When you start talking about SEO, most people naturally assume you are talking about Google. Google dictates the major changes in the industry with its algorithm updates, and commands the attention of search marketers due to its ubiquity and high search volume. For more than a decade, Google has been the clear winner of the search engine landscape, but now that less popular search engines like Yahoo! and Bing are working to improve, are they worth considering for organic search traffic?
If you don’t know much about competing search engines Bing and Yahoo!, you aren’t alone. Even professionals in the search marketing community often overlook the moves of these major players, and for good reason—after all, Google is so significantly ingrained in our collective minds that we can’t even refer to online search without using the word “Google” as a verb.
Bing first launched in May of 2009 by Microsoft, as a replacement for its antiquated and much-hated search options, such as MSN Search. Bing wasn’t taken seriously at first, taking only a small fraction of all search queries, but Bing traffic has more than doubled since its inception.
Yahoo! came on the scene much earlier, back in 1995, and was a major search competitor for some time. But after a series of bad decisions and lacking updates to its core algorithms, Yahoo! fell off the face of the Earth. Until 2012, few people took the search engine seriously, but in July 2012, new CEO Marissa Meyer took over and started making drastic changes to the company—for the better.
Recently, Microsoft and Yahoo! joined forces for the betterment of both enterprises’ search engines. Bing now powers Yahoo!’s search; while each engine is independently accessible, it’s the same algorithm dictating the results of both. Paid search campaigns for both search engines can also be managed by a single account.
The most straightforward and logical way to determine whether search engines other than Google are worth considering is to look at each enterprise’s market share. According to research from April 2014, Google was responsible for 67.5 percent of all search queries, with Bing generating 18.6 percent, and Yahoo! generating 10.1 percent. Google is still the clear winner, but the numbers suggest that Bing and Yahoo are potentially more formidable than most people think. Together, Bing and Yahoo! are responsible for 28.7 percent of all search queries—that’s nearly a third. A high site ranking in Bing or Yahoo! may be significant in terms of traffic.
But raw traffic isn’t everything. We also have to understand how Bing and Yahoo! differ from Google in terms of algorithms and demographics.
The demographic makeup of Bing and Yahoo! users is the main factor you should consider before adjusting your strategy to improve your position in either search engine.
What browser are you using right now? Chances are, you’re using Firefox, Chrome, Safari, or some other advanced third party browser. Nobody with technical proficiency or skills in Internet browsing uses Internet Explorer anymore. It’s the subject of ridicule for its poor design, lack of functionality, slow speed, and general annoyingness. But still, there is one demographic that continues to use Internet Explorer, mostly because it is a default browser for Microsoft products: adults over the age of 45. And you know what the default search engine is on Internet Explorer? Another Microsoft product: Bing.
As of July 2014, only 8.5 percent of all Internet users held Internet Explorer as their browser of choice, with more than 53 percent of Internet Explorer users being over the age of 45. It’s an interesting, but unsurprising, detail about browser preference. It’s a stereotype that older adults are less capable of using advanced technology, but the data seems to indicate that Bing traffic is largely associated with older users.
What does this mean for your search strategy? It depends on your core demographic. If you sell a product that specifically caters to an older demographic, ranking on Bing is likely a good strategy. Don’t get too carried away, however; while Bing traffic is mostly comprised of older adults, it still only accounts for 18.6 percent of all traffic.
On the other hand, if your key demographic is teenagers or young adults, Bing and Yahoo! (by association) aren’t really worth your time. Together, they do account for almost 29 percent of all traffic, but most of that traffic will be completely irrelevant for your business.
If you’re interested in trying to rank for Bing and Yahoo!, it’s important to understand how these search engines differ from Google. Like Google, Bing keeps the details of its advanced search engine algorithm a secret—and for good reason. Releasing the details of this code could result in more people taking advantage of the system, resulting in worse search results and a worse web experience for everyone involved.
Still, there is much that we do know about Bing’s algorithm (which is used for both Bing and Yahoo!). For the most part, ranking criteria for Bing and Google are the same; both sites favor regular quantities of relevant, high-quality content, a high number of naturally built external links pointing back to the core site, and a website structure that is proficient and valuable to users. Still, the exact process that calculates rank based on these factors is different than the one Google uses; this is evident for anyone performing an identical search in both places.
Bing does place a higher emphasis on local data, such as information in local directories. But it appears that Google is matching this emphasis, especially with its latest Pigeon update. Google also carries some natural favoritism toward its own products, such as Google+, meaning it rewards businesses with a Google+ account, resulting in a different approach to ranking based on social media data.
Overall, if you’re trying to rank for Bing and Yahoo!, it’s best to maintain a similar strategy. Keep writing high quality content, keep building relevant links, and attract more people to your website. If you want a little extra push, make sure to spend extra time building out your local listing profiles and encouraging users to review your business.
One of the few major advantages that Bing has over Google is its paid search marketing (Pay-per-click) campaigns. Bing Ads allows users to easily manage paid advertisements similar to the PPC ads at Google, but for a much lower cost. Obviously, search ads on Bing or Yahoo! won’t get the same volume of traffic as comparable ads in Google, but they are much less competitive and cheaper to place. If you’re looking for a budget-friendly way to get a boost in traffic to your site, especially if you cater to an older demographic, Bing Ads could be a great strategy.
For the average search marketer, Bing and Yahoo! aren’t worth considering. They offer a much lower percentage of search queries, an uncommon target demographic, and to top it off—you can probably rank for them without even trying. Still, if your key audience is older adults, or if you’re looking to get started with paid ads with a low budget, it’s worth taking a look at Bing and Yahoo!.