MSN Search Engine Beta Optimization Techniques

MSN’s Search Engine Beta algorithm has a lot in common with Google’s and Yahoo!’s algorithms, but also includes some subtle yet significant differences. Wayne Hurlbert walks you through these differences, and explains what you need to do to make sure your website scores a high rank.

As everyone knows by now, the new MSN Search Engine has been launched in a beta format. The Microsoft owned search engine has generated much interest and discussion among the general search using public and the search engine optimization (SEO) community.

As always, SEO professionals are eager to discover the wants, needs, and desires of the MSN Search algorithm. How to rank well in MSN Search is the leading question of the day. Achieving high search engine rankings in MSN has some similarities to the techniques already used in Google and Yahoo. As expected, the MSN algorithm has a few twists and turns for SEO professionals to navigate as well.

As with the other major search engines, MSN Search requires good relevant content, and quality incoming links featuring keyword rich link anchor text. That said, there are some differences and similarities with Yahoo and Google’s preferences. After all, all search engine algorithms, while similar in many basic ways, are unique in their requirements in other areas of search optimization.

A more holistic optimization strategy stressing most of the well known accepted SEO best practices techniques appears to be just what the doctor ordered for MSN. By taking an overall approach to MSN optimization, some of the unique MSN algorithm preferences will be taken into consideration, and steps taken to have them employed.

Perhaps the first and probably most important aspect of the MSN Search Beta is the need for good keyword rich content. Relevance of theme and topic appears to be very important to MSN, as it is becoming for Google optimization. There are also additional considerations for levels of on page keyword density that differ somewhat from Google. On the other hand, MSN seems to strongly dislike keyword stuffing, and will drop a site’s ranking accordingly.

As expected, links are important to MSN, as they are important to Yahoo, and of course to the legendarily link obsessed Google algorithm. Maintaining your important keywords on the incoming and internal on site link anchor text is important. That link text definitely requires mixing and variation to appear as natural as possible when crawled by the MSN spider.

Clean coding is a must with MSN Search, as its spider has a strong preference for well written code. For non-programmers or website owners with low levels of coding skills, that necessity could become a problem. If a website’s code is poorly written, it appears that MSN Search downgrades the site’s search rankings heavily.

Like Yahoo, MSN Search seems to still place some importance on meta tags. Long fallen into disuse because of their lack of benefit in Google, dusting off some meta tags appropriate for each page might be beneficial as well.

The MSN Search Beta offers some interesting optimization challenges for SEO professionals and for website owners alike. As always, juggling the needs and desires of all of the major search engines is not easy. Of course, no one ever said it would be simple, did they?

As with all of the major search engines, MSN Search places heavy emphasis on content. Whether that content is on the page, off the page, or entirely off the site, care must be taken to ensure that content quality is maximized. The MSN algorithm values content very highly, and even allows for heavier than Google permissible levels of keyword density. In many ways, MSN Search is a content oriented website owner’s dream.

Because of the many benefits that accrue to a site as a direct result of more keyword rich content, it’s as good a place as any to begin your optimization efforts. Keep in mind that content not only provides direct immediate value in the search engine results pages (SERPs), but also indirectly over the longer term, in the form of incoming natural links.

Since links appear to be very important to MSN’s algorithm, and in that regard it follows the Google link importance bias, it’s important to attract as many organic links as possible. One sure way to gain incoming links is to provide interesting and useful content. Not only does content add links, but it also provides the important keyword phrases if presented in many search engine friendly forms.

Content arrives in two ways. There is on site content and there is off site content. Both are very important to the MSN Search algorithm. By including both content strategies in your MSN optimization efforts, the maximum ranking benefits can and probably will be achieved.

Make certain that each page has unique title tags related to the most important keywords on the page. It’s also a good idea to use the title tag in the page’s meta tags as well, to create a uniform themed appearance to the page content.

