Keys to SEO: Content & User Experience – Interview With Bing’s Duane Forrester

duane-forrester-bing-ses-sfFor many years, Matt Cutts of Google has been providing a lot of helpful information on search engine optimization (SEO). In case you hadn’t noticed, his counterpart at Bing, Duane Forrester, has been pretty active himself.

If you haven’t already, you should check out Bing’s Webmaster Guidelines, the Webmaster Center Blog, and – of course – his Twitter profile. What’s really unique about Duane is the fact that the guy comes to his gig at Bing from being an SEO practitioner.

Forrester carries the official title of Senior Product Manager – Webmaster Outreach at Bing and was kind enough to and share with all of us his perspective on a few items.

In my initial outreach to Forrester, I had tried to persuade him to share some hot tips for how to do well on Bing. Forrester was pretty persistent (insistent?) that we talk about what really matters…the high level stuff: content, promotion, and user engagement of content. These are what matter in today’s SEO.

Here’s my discussion with Duane:

Mark Jackson: Does Bing put as much emphasis on freshness of content as competitor Google?

Duane Forrester: Absolutely – searchers demand fresh content. This helps explain why we believe deeply in partnering with leaders such as Facebook, Twitter, Quora, etc. These partnerships help us bring in relevant, timely and topical information, enhancing our SERP results and helping searchers complete their tasks faster.

Crawling is also a high priority for us and as many have seen over the past year, we’ve continually ramped up our crawl pace and depth. Discovering new content is important. Discovering it fast is paramount.

MJ: How does Bing plan to leverage content from strategic partnerships with Twitter and Facebook as it relates to SERP rankings, and how much does social content influence rankings?

DF: It’s important for businesses to think of this in a broad context. It’s not like there is a number in play here – social helps rank by a factor of X, for example.

It’s important that business owners understand social is a broad communication medium in use by their customers. Whether a business participates or not in the social conversation, it’s happening. Better to be involved and seen as a supportive, inclusive business, than to ignore it and seem aloof.

This perception of a business can impact whether people engage with the website for the business, and we see that engagement, or lack of engagement. That’s a signal we can understand that helps us assign values to businesses.

Basically, if people love you, we’ll want to show you. If they dislike you, we may still want to show you, but it may coincide with negative searches about your business, reinforcing the negative side of things.

MJ: Are you referring to social engagement with the site itself or to their owned/controlled social profiles in other channels? Specifically, can you speak to whether or not you’re looking at comments on blog posts hosted on the site? RTs via Twitter? Likes? Everyone’s trying to get a sense of how much of this could be happening.

DF: How can you tell who is the SEO in the room? They’re the one with the hair split 22 ways. Don’t over complicate this.

Social is about people. If you walk up to the water cooler and everyone is talking about the great service they got at the local garage, you’re more likely to try the garage. You go there, have a good experience and tell other people, the cycle of social sharing repeating itself. Not so different online.

Businesses need to engage their visitors – across the usual social spots, in comments on their own site, in enthusiast communities, etc. Ignoring these spaces can be seen by potential customers as a negative for your business, leading them to shop elsewhere.

I’ll give you a personal example. I was shopping today for a new home stereo. I’m an audiophile, so I’m a bit picky. A local company came highly recommended, so I went by their shop. I walked into a warehouse, met the guys building the units, the owners of the company, got a hands on demo and watched them quality check my actual unit before I left.

Part way through the transaction, one of the senior guys tells me they don’t sell from the shop. That I should have bought online. Luckily he completed the transaction, because by forcing me to leave empty handed and pay shipping for the box to cover 3 miles to my house, I’d have opted to spend my money elsewhere. Instead, I went home, set it up and immediately went online to tell folks in an online forum how great the company and product are.

It’s this positive reaction a business should seek out and make happen. It’s that positive experience I had that prompted me to share and sing their praises. They will succeed because they give great service and sell an excellent product. Not because they got more Likes or RTs.

With social, we watch everything – Facebook, Twitter, Quora, LinkedIn, Google+ and so on. It all helps us understand if, when we slot you in at the top of the rankings, will you bring searchers an excellent experience? That’s what we need to meet – that bar for WOWing searchers is high.

You make excellent content, couple that with an excellent UX, social lights up favoring you and we take note of it all. We say, “I want me some of that action!” and rank you better to please searchers.

MJ: Bing’s attention to time on site vs. returning to SERP. Many talk about this as a Google indicator of content quality.

DF: This is referred to as dwell time. The amount of time depends on the individual and the content they see, but how we use it as a signal also varies.

For example, say you’re looking for today’s temperature. You do a search for “98033 weather”. Assuming you totally miss the temperature displayed in the search results, and click on the results you see, the amount of time it takes the human mind to see and process the number you’re looking for will be small. Thus, clicking back to the SERP in this instance quickly would be seen as normal.

Contrast that with a search for a review of a new product. You know you want an expert opinion, not a sales page. It’s a new product, so the major publications haven’t posted reviews yet and what you see are smaller sites, most simply selling the item – no reviews.

If your goal is to read a review, you’ll recognize the sales page and after a while start flipping through the SERP, clicking results, seeing a familiar pattern and clicking back to the SERP to try another result. It’s obvious (we see page size, text counts, etc.) to us you aren’t reading all the content on the page you just clicked on, so clearly that didn’t give you what you wanted.

This can help explain how fast movers – even unknowns – can gain an early ranking advantage over established brand names. In this example, small bloggers often have an edge in getting to publication faster.

In the long run, the brand names secure rankings through depth of content, trust in brand and user interaction (searchers clicking a SERP result and staying on their site because the site is trusted and answers the searchers question).

