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MSN Search technology preview

The Second Look at MSN’s Search technology is available for public beta testing. I’ve given it a spin myself and must say that I’m impressed. Although they have no ads on the SERP’s of the preview site, I’m sure they will load it up with the 15 or more Overture “sponsored sites” which clutter the results pages on the current search results by the time the new public beta reaches its official launch.

I’ve publicly complained about the lack of click-through traffic from both Yahoo and MSN search pages. Even though most of my web sites and those of clients are very highly ranked in all three search engines, Yahoo and MSN send less than one quarter of all search traffic to any of those sites. Google sends the rest – over 75% of search traffic referred comes from searches originating on their multiple English speaking sites. (UK, Australia, Canada, etc.)

Is that because nobody can see past the PPC ads (Overture Sponsor Ads) on MSN search? No, the “Sponsored Sites” aren’t THAT dominant on the SERP. Is it because only one fourth the number of people search at MSN and Yahoo? No, it can’t be explained that way either. Who knows? Maybe those who search at MSN and Yahoo simply want to search without visiting the sites that turn up top ranked? Could it be that the blue color and the “Sponsored Sites” label actually dissuades people from dropping down to the organic results and those sponsored links are more clicked at MSN than at Google. I just don’t know.

If the test I ran today proves to be a reflection of where they are going with their new search technology though, I’ll be nothing short of ecstatic on public unveiling of the “New” MSN search. As a matter of fact, I may be about to fall in love with MSN search.

In this test, I did some searches for several terms I am targeting for myself as well as several other phrases I’m targeting for SEO clients. ALL of those searches rank our sites in the first page or two of all three of the top tier search engines. The search I’ll emphasized here in this test though, was for the phrase “Domain Name Tutorial”.

I chose that phrase because, inexplicably, it doesn’t rank well for me at the current official MSN search and may prove to be a perfect example of the difference between the new and old versions upon public launch sometime later this year (according to rumors circulating in the forums).

Google ranks our domain name tutorial at #1 in results, the current “official” MSN search ranks it somewhere in sludge of all castoff sites. In other words, I couldn’t find it in the first 200 results at the current “official” MSN search and wasn’t in the mood to click through any more results pages to find it.

A search for Domain Name Tutorial at the public beta of MSN search ranks it at #1 as well as Google, which Google delivers a full 90% of all search engine referred traffic to that Tutorial.

I use a web traffic statistics service to monitor my web stats and the report I spend the most time pouring over a couple of times a week is the “Search Phrase” report, which shows what search phrase brought the click-through to my site from the search engines.

The current MSN search shows visitors in ones and twos for several of my top ranking search phrases, while Google sends hundreds per day on several of those searches. If MSN made the beta search site official, would we see any higher traffic numbers from them? That question has got dozens of webmasters speculating in the forums about what they can expect from MSN when they go live with their new technology in the near future.

I’ll be very happy if the results do reflect where they are headed, since it’s hard to beat number one for those search phrases I tested today! This test leads me to believe that MSN is emphasizing directory and filenames that include keywords and are weighing inbound links pretty heavily. Page structure, title tags and text links also appear to be weighted substantially in their new algorithm.

Yahoo currently shows two “Sponsor Results” offset in blue, at the top of the SERP’s when you’ve done a search for anything that has PPC bids at Overture, as does Google (Yahoo adds three more at the bottom of the page and Google none). MSN shows three PPC ads labled “Sponsored Sites” offset in a very pale green at the top of the SERP’s and one at the bottom of the page following organic search results. Will MSN continue showing more ads than everyone else and, consequently lower organic search click-throughs?

All I can do at this point is to cheer MSN on and hope they continue on their current path as demonstrated at the beta site. It will make everyone (webmasters counting on organic search) happier if MSN starts sending more search traffic to their sites, rather than to the “Sponsored Sites.” Conversely, Overture advertisers may start wondering where their PPC traffic has gone. Maybe then those heavy PPC players will start to see the value in organic SEO.

I wonder if MSN is toying with the idea of their own PPC program . . .