Using Freshness to Optimize for MSN

Depending on what part of the world you’re trying to reach, it’s well worth it to optimize for MSN. So what does Microsoft’s search engine like? Keep reading to find out.

If there is anything that will make the SERPs of MSN different from that of Google, Yahoo! and other search engines, it is its bias towards frequently updated web pages. This bias is fortunately a positive bias, and on its search engine help page, they actually indicate that pages which are frequently updated will receive higher rankings than sites that do not update regularly. Check out http://search.msn.com/docs/siteowner.aspx?
t=SEARCH_WEBMASTER_REF_GuidelinesforOptimizingSite.htm
for its official recommendations concerning general MSN optimization.

So here is the lowdown on MSN optimization, but the freshness has to key in with other things that MSN considers important. First we will look at “defining freshness.”

Defining Freshness

Being fresh is like going to the beauty shop and wearing new clothes. It is not something that many websites are known for.

Freshness simply means regularly updating your web site’s content. By regular I mean at least monthly, and if necessary weekly; by regular I mean activity on your site. In tune with MSN, freshness means updating your content to fit in with your web site’s description, in line with your SEO keyword strategy. Updating with no attention paid to your SEO keyword strategy is not recommended (that is me being polite), and will not help with MSN.

Freshness is about content, content, and more content. Freshness is about theme-based pages and pages that have a relatively high key word density for the search term.

Their emphasis on freshness will help MSN give the searcher high quality results and results which are valuable, while weeding out billions of other web sites that simply don’t offer good content. This is the main focus of most search engines since they are aware that consistently good results on their pages will result in repeat users (which is what we all want).

Freshness will affect both MSNbot and Yahoo Slurp since they both crawl the Internet pretty frequently. Yahoo still has the advantage when it comes to regular refreshing; however, freshness has not been noted to affect rankings on Yahoo. On MSN it does. And the difference in crawling time is only for URLs in Yahoo’s Sitematch program.

I mean, this freshness thing sounds like work! You may actually have to write once a month, and it must be relevant content. After all, Google is the biggest search engine and it doesn’t demand that your sites be fresh (it also takes forever to index your pages; Yahoo, on the other hand, just wants to bankrupt you with their PFI/PPC program). So why should you bother regularly updating your site?

The Giant Called Microsoft

When you say MSN, you should remember that you are actually saying Microsoft, a company which has proven itself to be a master at traditional and guerrilla marketing techniques. Microsoft took over the browser market in less than three years with a second rate application and integrated product marketing techniques, riding roughshod over Netscape, AOL Time Warner and the combined might of the European Union and United States anti-trust departments (who retaliated with various face-saving fines and verdicts).

I mean this is a corporation that thrives on entering a market and grabbing Goliath market share: Word took out the word processing market, and Excel did the same to the spread sheet market. Based on history alone I would expect MSN to have 59 percent of the search engine market in three years. Unfortunately Google is already there, and Google seems to be the new Microsoft.

Number One Already?

In early June, disturbing reports filtered down from some UK associates to me that MSN is the number one search engine in the UK (I was disturbed because I wasn’t paying much attention to MSN then). This was shown to be because all new computers sold in the UK have Internet Explorer, and Internet Explorer has MSN preloaded as its home page (does this tactic sound familiar?). Microsoft is already using its traditional integrated product marketing approach to shove MSN down the throats of unsuspecting users. Combine this with its PR stunts and you have a take over already in progress.

I could summarize MSN optimization basics in one word: content. But then you won’t be satisfied. MSN wants key word rich content, unbroken HTML links so that the MSN crawler MSNbot will be able crawl effectively, well ordered HTML, and a hierarchical structure with good use of your H1 and H2 tags (this enables the crawler to view descriptions down the page).

This sounds harder than it actually is; basically all you have to do is avoid heavy pages and put descriptive content on top of your page. The issues are the same for all search engines, but you should keep all this in mind when updating your websites content (and in some cases, overhauling your entire website).

Ideally you should have a site map, since the crawler cannot crawl through links embedded in graphics or animations. You should also ensure that all the pages on your site are close together to help the MSN spider crawl your entire site.

MSNbot also obeys the robots exclusion standards.

Keep all this in mind every time you “freshen up” your content. These may seem like small things, but as chaos theory says, “a butterfly flapping its wings in Brunei, leads to a hurricane in Florida.” Small changes could mean the difference between effective updating and updating merely for the sake of looking good (but the point of looking good is really to get good ratings, right?)

Update Your Description Meta Tag

When you update your content, you should also update your description meta tag, since the  MSNbot uses part of it in composing a short description of the site. This short description is displayed when MSN displays its SERPs. Every time the MSNbot crawls, it indexes updated content, and generates a new description for it.

To practice freshness for MSN, you have to have theme-based pages, one theme per page. You can’t write just anything; to get high rankings, you have to write better. Emphasize quality. You must write effective theme-based content. Let your information be unique and valuable; write your content with your keywords in mind, aiming for a keyword density of about seven for every hundred words. Your first paragraph must describe the content of  the web page. It should contain a higher keyword content than other pages.

Where to get unique material

You may actually have to write most of the content yourself. If you don’t and you collect from article databases, ensure that the material matches the theme you want and that it adequately addresses the key word density you would require. It may be best, however, to get unique content, by getting writers who will only write for your site.

Your focus should be on content, but sales copy can also be optimized, with the same focus on keyword density and a single theme. One god thing about optimizing for MSN is that it may let a lot of sites stop optimizing by using links, and focus on writing great content. To do this you do not have to have formal sales training; you just need to write like you speak, making sure you repeat your keywords.

You must honestly do this and not resort to practices such as keyword spamming, or invisible and tiny text; remember, MSN wants repeat users, to help it gain market share. And to do this it must give the best results around. Help MSN do this, and you are certain to be rewarded. However, be a villainous SEO practitioner (read: the dude in the black hat) and you face very short-lived success at best, and banning at worst.

Avoid fancy, graphics heavy web page updates if you are serious about high rankings (that means that during a slow month, you can’t put a product catalog on your home page and claim you have optimized!).

A theme based site is primarily focused within a broader topic. For example, if your site’s focus is golf, like http://www.igogolf.com/, then you should divide the content into pages based on focused themes: one page may discuss players, another page tournaments, the third golfing equipment, and so on. Then the page on players can have a link to a page on Tiger Woods, and before you know it, someone types ”tiger” in the query box, and your site appears in the top ten listings. This is especially likely to happen if you focused your keywords on “golf,” “Tiger,” and “Masters,” so watch your keywords.

Without focus, you have no theme, and MSN SERPs give high rankings to particular pages.

A Time For Change

Sometimes I search and see websites that were last updated in the late nineties. Many times the information is still timely, but nearly as often it is not. MSN search is a wake up call, especially if MSN ends up with a large market share. That could happen. The company offers a different approach, with its quick indexing, and by not focusing on how much it is paid before its bot crawls and indexes your site (unlike Yahoo), and Microsoft’s legendary marketing strategy. Optimizing specific parts of your website particularly for content, and regularly updating, would enable you to take advantage of MSN, while providing value for your customers and not losing rankings on other search engines.

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