SEO experts often forget that there are three major search
engines. While there is no doubt that Google is the number one with
the most searches and Yahoo! manages to get about a quarter of the
market, MSN has not retired yet. It holds about 10-15 percent of the
searches (according to some sources even less – about 5%) but
it has a loyal audience that can't be reached through the other two
major search engines, so if you plan a professional SEO campaign, you
can't afford to skip MSN. In a sense getting high rankings in MSN is
similar to getting high rankings for less popular keywords –
because competition is not that tough you might be able to get enough
visitors from MSN only in comparison to the case when you have
optimized for a more popular search engine.
Although optimizing for MSN is different from optimizing for
Google and Yahoo!, there are still common rules that will help you to
rank high in any search engine. As a rule, if you rank well in
Google, chances are that you will rank well in Yahoo! (if you are
interested in the tips and tricks for optimizing for Yahoo!, you want
to have a look at the Optimizing
for Yahoo! Article) and MSN as well. The opposite is not true,
however. If you rank well in MSN, there is no guarantee that you'll
do the same in Google. So, when you optimize for MSN, keep an eye on
your Google ranking as well. It's no good to top MSN and be nowhere
in Google (the opposite is more acceptable, if you need to make the
But why is this so? The answer is simple - the MSN algorithm is
different and that is why, even if the same pages were indexed, the
search results will vary.
The MSN Algorithm
As already mentioned, it is the different MSN algorithm that leads
to such drastic results in ranking. Otherwise, MSN, like all search
engines, first spiders the pages on the Web, then indexes them in its
database and after that applies the algorithm to generate the pages
with the search results. So, the first step in optimizing for MSN is
the same as for the other search engines – to have a spiderable
site. (Have a look at Search
Engine Spider Simulator to see how spiders see your site). If
your site is not spiderable, then you don't have even a hypothetical
chance to top the search results.
There is quite a lot of speculation about the MSN algorithm.
Looking at the search results MSN delivers, it is obvious that its
search algorithm is not as sophisticated as Google's, or even
Yahoo!'s and many SEO experts agree that the MSN search algorithm is
years behind its competitors. So, what can you do in this case?
Optimize as you did for Google a couple of years ago? You are not far
from the truth, though actually is is not that simple.
One of the most important differences is that MSN still relies
heavily on metatags, as explained below. None of the other major
search engines uses metatags that heavily anymore. It is obvious that
metatags give SEO experts a great opportunity for manipulating search
results. Maybe metatags are the main reason for the inaccurate search
results that MSN often produces.
The second most important difference between MSN and the other
major search engines is their approach to keywords. Well, for MSN
keywords are very, very important, too, but unlike Google, for MSN
onpage factors are dominating, while offpage factors (like backlinks
for example), are still of minor importance. Well, it is a safe bet
that the importance of backlinks will be changed in the future but
for now they are not a primary factor for high rankings.
Keywords, Keywords, Keywords
It is hardly surprising that keywords are the most important item
for MSN. What is surprising is that MSN relies too much on them. It
is very easy to fool MSN – just artificially inflate your
keyword density, put a couple of keywords in file names (and even
better – in domain names) and around the top of the page and
you are almost done for MSN. But if you do the above-mentioned black
hat practices, your joy of topping MSN will not last long because,
unless you provide separate pages that are optimized for Google, your
stuffed pages might pretty well get you banned from Google. If you
decide to have separate pages for Google and MSN, first, it it hardly
worth the trouble, and second, the risk of duplicate content penalty
can't be ignored.
So, what is the catch? The catch is that if you try to polish your
site for MSN and stuff it with keywords, this might get you into
trouble with Google, which certainly is worse than not ranking well
in MSN. But if you optimize wisely, it is more likely than not that
you will rank decently in Google and perform well in Yahoo! and MSN
Having meaningful metatags never hurts but with MSN this is even
more important because its algorithm still uses them as a primary
factor in calculating search results. Having well-written (not
stuffed) metatags will help you with MSN and some other minor search
engines, while at the same time well-written metatags will not get
you banned from Google.
The Description metatag is very important:
<META NAME=”Description” CONTENT=”Place your
description here” />
MSNBot reads its content and based on that (in addition to
keywords found on page) judges how to classify your site. So if you
leave this tag empty (i.e. CONTENT=””), you have missed a
vital chance to be noticed by MSN. There is no evidence that MSN uses
the other metatags in its algorithm that is why leaving the
Description metatag empty is even more unforgivable.