Page URLs should be static html, preferably containing a keyword, or even two keywords. Dynamic URLs are less likely to be indexed in MSN, so they are best avoided. That situation could change, however, as the MSN search engine evolves past the beta stage, and its algorithm becomes more diversified. In that event, dynamic URLs would then be effectively indexed. In the meantime, static html URLs are a far better option.

Keyword density on the page, with MSN apparently preferring smaller word counts, can be slightly higher than in Google. Like Yahoo’s algorithm, MSN is usually more tolerant of somewhat higher keyword densities. Caution must be exercised, however, to prevent being seen as keyword stuffing, resulting in a much lower search engine ranking.

Keep the on page themes and topics consistent and relevant, and make certain that all of the pages are linked together in some way. Orphan pages with no outgoing links to other parts of the website are less likely to be indexed, resulting in a loss of that page’s content. Orphan pages also waste a valuable opportunity to use a link with good anchor text to benefit another Web page.

Clean coding is a must with MSN Search, since its spider has a strong preference for well written code. If a website’s coding is poorly written, it appears as if MSN Search downgrades the site’s search rankings heavily. Be sure to run the Web pages through a validation program to ensure the code is properly written.

Double check that all html tags are closed, for example. The MSN guidelines indicate that proper coding is a factor in their algorithm, as it is for all search engines. While correct code is important, it’s highly unlikely to result in dramatically lower rankings if there are a few coding problems. Of course, in some highly competitive keyword searches, invalid code could be a major deciding factor. Check the code with a validator to make sure it’s all correct.

In keeping with the holistic optimization approach to MSN Search, links are very important as well. Google, as we all know, is not the only search engine that values links. MSN places a different emphasis on various link types from the Google algorithm, however. Keeping the differences and similarities in mind will enable a webmaster to achieve strong rankings in all of the major search engines.

As with all of the search engines, there are subtle differences in the values awarded to the various types of links. It’s important to remember the different algorithms provide different weights for links from other sites and Web pages, links within the site itself, and numbers of links from a site including site wide links. MSN Search is no different, and includes its own special link value biases.

Internal site links are important to MSN. Be sure to link extensively within the site, using strong link anchor text thematically related to the content of the receiving page. While Google might only give full link credit to one internal link, with the others receiving much less, MSN appears to be much more generous in that regard.

A well designed site map with good link text will ease the MSN spider crawl of the site and ensure that all pages are indexed. Don’t make the directories too deep since there is some evidence that MSN’s spider does not dive as deeply as the Google spider. Probably three levels down is the maximum depth for a complete crawl by the MSN bot.

Links from external websites are very important to MSN Search, as they are famously valuable for Google’s algorithm. Not only quantity of links counts for MSN, but quality is important as well. Links should be from theme relevant sites, since MSN is working with context weighted calculation. In effect, sticking to sites that offer a related theme and similar topics will pay strong dividends.

Link anchor text is very important for high rankings too. Make certain, however, that the link text has some degree of variation to appear as naturally occurring as possible. Identical anchor text, across the board, raises red flags in all search engines. MSN is no exception to that rule.

Incoming links from external sites gain benefit from quantity as well. Obviously, the more sending Web pages, the better. In the same vein, quantity of links from within a sending site is well rewarded by the MSN algorithm. While Google has lowered the value of site wide links, MSN gives them very high marks. Instead of crediting only the first one, as Google does, MSN considers all incoming links to have values, and rewards them accordingly.

Optimization for the new MSN beta search engine is best approached from a holistic point of view.

Think in terms of overall optimization. There is a need for fresh and informative keyword rich content. Not only will the content provide keywords for search purposes, but interesting and informative content will attract the always highly rewarded organic incoming links.

Links are also important to MSN Search. Be sure to maintain a strong link acquisition program. With as many of the incoming links as possible, try to have important keywords, relevant to the receiving page, in the link anchor text. As always, links from theme related Web pages are by far the most valuable.

Make certain that your code is cleanly written and contains no errors. For assurance of its correctness, run it through a code validator.

Think in terms of overall good optimization practices, and your site will score high rankings in the new MSN search engine.

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