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Shifting SEO Landscape — Paid Inclusion out of MSN

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Here we go again. It’s search engine earthquake time. It’s of smaller magnitude on the imaginary SEO Richter scale, maybe a 3.5, but newsworthy none-the-less.

The News

On July 1, MSN announced that it had dropped Yahoo’s Site Match Paid Inclusion listings from its index effective immediately. Meaning MSN listings are now a variation (their own secret parceling) of Yahoo’s free index and ONLY the free index.

MSN is also still working on its own search technology, and a preview is now available at: http://sandbox.msn.com/. But don’t fret if you’re not in this new index. MSN search is not using this new technology yet, and it is in early and not late Beta stages.

Why And Why Now?

Many speculate that it’s no accident that the unveiling of this first version of MSN’s new index correlates with the retirement of Yahoo’s Paid Inclusion listings in MSN search. Paid Inclusion in general (and specifically Yahoo’s Site Match program) has come under fire for its built in conflict-of-interest relationship with relevancy. So it makes sense that MSN wants to distance itself from that controversy.

The criticism is this: How can a search engine promise users the most relevant results available on the web if it accepts payment for indexing some sites, claiming Paid Inclusion exists to help new, dynamic, or difficult-to-spider sites be indexed “more quickly.” Sort of admits a weakness with the indexing technology and relevancy. Furthermore, how can the public be expected to then trust the “relevant” results that search engine provides when the public knows that some of the results they’re looking at have been paid for, but not labeled as paid.

As if that’s not enough, the layers of conflict go even further if you’re the type that likes conspiracy theories. Specifically the idea that Paid Inclusion search results (especially those listings [ala Site Match] where site owners also pay per click) might magically appear higher in listings than those from the truly free index since they are a source of continuing revenue.

Ask Jeeves felt the heat of Paid Inclusion criticism and announced on June 24, that it was no longer offering the Teoma Paid Inclusion program. The engine will honor yearlong PI contracts, meaning all Paid Inclusion listings will be phased out of the engine by September 2005.

Is Your Site Still In MSN?

So what does all this mean for business websites and the designers and marketers that manage them? It’s time to sift through earthquake rubble and initiate damage control.

If your site is involved in Site Match — whether you got slid into the system via Inktomi (and don’t forget direct feed) or bought in eagerly when Yahoo dropped Google listings — your Paid Inclusion listings are no longer in MSN. That means your site may no longer be in MSN if you haven’t been crawled yet by the Yahoo free index.

Because Yahoo’s index is still pretty wet behind the ears, it’s best to assume you’re NOT in that index and double check. You can check this way:

1) Pull out those old PI receipts (from Position Technologies, Overture, etc) and see what urls you paid to have indexed.

2) Go to Yahoo and type in site: www.sitename.com -qxrxz

3) See what urls are listed. If it’s only the ones you’ve paid for, you’re not in the free index. If none at all come up, you’re either out of Site Match budget money or not in Site Match at all, AND definitely not in the free index.

4) Those of you with direct feed accounts might want to call your rep and ask for help on finding out if you’re in the free Yahoo index (money talks so make this MSN news their problem too). And finally, check your logs for big drops in MSN traffic as of July 1. Or, if you run out of budget money in Site Match, you can check using steps 1-3.

What To Do If It’s Not

These efforts will show if your site is in the Yahoo free index. If it is NOT in, you’ll need to actively pursue gaining the attention of the Yahoo crawler. Start by optimizing tags well and submitting the site to Yahoo through their free site submit program (http://search.yahoo.com/info/submit.html). Also make sure you have some relevant, related incoming links from sites established in the Yahoo free index. Make sure you also have plenty of relevant and readable content on the site. If your site is dynamic, doesn’t meet the Yahoo guidelines (AKA: you’ve spammed, shame on you), or has other issues, check out the advice available on Webmaster World (http://www.webmasterworld.com/forum35/).

What To Do If It IS But With Bad Positioning

If it IS in, you’ll next want to confirm WHERE your free pages are in both Yahoo and MSN for your targeted key phrases. Once you know, you can begin to make changes to your site if you need better listings from these engines. Changes like those listed above – better tags, better quality incoming links, or more relevant and readable content. And for more specific advice, you can also learn a lot at Webmaster World (http://www.webmasterworld.com/forum35/).

Finally, don’t forget while you’re checking PI receipts to check on your Teoma contract. When it’s over; it’s over. And if Ask Jeeves has been a source of traffic for you, you’ll want to make sure the site is also in their free index.

Rocky Lewis is co-founder and a managing partner of SageRock.com, which is an online marketing company specializing in SEO, Paid Search, and ROI/Usability Analysis.

Shifting SEO Landscape — Paid Inclusion out of MSN
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