Examining the “brand factor” on search: Bing and Google favour brands, Searchmetrics finds

By Chris Lee

The differences in the way search engine leaders Google and Bing rank sites has been highlighted by a new study from digital marketing software and services company, Searchmetrics. The study found that a quarter (24.7 per cent) of the URLs listed on the first pages of both search engines were the same – albeit not always in the same position – indicating the difference in results presented by both engines.

The study is based on an analysis of search results from Bing.com for 10,000 popular keywords and 300,000 websites appearing in the top 30 search results and picks out the issues that correlate with a high ranking on Bing. However Google’s algorithm seems to be a little more effective at identifying brands and separating them from non-brands.

Strength of brand is crucial

Summarising the study’s findings, Marcus Tober, chief technology officer and founder of Searchmetrics, told NMK: “A phenomenon that pervades the entire study, has had a strong impact on the results in nearly all correlations and detailed charts, and has already played a decisive role in our earlier Google study is the ‘brand factor’. Brands rank in the top positions even if they do not meet certain criteria (don’t have H1, don’t have keyword in title-tag etc), or do not meet them to a sufficient extent. We can thus conclude that from a search engine’s perspective, brands have a special role and are strongly preferred by being ranked first in SERPs [search engine results pages].”

Tober gave the example of the search term ‘adidas sneakers’: “adidas.com will rank on number one. But they don’t have ‘adidas sneakers’ in the title, they don’t have in H1 etc. All other sites after adidas.com have a much better optimisation. They have the keyword in title, H1 etc,” he told NMK.

According to Tober, both Bing and Google consider it natural for brands to have comparatively more backlinks with the name of the company in the link text alone – what Searchmetrics refers to as “brand links” – and still not be rated negatively as would happen for non-brand sites. Based on these findings, it seems Bing and Google give brands special treatment, he concluded.

When comparing Bing and Google rankings, Searchmetrics also found:

1) Backlink numbers are closely linked to higher rankings on Bing

In Bing search results, as with Google, the number of backlinks – links to a web page from other sites – remains very closely connected to how the page ranks. And while both Bing and Google try to reward pages that have a profile of backlinks that looks natural – i.e. not as though it was artificially created by linkbuilding experts – Bing seems less rigorous about this than Google.

2) Social signals closely linked to higher rankings

Websites that rank in the top positions on Bing usually have a large number of social signals, according to the study. In other words, well-ranked URLs have many shares, likes, comments, plus ones and tweets. And similarly the number of social signals seems to drop in line with the ranking of websites in SERPs – the worse the ranking, the lower the number of social signals.

Using Spearman’s rank correlation coefficient to evaluate influence, Google+ plus ones (0.34) have the highest correlation, followed by Facebook Comments (0.32). Tweets have a correlation of 0.30.

3) Quality content is important for search rankings

Search experts believe the quality of content on web pages is an important ranking factor because search engines are keen to raise the rankings of pages with good, useful information and Searchmetrics’ analysis of Bing search results – and the previous study of Google – seems to support this to some extent.

As with Google, in Bing searches pages with more text are positively correlated with rankings (correlation 0.09) indicating that higher ranking pages have more text. But on average, pages ranking in the top 30 Bing results feature about 100 more words than URLs ranking in the corresponding positions on Google.

4) On page technical factors are a must have

The analysis revealed that certain on-page factors tend to have a low correlation because they are present on nearly every page that appears in the top 30 search results on Bing and Google, resulting in a low Spearman correlation coefficient.

Follow the link for the full results of Searchmetrics’ Bing USA Study.

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