Advanced SEO for Developers“.

One of the more interesting things that Nathan covered were factors which provide specific benefit to page rankings in Live Search.

It was striking when he covered one element in particular: URL formatting.

Nathan stated that URLs which were shorter and which contain valuable keywords are likely to provide greater keyword relevancy benefit to pages which have them. URLs which are shorter and which have richer words that describe a page’s content work better for endusers and for marketing purposes. Users seeing a keyword-rich URL are more likely to click on them when they see them in search results page listings, because they reinforce the perception that they contain what the user is seeking. URLs also should have keywords delimited by dashes, rather than underscores or even periods.

Check out this slide from his presentation which demonstrates how keywords within the URL can provide additional signal to a page for the terms they represent:

Keywords in URLs - SEO benefit
(click to enlarge)

Have difficulty in adding keyword URLs to your site? This is one of the things which GravityStream provides automatically (or even manually-generated). GravityStream proxies a site in order to automatically optimize a great many search ranking factors, including keyword-rich URLs.

Satya Nadella, 2nd Keynote at SES San Jose 08

Satya Nadella (Microsoft’s Senior Vice President of the Search, Portal & Advertising Platform Group) spoke at this morning’s keynote at the Search Engine Strategies Conference.

Sam Johnson quoted, Satya Nadella Microsoft Keynote, SES

Nadella spoke on how Microsoft approaches search and how the company intends to shape trends in search development and how they intend to exploit them.

Nadella shows current popular content in search: Michael Phelps

SMX LoMo Keynote: Gur Kimchi

Gur Kimchi, Principle Architect for Microsoft’s Virtual Earth, also spoke Thursday morning at the SMX Local & Mobile conference in San Francisco.

Gur Kimchi, Principal Architect, Microsoft Virtual Earth
Gur Kimchi, Principal Architect, Microsoft Virtual Earth

Gur provided a lot of demonstrations of existing and upcoming features from the Virtual Earth teams: (more…)

SMX Advanced Keynote Addresses

We’re at the SMX Advanced conference here in Seattle this week. It’s been very interesting, fun and educational.

The two keynote interviews were mentionable.

First on Tuesday morning, Danny Sullivan interviewed Kevin Johnson, the President of the Platform & Services Division at Microsoft:

Danny & Kevin - Keynote Interview

Johnson spoke about their new Live Search Cashback program (this offers rewards back to consumers a cash back rebate for purchases made online). Johnson stated that they felt the future of online search marketing was headed in that direction. He also mentioned a number of times that Microsoft is dedicated to the concept of multiple choices in the marketplace for software and search services — something which made a lot of audience members chuckle a bit.

Related to Microsoft’s Cashback program, (more…)

Now MS Live Search & Yahoo! also treat Underscores as word delimiters

So, I earlier highlighted how Stephan reported on Matt Cutts revealing that Google treats underscores as white-space characters. Now Barry Schwartz has done a fantastic follow-up by asking each of the search engines if they also treated underscores just like dashes and other white space characters, and they’ve verified that they’re also handling them similarly. This is another incremental paradigm shift in search engine optimization!

I’ve previously opined that classic SEO may become extinct in favor of Usability, and announcements like this fluid handling of underscores would tend to support that premise. Google, Yahoo! and MS Live Search have been actively trying to reduce barriers to indexation and ranking abilities by changes like this plus improved handling of redirection, and myriad other changes which both obviate the need for technical optimizers and reduce the ability to artificially influence rankings through technical improvements.

I continue to think that the need for SEOs may decrease until they’re perhaps no longer necessary, so natural search marketing shops will likely evolve into site-building/design studios, copy writing teams, and usability research firms. The real question would be: how soon will it happen?

Bill Gates Predicts Demise of Yellow Pages

Last week at the Microsoft Strategic Account Summit 2007, Bill Gates interacted with Microsoft’s Corporate VP and Chief Media Officer, Joanne Bradford in an interview/Q&A session, and he predicted that among those under 50, yellow pages usage would drop down to zero within five years!

