Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Bing Details its Essential Ranking Components with an Emphasis on Content Quality

Early this week in a blog post, "The Role of Content Quality in Bing Ranking," Michael Basilyan, a Senior Program Manager from Bing, detailed the essential components of the Bing algorithm with an emphasis on how the search engine evaluates content quality. While much of this is self-evident, the post is a timely reminder of precisely how search engines go about separating the wheat from the chaff. So here's a review of what Basilyan had to say with our own comments.

First, for Bing, according to Basilyan, content quality is one of three parts of what determines a search ranking. In his post, Basilyan included this nifty mathematical graphic:
Bing's essential ranking components

Here's how Basilyan defines the three parts:
  • Topical relevance to the query (“Does it address the query?”)
  • Content Quality (as measured by the three pillars...[see below]), and 
  • Context (“Is the query about a recent topic?”,“What’s the user’s physical location?” etc…)
In his discussion of content quality, Basilyan cuts right to the chase: using the example of a serious medical query, "breast cancer symptoms," he writes that search results can have "life-altering ramifications." Considering the stakes, Basilyan infers that it is a search engine's duty to limit low-quality, "incomplete" content written by non-experts.

In the case of medical information, this is particularly true. A great deal of the available medical content is lacking depth (example: Web MD); a great deal more, what you might find on forums and periphery websites, is often untrue and unhelpful. And yet, there's a ton of information. To produce what Bing feels is the best results, the search engine focuses on authority, utility, and presentation:

How Bing translates "Content Quality"

Authority

The best writers in any genre establish a sense of authority via the written word. Yet, oddly, Basilyan does not note the value of writing in establishing authority. According to Basilyan, to establish authority, Bing includes "signals from social networks, cited sources, name recognition and the author’s identity."

But really, we think Basilyan and Bing would agree: ultimately, authority is established by the writing itself. Of course, name recognition and identity play a huge role in establishing a sense of confidence. Yet a name is merely enough to lure readers. To maintain and establish a readership, an author must write with lucidity and confidence.

Lucid and confident writing (preferably with a unique perspective) is the sort of writing that attracts "signals from social networks." This is the way good writers without much name recognition attract attention. As Cheryl Strayed in the guise of Dear Sugar said, "Write like a motherfucker."

Strayed was a relatively unknown writer when she penned the Dear Sugar advice column. Yet she ingeniously used the attention she attracted from Dear Sugar to promote her memoir, Wild, which became a monster hit and was adapted into a film (now playing).

For more on Strayed's masterful self-promotion, read "Dear Sugar's True Identity is Revealed."

Utility

Have you ever spent your hard-earned time reading an article that a) had little to do with the content the title seemed to promise, or b) made you feel that you wasted your time, or c) actively annoyed you with its lack of clarity and detail? Useless content is the scourge of the Internet, and the enemy of all good organic SEO specialists. On the opposite end of the content spectrum is the type of useful content that Bing characterizes as "utility":

"When considering the utility of the page," Basilyn writes, "our models try to predict whether the content is sufficiently useful for the topic it is trying to address. Does the page provide ample supporting information? Is it at the appropriate level of depth for the intended audience?"

That last word is key. To truly provide utility, your content must address a specific audience. Understanding your topic is crucial, but understanding who needs/wants to read about your topic is even more crucial. Once you understand your audience, you can create content uniquely suited to convert your readers into potential customers. In crafting quality content, you create an image for your customer. Suitably, Bing emphasizes imagery in its algorithm:

"We prefer pages with relevant supporting multimedia content: instructional videos, images, graphs, etc."

The logic here is clear: the more supporting material, the more useful the content.

For more information on Bing's emphasis on multimedia content as well as creating the best image for your customer, read: "Bing's Emojis & the Diversity of SEO Content."

Presentation

Sometimes even when a website offers good content, the message is lost in a barrage of pointless information, pop-ups, and aggressive advertisements. You see this across the Internet, from an ultimate purveyor of quality content, The New York Times, to the pointless Esquire Style Blog.Thankfully, Bing is fighting back against the annoyance of poor presentation:

"A well-presented page will have an easy-to-read, accessible design, and will make its primary content easy to find. In contrast, poorly presented websites require the user to wade through introductory or unrelated material to access meaningful content."

It's important to note, however, that Bing does welcome "appropriate usage and presentation of advertising." We've always thought that the style website, Put This On, manages to offer its advertisements in an elegant manner that does not compromise the site's stellar written and visual content. On the other hand, bad examples of the "usage of and presentation of advertising" can be found all over the Internet. Basilyan's comments on this seem especially helpful:

"Bing will promote and support websites and webmasters that provide ads relevant to the content of their website and place ads so that they do not interfere with the user experience. Pages with well-designed layouts will be preferred to pages that hide content behind ads, fail to clearly delineate ads from the main content, or feature ads that are easily confused with navigational elements."

The takeway? Ads are OK. Just make sure they don't "interfere" with your otherwise good content!

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