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May 30, 2006

Just what are your intentions?

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Microsoft AdCenter Labs has worked up a new tool aimed at Detecting Online Commercial Intention. The tool shows users and webmasters how the search engines categorize the URL or search term they entered. Is it informational, commercial-informational or commercial-transactional? While this tool is being touted as something that can help webmasters decide what kind of content to place on their site, I think the real value comes from being able to identify how the search engines categorize your site.

The tool helps webmasters gain invaluable information about their site based on the way the search engines categorize it. How is this useful? Simple – it tells you how to focus your site. Knowing the search engines consider a query for ‘shoes’ to be commercially based 89.7 percent of the time tells you in order to rank for that term your page must include commercial elements. Of course, since the organic results depend on the quality of information, it should also be informative and include lots of authoritative links.

This differs from a query for the term “college” which is deemed an informational search. If you were trying to rank for this term you would want your page to be categorized as informational by including loads of expert content and high-quality backlinks.
While I view all of that as being important, I think it’s more interesting to see how the search engines view your site, and if they view your site the same way you do. Why? Because more often than not, search engines give the top rankings to the sites deemed informational and transactional. If these are the sites the engines view as ‘most relevant’ and give top placement to, than your goal is to be one of them. It’s also a good way to see if the engines view your site the same way you do, especially if you’re not receiving the rankings you think you deserve.

Of course Microsoft’s tool isn’t the only one out there categorizing sites. Yahoo! released Yahoo! Mindset into beta more than a year ago. The tool is similar to Microsoft’s in that it ranks sites and keywords differently based on the user’s intent. Are you looking for research-based information or commercially-based information? By using the slider on the Mindset SERP, users can skew the results to meet their personal needs. Mindset also tells you how that site ranks organically in a normal search setting.

Both tools represent a new way of SEO thinking and have one main thing in common: They show you (Yahoo! more visually than Microsoft) how the search engines are going to rate your site and your keywords so that you can better tailor your site for these preferences.

Let’s face it, keywords will always be an important part of marketing and search engine optimization, but these tools help users understand the tone each word is setting and what words they need to use to ensure they’re setting the proper one.

While the new Microsoft tool is an interesting release, it does have its kinks. Because it’s a Microsoft tool, the Detecting Online Commercial Intention tool only works in IE, which is a wonderful way to prevent it from taking off. Because you know, the only thing worse than using a Microsoft product is having to open IE to do it.

Also, the tool itself seems to categorize things rather oddly. For example, Amazon.com is deemed an informational site despite being arguably the largest Internet marketplace alive, and doing a search for ‘wedding’ tells me there is only a 42 percent chance its commercial. Please! Anyone who has ever had to plan a wedding will tell you the term ‘wedding’ is 97 percent commercial and 3 percent sadistic.

So until the kinks get worked out and Microsoft’s new tool recognizes (like we’re sure all the engines do) that sites like Amazon are more commercial than informational, think of this tool as more of a concept, not something to redesign your site around.





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