Anti-Yellow-Pages

Now, he was apparently speaking solely about the print yellow pages, but the statement still seemed a tad bit bearish, considering that Microsoft is partnered closely with my former company, Idearc Superpages.com, one of the largest yellow pages companies (print or otherwise) in the world, to license the yellow pages data and service for use in Microsoft’s Live Local Search, and for the MSN Yellow Pages.

Now, Gates isn’t alone in predicting the demise of printed directories, since many others have also foreseen their eventual extinction, including me. But I think that other analysts out there have stated terms more in the ten-year range. Even if the numbers of some directories are declining, I still note that usage and sales are still very strong, so I’d be inclined to expect that print YP will likely go on for longer than five years.

It could be even longer, if there’s some more revolutionary tech introduced, such as I earlier suggested in “Could Nanotechnology Save Print Yellow Pages?

UPDATE: Don Dodge, Director of Business Development for Microsoft’s Emerging Business Team, also posted on his blog about the Summit, and he quoted a Seattle Times report which gave a further quote from Bill Gates about the yellow pages:

The traditional Yellow Pages are doomed as voice-activated Internet searches combined with on-screen interfaces on smart mobile devices get better and proliferate, Gates said. The company’s recent acquisition of voice-technology provider TellMe is accelerating the trend.

Dodge further states:

Microsoft’s recent acquisitions of MotionBridge and Screentonic, coupled with the acquisition of TellMe will support Gates vision of search and advertising on smart phones.

       

SES Keynote with Steve Berkowitz had Surprise Appearance by Ms. Dewey

At the SES Conference in New York this week, Danny Sullivan’s keynote conversation with Windows Live Chief Steve Berkowitz featured a surprise appearance by Ms. Dewey – the beautiful avatar of the Windows Live promotional search interface.

Danny Sullivan, Steve Berkowitz & Ms. Dewey at SES NYC 2007

Ms. Dewey flounced onto stage in the middle of the interview, throwing out a number of cute bon mots and clever retorts to things that Danny and Berkowitz said.

As soon as I heard her voice and she went on stage, I started clapping, along with one or two others in the audience. I’m guessing that not everyone has actually been aware of who Ms. Dewey is, since most search marketers obsess more about Google and Yahoo!, in that order. So, it was sort of tragic that the audience didn’t really know who she was, or what was up when she invaded the stage.

When she heard my clapping along with the other few folx who recognized her, Ms. Dewey turned towards me and gave me a really enthusiastic “thank you!” Having the pretty geek poster-girl give me such a heart-felt thank-you really woke me up, I can tell you. The Ms. Dewey character is played by the gorgeous actress, Janina Gavankar.

I previously blogged about the Ms. Dewey Live Search interface as a cool, interactive avatar for the search service, and pointing out a bunch of the funnier responses that she has pre-programmed for various keyword searches — check them out for an idea of what she’s all about. This link-bait promotion was wonderfully built in order to promote Microsoft’s Live Search service, and to persuade users to submit searches through it.

When I saw Ms. Dewey come out, I grabbed the opportunity to snap a few pics, including the one above. Click on it to view some more in the same series.

Although she wasn’t widely known when she came on stage, I think the audience caught on that it was some sort of promotional stunt within just a few minutes, so by the time she exited, the audience was fairly captivated by her, and everyone applauded.

MSN Live Shuts Down Info for SEO

I was quite disappointed to see that MSN Live announced yesterday that they were shutting off advanced syntax queries such as: link:, linkdomain:, and inurl:. Eytan Seidman, MSN Live’s Lead Program Manager stated that they could tell there was a large amount of automated datamining going on, so they’d unplugged the features completely.

MSN Live Bans Advanced Queries

 Now, I’m completely familiar with how impolite dataminers can impact service for real users — that’s something we police for as well here at Superpages.com. But, I’m unhappy because Seidman’s announcement sounds more like it’s not just impolite datamining they’re after — it’s all automated usage of those specialized queries.

