SEO

Is it Worth Optimizing for more than Google? You Bet it is. Now.

Bing Now Powering Yahoo:
A data driven view into what has changed

The search community was buzzing last week with the release of Google Instant – but a potential bigger change occurred the previous week as Microsoft and Yahoo finished up the transition to Bing officially powering Yahoo’s search results (in the US and Canada). Microsoft negotiated a ten year exclusive on Yahoo’s search technology so it may one day see the light of day again in one form or another, but for now it appears to be locked away in Steve Ballmer’s safe.

While we’re kinda sad to know Yahoo’s search algorithm is no more, we were curious to see how much is really changing on the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) now that Yahoo’s algorithm has been semi-retired.

We dug out some data and did some analysis on the changes we can expect to see:

The Data

In April, 2010 we pulled 60 keywords in five verticals from Google’s Search-based Keyword Tool:

  • Computers
  • Finance
  • Real Estate
  • Travel
  • Vehicles

The keywords were evenly distributed between low, medium, and high volumes (relative to each category) and were a mix of transactional and informational queries. We compared the full SERPs up to position 50 for each keyword on Google, Yahoo, and Bing to determine how similar (or dissimilar) the SERP results were across the engines.


Bing and Yahoo Algorithms Differ Significantly

The analysis showed there is (er, was) significant differences between Yahoo and Bing’s SERPs: 45% of the url’s in the top ten results differed between the two engines. When we expanded the view to the top 50 search results, the differences were more significant: 77% of urls differed. As you can see from the chart below that depicts the percentage of urls that differ between search engines for the 60 keywords analyzed, this is not dissimilar to the differences between SERPs for Yahoo and Google while Bing and Google’s differed slightly less.

Before:

Search Engine Results Disparity 04.2010
After:

Now when we see “Powered by Bing” on Yahoo’s search results page we will see:

Search Engine Results Disparity 09.2010

Note that the layout of the SERPs below the fold may differ between Yahoo and Bing for some queries as Bing selectively mixes in”related search” results.

Digging Deeper

To give us a deeper view into where we are coming from versus where we are going to , we looked at the search results that did overlap (found in the top 50 results for both engines being compared), between Bing and Yahoo, Bing and Google, and Yahoo and Google, and measured the distance on the SERP between the overlapped results. For example, www.lifeinsure.com was in position 2 on Yahoo and 7 for Bing for the keyword ‘life insurance’, making them 5 positions apart. We bucketed the overlapped keywords into ‘distance buckets’ to give us an idea of how different the SERPs are among the search results that overlap.

As you can see below, Yahoo and Bing had the most variation among the three sets of compared engines. 83% of overlapped search results, the largest percentage of all engines compared, were more than 6 positions apart. This further demonstrates the significance of the change now that Bing is powering Yahoo: aside from around 77% of the top 50 search results changing, even among those search results that overlapped the vast majority were more than half a page apart.

Variance in the Top 50 Serps among top three search engines
Conclusion: Things ain’t what they used to be in Yahoo-ville

While SERPs can differ based on numerous factors such as the vertical, query type, and search volume, our analysis seems to indicate the search results on Yahoo.com changed in a big way when they handed the keys to the kingdom to Bing. In the short term this is good news for domains that were ranking well on Bing and may create some challenges for those that were ranking well in Yahoo and not Bing.

In the long term, while it may have been difficult to justify optimizing for two separate engines (Yahoo and Bing) who carried 18% and 12% of the market and who’s top 50 search results differed by 77%, it makes far more sense to focus on an engine other than Google now that one engine powers 30% of the market.

How do you see the Microsoft and Yahoo Alliance affecting your SEO initiatives?  Please feel free to comment below.

Nathan Safran
Senior Research Analyst, Conductor