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March 1, 2007

Will Microsoft Cancel Out SEO With New Patent?

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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.

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5 responses to “Will Microsoft Cancel Out SEO With New Patent?”

  1. Brian York writes:

    So if the organic listing is filtered out and you drop the paid listing… does the organic listing comes back?

    If that is the case it seems to me that most people will drop the paid listing… MS has to realize this. They also must realize they will lose a large chunk of change (out of an already very small chunk) if this happens.

  2. Bill Slawski writes:

    Hi Lisa,
    It’s good to see someone getting hooked on patents. :)
    One of the reasons why I like looking at patents is that they will frequently provide some surprising perspectives. Breaking down the separation of paid results and organic results was definitely a surprise in this one.
    When I saw just the title, my impression was that it was just another duplicate content filter. But it isn’t. It does seem to focus upon just the same page (even if it used a different URL), and I would guess that if the paid result was a different one – a landing page, that both paid search and Web search result would appear.
    The patent seems to suggest that removing the organic, and keeping the paid may be in the best interest of the search engine from a revenue generating stance.
    This was a tough patent to read and understand because it’s not clearly written. But it’s made me start thinking about how the other search engines might be viewing the relationship between paid and organic listings.
    I’m looking at a lot more ads on search result pages now than I was a few days ago – and comparing them to what’s listed in the organic results.

  3. Mike Bogo writes:

    I have to agree with Brian York whole-heartedly.

    In short-sight, taking out the organic listing makes sense to the bottom line – why get rid of the paid link?

    However, realistically, this makes people far less interested in starting up a campaign if they already have organic rankings, meaning there will be [a lot] less advertisers, and lower bids will be necessary, and that means that advertisers will be turned away because of low profits.

    BOO MSN.

  4. Dudibob writes:

    What happens if you do some PPC for a competitor? Does that mean they’ll get banned!? >:|

  5. Michael writes:

    I don’t bother what Microsoft do with there search engine. I don’t even care about that.



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