Search Engine Land’s Guide to Bing SEO
Bing accounts for 26.5% of all desktop searches in the U.S., according to Comscore (April 2021). With the recent prevalence of working from home, people are spending more time on their desktop computers, which might also mean that more people are now using Bing.
If you do nothing, then you’re leaving your competitors with the opportunity to outperform you in the search results for Bing’s share of desktop queries. On the other hand, if you optimize your content with Bing in mind, you’ll also be optimizing for DuckDuckGo, Yahoo!, Ecosia and Qwant, because those search engines are also powered by Bing.
The core tenants of SEO, which you can reference in our SEO Guide or its visual companion, the Periodic Table of SEO Factors, apply to the vast majority of search engines, including Bing. However, there are certain ranking factors that Bing has emphasized in its Webmaster Guidelines; we’ll explain everything you need to know below.
How Bing search works
Bing’s ranking algorithm is dynamic. “The ranking algorithm is a gigantic machine learning model and it’s evolving constantly,” said Frédéric Dubut, principal project PM manager, core search & AI at Microsoft. Before you integrate the following advice into your SEO strategy, keep in mind that better rankings aren’t guaranteed just because you optimize for the specific factors highlighted in the Bing Webmaster Guidelines.
“I don’t think it even makes sense for us to talk about the top five ranking factors,” Dubut said, adding, “The model is changing all the time, so you get new data from the web, you get new user behaviors; even the same query doesn’t mean the same thing in 2019 as it does in 2021. The model is learning all the time, and so what it’s doing is taking into account all these different factors . . . and it’s combining all of them and it’s trying to see what are the signals that are the most predictive of relevance. That changes all the time, and the weights that it’s putting on all of these factors are also changing all the time.”
This potentially means that, if everyone starts prioritizing one ranking criteria, then that signal may become less indicative of relevance and Bing’s algorithm may assign less weight to it. Instead of cherry-picking ranking factors to optimize for, we recommend that you cover all the bases to the best of your ability while keeping in mind how Bing treats the following elements of search.
Relevance. The content on your landing page should match what users expect to see for the search they conducted (this is known as “search intent”). “This includes matching terms directly on the page as well as terms used in links referring to the page,” the guidelines state, “Bing also considers semantic equivalents, including synonyms or abbreviations, which may not be exact matches of the query terms but are understood to have the same meaning.”
This means that using the same keywords that appear within a query may help you rank for that query. This guidance applies to keywords within anchor text, page titles, page copy and so on. In addition, search engines have gotten better at understanding words and synonyms, so it’s not necessary to stick strictly to one version or conjugation of a term.
Some might interpret this as an endorsement for “keyword stuffing,” the practice of injecting ungrammatical or irrelevant keywords or synonyms into content in order to manipulate ranking signals. “These [illicit SEO tactics] are things that our language models are actually able to catch, they’re going to see that this paragraph in your page does not mean anything,” Dubut explained of Bing’s spam safeguards, “And so, yes, you may have a keyword match, but we’ll be able to know that this is just garbage from a semantic point of view, and that’s one of the ways we’re able to defend ourselves more and more.”
In addition to detecting spam, Bing’s language models can also detect typos or when a synonym is used. So, even though exact match keywords can serve as a ranking signal, “What we see is that the importance of the exact keyword is decreasing over time,” Dubut said, adding that semantic factors have risen in importance as large language models continue to improve.
Quality and credibility. To determine the quality and credibility of a site, Bing looks at factors like the site’s reputation, the author’s reputation, transparency of authorship, completeness of content and the level of discourse.
In terms of site reputation, “It is really about mapping and understanding that this website is an authority for this specific domain,” Fabrice Canel, principal program manager at Bing, said during an edition of Live with Search Engine Land.
“If you [search] COVID-19, what matters? Is it Wikipedia because we see some interesting content on each and everything? Or, are you more interested in WebMD or some government sites that provide the latest on this thing?” Canel said as an example. This implies that if your site is dedicated to a specific topic, and you’ve been creating trustworthy content, it’ll be easier for you to rank higher on that topic than it would be for you to rank highly on a totally different topic (all other factors remaining equal).
Some site owners prefer to publish content without citing an author. That may be acceptable for some topics and certain types of content (a menu probably doesn’t need an author), but for topics in which readers expect an author to possess a high level of expertise and/or education, it’s best to be transparent about who wrote the content and what their qualifications are. You can do this by adding a byline or author bio pages to your site.