MJ: How does Bing combat duplicate content?

DF: We cannot get into the details of the process, but patterns are easy to spot, so we’re constantly scanning to understand if we already have the item or are aware of it. It’s important to keep in mind that not everything is worth indexing. Just because it’s published doesn’t mean anyone will find value in it.

MJ: Does quality of content equate to a large number of words for a page?

DF: Let me be clear about this – hell, no! Quality is quality.

If you bolted extra fenders onto a Mercedes, does it make the car a high quality product? No, it does not. Same thing happens in the world of search. More is not more, unless it’s more.

You ask me to explain how an airplane flies. I write an article explaining it. The wing moves through the air, the air on top of the wing moves faster creating a low pressure area, lifting the wing – and plane – into the air. In a nutshell, that’s how planes fly.

But to really do the topic justice, I need to not just write more words, but explain more related to the topic. Explain how the engine spins the propeller, which pulls the plane forward, moving the air over the wings. I need to explain how to change direction. I need to explain how temperature affects all these factors. So when someone comes to your site to learn “How does an airplane fly”, they get all the answers, not just some of them.

MJ: Google’s Panda really hit a lot of site owners hard and some are in the mindset that they now need to be “content mills”. Do you agree sites need to be content mills in order to compete in the SERPs?

DF: Absolutely not. Sites need to stay focused on the most important thing – and that’s not what the engines are doing. It’s what their visitors are doing and consuming.

Produce content that meets the consumer’s needs. Produce content that doesn’t just lead to more questions, but answers them as well. Build a user experience that’s so engaging it makes your visitors want to share it with friends.

Producing content just to publish something each week is not going to move the needle the way the business wants. The business wants traffic, page views, sales and revenue. Produce content that engages visitors and makes the visitor want to do business with you. If you WOW them, they will come.

MJ: What are some creative ways you’ve seen sites create fresh/unique content without churning out content for the sake of content?

DF: Some examples:

  • Run an internal contest to identify content rockstars inside your company. These are folks who know your products/services inside out and have a great storytelling voice.
  • Ask employees to tell a story about your products/services.
  • Winners get (fill in the blank as you like) and they write the blogs for you, build the videos, etc.
  • Build a community around their unique voices.
  • Seek others to fill gaps and attract other people.
  • Understand what “hooks” motivate people (ego hook, humor hook, contrary hook, detail hook, anger hook, etc.). Use these hooks wisely to motivate certain segments of users towards specific actions. Be careful with them – humor is great when everyone thinks it’s funny, but when it falls flat, well, it can be embarrassing.
  • Create videos – people love to consumer reviews, news, funny stuff, etc. via video. Keep the videos short – 3 to 7 minutes or so. Create a familiar pattern with your videos: same location (or a variety of awesome locations); same flow or pattern of information coverage; same tone of voice; same presenter if desired, etc.
  • The point behind all this is to uncover new voices to amplify your messages and new ways for visitors to engage with your content.

MJ: Everything else being equal (links/social, etc.), just talking about on-site…If website A has 1,000 pages of (unique) content indexed and website B has 500, will website A “generally speaking” outrank/outperform website B?

DF: Not necessarily. It depends a great deal on how searchers interact with the site. Sure, one site has more pages. But are they useful? Are they being used by people? Do users share them? Do they reference them? You don’t win just by building a bigger house.

MJ: Is there an “authority” to having a deeper website? Do you look at how many pages they may have around a semantically similar topic to determine rank for “all keywords within that vertical/category”?

DF: The authority comes from people saying you’re an authority. We don’t assign authority because you have N number of pages.

MJ: Is it absolutely necessary that a page, that you expect to have rank, have links directly from external sources to do well on Bing?

DF: Nope, but without any links, there’s a signal that no one values it – so why should we rank it? New content suffers from this, so there are dependent factors when ranking, obviously. We can’t just say “There are no links to this brand new item, so it should never rank well…”

And while we’re talking expectations, it’s smart to keep in mind that there is no guarantee for crawling, indexing, and ranking. If the content looks like it’ll be useful, the site has a history of providing useful content, etc., then we’ll crawl, index, and rank.

MJ: What are the content requirements/measurements for article placement within Bing news?

DF: Here’s the process and some suggestions:

    • Send an email to [email protected]

    1. Provide an introduction, historical background, and credentials of the site.
    2. Credible ranking of the site in its field, if any.
    3. Name the locale (or audience scope) the site’s stories cover for. Provide the state/city names + ZIP codes or describe the groups of users.
    4. Provide statistics on the site.
    5. Is the site mostly news related? Please explain.
    6. Provide the URL of main news entry point as well as the entry points of major channels.
    7. RSS link to the site.
    8. Does the site follow the best practices outlined in the Bing Webmaster Guidelines?


When you take all this in, I think what Forrester is sharing is what many of us believe. SEO is leaving behind its history of being a bunch of “tactical executions” and becoming more of a high-level strategic affair in which you must think about “good marketing”, proper execution of creating meaningful content and promotion and driving visitors to a web presence that is sound in usability.

Both Google and Bing want to rank websites that are worthy of rank and have shown a history of providing a quality user experience for search queries that they may rank for.

It’s interesting to think about Forrester’s example above in which a quality offline customer experience can tie into signals for measurement of “quality” for SEO. I could write an entire column about this topic alone, but get acquainted with what Google is doing with Google Trusted Stores and the signals that could come from a quality customer experience.

To me, it seems like both Google and Bing are working toward the “algorithm of the future” which weights many more factors into what is determined as “quality” in the SERPs.

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