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Friday, September 28th, 2007

How to Optimize for MSN

 

Last week I discussed the best tactics for achieving rankings in Yahoo, the web’s number 2 most popular search engine. Now it is time to pick on the third most used search property – MSN, which has 6.6% of the search market (src: Hitwise) and is currently found at www.live.com. MSN’s ranking algorithm has its own nuances which will be noted in this article but in many cases the rules of optimization may be the same as Yahoo’s in which case I will occasionally duplicate information from my “How to Optimize for Yahoo” article or source it for more information.

WEB SITE OPTIMIZATION
Except for the following elements, optimizing for MSN is identical to optimizing for Yahoo.

Fresh Content is King: I suppose technically this is not an element of ‘optimization’, however, this article would not be worth its salt if I didn’t express how highly MSN regards fresh content. If your site is in a competitive marketplace and you are finding it difficult to get a leg up on your competitors in MSN then write original content in order to build up your site and reputation. MSN appears to elevate websites that regularly update their content and a blog is a great way to post this content for others to read and favour you with links. If you would like some information on how to get a blog up and running from start to finish then I suggest reading Blogs 101.

Themed structure: this topic is identical to that of my Yahoo article, however, it is vital enough to mention it again. Construct your website using a themed structure where core site topics (themes) have their own unique section of the website to themselves. When the search engine spiders index the content within this section they will be given absolute clarity as to what the section is about. For more information see the example within the Yahoo Optimization article.

Basic optimization principles hold true: take out your SEO basics handbook and follow the rules when optimizing for MSN and you have done the best you can. Specifically focus on inline links (links to pages within sentences) and the use of heading tags to fortify rankings at MSN.

Navigation: pages with text navigation which lends itself to simpler and more relevant indexing are performing well.

WEB SITE SUBMISSION
Unlike Google and Yahoo, MSN does not yet have a fully operational Webmaster Central for webmasters to submit sitemaps and to acquire insight into their website profile on MSN; it is currently in private beta so it is not available yet. That said I feel that submitting a website sitemap is extremely important. Fortunately there are two known ways to get your sitemap submitted to MSN:

Option 1) The best method for submitting your sitemap is by adding a sitemap reference in your Robots.txt file using the following format:

Sitemap: http://www.xyzname.com/sitemap.xml

Option 2) A back-door strategy can be used to submit your sitemap to MSN through the news aggregation service called Moreover. To submit your sitemap substitute the bolded text with your own information in the following URL:
http://api.moreover.com/ping?u=http://www.xyzname.com/sitemap.xml

LINK BUILDING
MSN places a great deal of weight on incoming links and does not appear to apply as many filters to the links that Google or Yahoo do. As a result, ethical or not, many link building strategies such as reciprocal link building and paid links appear to pay dividends.

It is also noteworthy that MSN’s spider is very active so any incoming links that you receive will often be spidered within a week. Furthermore, MSN’s link filtering systems are not as bogged down as the other search engines (less traffic perhaps?) so incoming links appear to affect rankings faster which tends to help when tweaking a campaign and measuring the value of links.


CONCLUSION

As you can see there is little to report on the intricacies of optimizing for MSN because, quite frankly, MSN is fairly predictable and by the book; write good original content, optimize it well using the techniques outlined in the Yahoo optimization tutorial and ensure to submit your sitemap to MSN. If you combine those elements with a solid link building campaign then you are sure to move into a ranking where you can continue to tweak your optimization until you reach the top.

by Ross Dunn, CEO, StepForth Web Marketing Inc.
Celebrating 10 Years of Web Marketing Excellence

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