Microsoft is quite lite on features supporting the web community and optimizers, so I’m unhappy that they’re halting the very data that supports those folx. While I don’t use those queries much in my work (because their data hasn’t been all that useful to me, and because such a relatively small fragment of our users come through MSN), it seems like a backwards move for them to revoke the functionality.

(more…)

Google, Yahoo & MicroSoft to Cooperate on Sitemaps

I was delighted today that the Google and Yahoo search engines announced at PubCon that they would jointly support and collaborate upon one protocol for webmasters to use for submitting their site URLs for potential inclusion. View the video of the announcement here. MicroSoft has also apparently agreed to use the same protocol as well.

To support this initiative, they will jointly support sitemaps.org. If you recall, “sitemaps” was the product name that Google had been using, and which became deprecated just a few months ago in favor of “Google Webmaster Tools”. Obviously, the wheels had already begun turning to repurpose the “Sitemaps” brand name into a jointly-operated service.

Now when Sitemaps are generated to follow the common protocol, webmasters will still need to submit the link feeds to each of the SEs via their existing managment tools such as in Google Webmaster Tools and in Yahoo! Site Explorer.

If you recall, I was one of a number of webmasters out there who had requested that they collaborate on a common protocol, such as in a blog post I wrote back in September:

“Hopefully each of the major search engines will try to employ identical or compatible formats for site URLs, because it will be a hassle to have to keep up with multiple formats. This is an area where the SEs really ought to cooperate with one another for “pro bono publicoâ€? – for the common good. Currently, Yahoo seems to be just defensively immitating Google in this arena, and no one’s showing signs of collaborating.”

Kudos to Google and Yahoo for overcoming traditional corporate competitiveness to do something that mutually benefits website owners as well as the search engines!

 

MicroSoft’s Ms. Dewey Linkbait: Avatars for Blogs & Other Uses

MicroSoft has launched an avatar-fronted search interface called
Ms. Dewey, in order to promote their MS Live search service. An avatar is a term coopted from virtual reality which is used to describe the graphic representation of a person within the VR environment.

Ms. Dewey

The Ms. Dewey avatar is a clever piece of Flash engineering coupled up with various video files and the MS Live search engine. Ms. Dewey is played by an actress named Janina Gavankar, who apparently prerecorded a bunch of video snippets which are queued up contextually for various responses to search terms that are typed into the submission form field. After you submit a search keyword, she says (and sometimes does) something witty, then the MS Live search results scroll down in an AJAX menu beside her.

Try out these particularly funny search terms on Ms. Dewey:

Congress
gmail
President Bush
Dick Cheney
weather forecasts
Yo Mama
Painting
Lord of the Rings
UFOs
MySpace
FireFox
Halo 2

A “share this with a friend” link is included, making this qualify even more as some nice linkbait, as some online marketing folx refer to it. While quite a few folx have turned their noses up at Ms. Dewey as not being a serious search service contender, they’re perhaps missing the point that she’s pretty fun to interact with, and as a promotional effort goes, it’s probably pretty effective linkbait. Within just a short timeframe, many people will have emailed links to Ms. Dewey to their friends, getting a whole lot of people to use MicroSoft’s search engine who otherwise wouldn’t have tried it out.

I’d only say that the design group has dropped the ball a bit by not highlighting their MS Live brandname on the search results. (They also dropped the ball by advertising Ms. Dewey’s email address through the interface, ms-dewey, because it’s inoperative, at least when I tested it. “Status: 5.0.0 – Remote SMTP server has rejected address”. They should have had someone responding to those notes, or they should’ve created an intelligent agent to respond to submissions to it.)

It’s maybe mentionable that Ask dropped the Jeeves butler mascot from the frontend of their search earlier this year, and here MicroSoft is adding a human mascot onto their search. Ask was never this attractive, though, and this ploy doesn’t seem in the least retro. Slick!

Interfaces like Ms. Dewey actually aren’t all that hard to do, and there’s one company that has made it really easy to incorporate interactive avatars similar to this within your blogs and other websites. Read on and I’ll describe how you can use avatars.

(more…)

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