Having complete content does not mean that you must have the entire history of something on a single page. Whether it’s products, answers or general information, visitors click through to your pages from the search results expecting to find something. So long as you provide what they’re looking for in a direct manner, your content is likely to be considered complete.
“Just making sure that you have an article that’s a full article: If you’re talking about a topic, that you don’t just say one word or a sentence or an H1 tag, but you actually are then completing that thought, you complete the answer,” said Christi Olson, global media SEM team lead and former head of evangelism at Microsoft said. “So again, going back to the quality, [it has to be] useful and relevant based on the query and to the user, so they don’t have to click through 40 pages to get the answer,” she added, alluding to pages that force users to scroll through slideshow-like content before delivering on what was promised within the headline or page title.
The level of discourse also plays an important role: “An article with citations and references to data sources is considered higher quality than one that does not explain [or] cite data sources,” Bing stated in its Webmaster Guidelines. Providing links to your data sources can also help show Bing (as well as site visitors) that your content is credible and well-researched.
Bing may also demote negative content, including content that features offensive statements, derogatory language used to make a point and/or name-calling.
User engagement. Bing can use engagement signals to help it rank content. This can, but isn’t limited to, factors like clickthrough rate, dwell time and whether the user adjusted their query. As is the case with exact match keywords, there is a possibility that these metrics can be gamed to manipulate rankings, which is likely why Google has been so vocal about not using clickthrough rate as a ranking factor.
“We have detection mechanisms for people who like to fake engagement,” Dubut said when asked about whether manipulated metrics were a concern for Bing, adding that the same team that works on curbing spam also works on these issues. “Engagement is more complicated than CTR or dwell time . . . It’s a more comprehensive view of what users like for certain classes of query, it depends on the query topic, it depends on the user,” he said, adding that Bing looks at all of the ranking signals in a holistic manner in order to stay ahead of bad actors.
Freshness. Bing generally prefers fresher, up-to-date content, especially for topics in which timeliness is a crucial aspect of relevance. For those working in industries where freshness isn’t as critical, “content produced today will still be relevant years from now,” Bing said in its Webmaster Guidelines.
“When freshness matters to the user because it’s breaking news, because you want something really accurate that changes over time, [freshness] is going to be a ranking factor,” Dubut said. Freshness may be less important for certain types of content (think photography tips or home improvement tutorials), and when that’s the case, Bing may not consider how recent a piece of content is when ranking it. In addition, Bing can detect when a publishing date has been changed but the content itself hasn’t actually been updated, Dubut said.
Location. Where a user is located, where a page is hosted, the language it’s in and the location of other visitors can be used to inform search rankings. This information enables Bing and other search engines to provide more relevant results for local searches, like “vegan food near me.” And, there are still language discrepancies even among countries that share a language; for example, a search for “last night’s football scores” is likely to refer to a different sport in North America than it does in the U.K.
There isn’t much you can do to optimize for this set of ranking factors aside from ensuring that your content is in your target audience’s language and using language meta tags.
Page load time. Site speed matters, because if your pages take a long time to load, visitors may bounce before they even get to see your content. “Bing may view this as a poor user experience and an unsatisfactory search result,” the Webmaster Guidelines state.
On the other hand, speed isn’t the only factor being evaluated: “Webmasters should balance absolute page load speed with a positive, useful user experience,” the Guidelines recommend. This means you should evaluate how your content and user experience impact load times so that you can strike a balance that satisfies potential visitors.
Bing SEO beyond ranking factors
While optimizing content has been our main focus with this resource, there’s more to consider if you want to take your online presence to the next level. For example, your pages have to get indexed before Bing can rank them, and you can wait for Bingbot to make its way to your content or you can submit your URLs to Bing directly. Alternatively, you can bypass the crawling process entirely and take advantage of the Content Submission API to notify Bing of both URL and content changes.
Learning how visitors discover your site can enable you to glean insights about your audience and create better content. Bing’s Webmaster Tools can help you learn what queries are leading visitors to your site, troubleshoot issues that may be preventing your site from getting indexed, view competitive link data and more.
More Bing resources. We’ve been covering Bing since it launched in 2009. If you’re looking to learn more about a particular aspect of Bing search, check out our past coverage:
- Bing: Our “everything” category for anything specifically to do with Bing, especially its search products and features.
- Bing Mobile: Coverage of Bing’s efforts in the mobile search space.
- Bing Maps & Local: Bing’s local search features make it a useful addition to any local search campaign.
- Microsoft Advertising: Stories about Bing’s paid search advertising program.
- Microsoft: Our “everything” category, this lists all stories we’ve written about Microsoft and Bing, regardless of subtopic.