Will Microsoft Cancel Out SEO With New Patent?
Bill Slawski is quickly turning me into a patent dork. Every time he posts about a new one I’m mesmerized. What’s a girl to do?
Bill’s latest post discusses Microsoft’s newly granted patent called Systems and methods for removing duplicate search engine results, which, if implemented, could put an end to an old search engine optimization strategy of using optimization and pay per click to back a one-two punch in a user’s search results.
Over at Search Engine Land, Bill writes:
“…The patent, Systems and methods for removing duplicate search engine results, explores filtering organic results when there’s more than one URL pointing to the same page (i.e., http://www.example.com, http://www.example.com/home.html) on a search results page. It adds the possibility of removing a Web search listing from a search results page when there’s also a paid listing pointing to the same page.”
First, some background for the non-SEO crazed readers.
When you perform a search often a company that appears in the organic search results will also appear in the paid listings. This is done intentionally to help increase brand recognition, perceived credibility, and ultimately, clickthroughs. It’s been proven that if a user sees your listing in both the organic and paid search section of their search results, they are far more likely to click on you than if you only appear once. Multiple appearances on a user’s SERP helps your site appear more relevant to their needs.
It’s as a defensive optimization strategy to block competitors’ PPC efforts. By taking up one of the paid listing spots, it is one more piece of real estate your competitors can’t put their name on. In math terms, the whole looks something like this:
[Organic Listing] + [Paid Listing] + [OneBox result?] = Increase Clickthrough Rate and Credibility.
If implemented, Microsoft’s risks voiding this equation because they would filter out your organic listing if you also appeared in their Sponsored Listings.
Reading through the patent and Bill’s analysis of it, I’m immediately left with 2.5 questions.
First, assuming the content is different, will your site home page and PPC landing page still be viewed the same? For instance, I could maybe understand why a search engine would filter its results if www.example.com and www.example.com/home.html both appeared on the first page of a user’s search results. This is the same page indexed twice. It’s obvious that the user only needs to see one of them.
But what about situations where the advertiser has created an ad-specific landing page for the paid search campaign? Are www.example.com and www.example.com/landingpage the same to Microsoft? I guess the heart of my question is, is Microsoft blocking duplicate content or are they blocking multiple page appearances by the same domain?
My second question is why remove the organic listing, the one that is ranking because of quality, not the PPC listing which "ranks" only because the advertiser paid the right price? If you’re going to filter results, it seems only right to filter the paid listing, not the organic one. As an advertiser, if you had a choice of appearing as the number three organic listing or the top sponsored listings, naturally you’d go with the organic. It offers more credibility and it’s a free clickthrough. Some users don’t even look at the Sponsored Listings. By putting you there, Microsoft is basically taking you out of their line of vision. Hope you didn’t spend too much money on your search engine optimization campaign.
I suppose Microsoft’s doing it that way because filtering the paid listing would cut into Microsoft’s profit. AdCenter still works off a solely bid-based system where the advertiser with the biggest bank account wins. Personally, I think it’s misleading for searchers. Pages should rank well organically because of their value, not because the pages that are more relevant then they are also have pay per click accounts.
The last half issue is that the search engines aren’t supposed to penalize you for the actions of others. What if it’s not the advertisers’ fault they’re appearing twice for the same query? As an advertiser, you’re bidding on keywords but you can’t control what terms users decide to throw together. What if they pick keyword combinations that trigger your ad that you never would have thought of?
The whole thing is unnerving because I always thought organic and paid listings were supposed to be separate. That what I did in one realm would never affect the other. Otherwise you get into a weird situation where everything becomes monetized and you can’t tell the difference between which ads are ranking for merit and which ads are ranking because the price was right.
Obviously, it’s worth noting that (a) just because a patent was filed doesn’t mean Microsoft is implementing this technology and (b) its Microsoft, not Google. Chances are you haven’t spent too much time and energy optimizing your site to rank well in Live.com’s results.