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On October 1st, Bing is shutting down Link Explorer, a link analysis tool that has been available from the company since June 2012, according to a new announcement. This is likely bad news for the many webmasters who used the tool to gain a deeper understanding of their own inbound links or to get a look at the links pointing to competitors’ sites.

According to the announcement, Bing isn’t shutting down the tool due to lack of popularity or demand, but because they had simply outgrown it. The size and architecture of Bing’s index have reached the point where there is just no way for Link Explorer to prove effective.

“We will no longer be able to power Link Explorer inside Webmaster Tools,” the company says — while suggesting its own Inbound Links tool as an alternative. Bing’s Duane Forrester explains the Inbound Links tool is more efficient for assessing your own links.

Link Explorer’s powers were limited since its inception as it only gave a view of a limited sample of your backlinks, meanwhile the Inbound Links tool you can view and export up to a million inbound links in just a few clicks.

Forrester also encourages those who used the tool to evaluate their competition to look for one of the many third-party alternatives available, saying the third party tools “provide even more comprehensive link analysis” than provided by Link Explorer.

bing-2The most prominent figures in search engine marketing must get tired of hearing the same old fables and myths that seem to fill the SEM market. Even when well-known employees of search engines like Google’s Matt Cutts and Bing’s Duane Forrester give clear-cut answers to common questions about SEO, PPC, and social media, their answers tend to be met with skepticism and derision.

Of course, as employees of the search engines they represent, it is fair to be critical of public statements that Cutts and Forrester make, but the level of mistrust between SEO’s and major search engine employees tends to breed misinformation and myths which have to be regularly addressed.

This is why Matt Cutts regularly answers common questions in his Webmaster Help videos, but Forrester also frequently clears the air via the Bing Webmaster Blog. Forrester, Bing’s Senior Product Manager, recently took to the blog to give his own perspective on 10 of the most common questions in all of SEO. Let’s break down his responses together:

1. I need to rank #1

The main motivation for most businesses to hire professional SEO services is often to get to the top of rankings. Logic dictates (and studies back up) that sites appearing at the top of the rankings get the vast majority of traffic from search engines for queries. Unfortunately, as Duane points out, things have become vastly more complex. Search engines individualize rankings based on personal information such as location data and shopping habits, so the sites that appear in the top of your rankings may not be as high for someone else’s search.

On top of that, rankings are constantly fluctuating, so your time as king of the rankings won’t be as long lasting as you probably hoped. Duane also encourages site owners to not obsess over being on the first page as much, as click-through rates for top rankings on the second page often outperform click-through rates for lower positions on the first page.

2. My Title tag will save me

Title tags are quite important, but many overestimate the value of title tags in context of their other efforts on their site. A tag can help you perform better, but it can’t hide skipping all the other important steps of SEO. Often, bloggers will claim they must rely on title tags as many popular platforms don’t allow things like meta descriptions in their base code, but that argument is nullified by the number of plugins available that easily and quickly add them, as well as opening doors to many other aspects of SEO for you to play with. Treat your titles with care, but don’t invest all your care on just one spot.

3. Social is all I need

With the rise of social media, many brands have decided to forego their SEO efforts in favor of just engaging their users on a direct platform. This was likely brought about due to old SEO understandings where a concentrated effort on one aspect of your site was enough to boost rankings. However, things have changed quite drastically over the past few years. SEO is a holistic process now, where social, content, link strategies, optimization, and PPC all come into play together.

Forrester compares the process to making a quality seafood chowder. “Success depends on a complex mix of ingredients, freshness, and timing. One ingredient along won’t bring success, and yet without that one ingredient, you don’t have a chowder.”

4. Videos are all I need

People love online videos. Businesses love them because they are easier to produce than ever, while people love them because they can sit back and take in news or entertainment without having to parse long and complex article. But, they are far from a silver bullet. Videos also slow down page load times significantly, and search engines simply can’t understand them as well as written content. If you are going to lean heavily on videos for your marketing, Duane advises adding a transcript of the audio at the very least to benefit the search engines.

5. Buying ads helps my rankings

Matt Cutts devoted a sizable portion of one of his Webmaster Help videos recently to addressing this question once-and-for-all, but it should come as no surprise that some people just won’t listen. Duane is similarly blunt with disregarding the assumption ads can give you an inside lane to success on search engines. Quite simply, “no amount of ad buying will get you organically ranked higher […] The instant [an] engine starts determining ranking based on ads bought is the instant it loses credibility.”

6. I already make awesome content

You may be right, but you aren’t the best judge on the matter. You can have all the technical rules and standards of writing and grammar mastered, but if readers aren’t responding to your content then it needs improving. Grammar does play a big role in deciding how readers perceive you, but style, voice, and message can be even more important. You’ll know when you’re making great content that connects with visitors, because they will tell you.

7. Links are all that matter

I could devote dozens of pages to clarifying the current state of links in online marketing (and several others have), but the simplest description is that good links are still very valuable while bought, spammy, or otherwise improperly acquired links are more dangerous than ever. However, your site can’t succeed on the back of a good link profile alone. As Forrester explains, “links are part of the bigger picture. You want them, but you want them to feel natural. If an engine sees you growing [them] naturally, you’re rewarded with rankings. If they see you growing them unnaturally, you’re rewarded with penalties.”

8. Marking up my content will help it rank

No, there is no direct link to marking up content and better rankings. Marking up content helps search engines understand your content better, so it can be beneficial if you also have good content for the engine to parse. But, simply installing markup code doesn’t inherently boost rankings.

9. Usability is different than SEO

If we are arguing semantics, yes SEO and usability are different disciplines. As more time passes though, it can be hard to tell them apart. Both aim to improve a website for users, and a site with great technical SEO can still be penalized for poor usability such as slow load-times, buggy performance, or clear usability. What is the point of leading someone to your site if they can’t use it properly?

10. SEO is all I need

Doing only one thing doesn’t tend to lead to success. SEO sets the foundation for you to build upon, but it won’t get you where you want to go alone. However, anything you build without that foundation is likely to fall apart.

SpellingPretty much anything Google’s most popular engineer Matt Cutts says makes headlines in the SEO community, but often his Webmaster Chat videos and advice aren’t mind-blowing by any stretch of the imagination. For instance, we recently covered a video where Cutts explained that bad grammar in the comment section most likely won’t hurt your ranking (unless you allow spam to run rampant).

For content creators, it was a legitimate concern that poorly written contents might negate the hard work putting into writing legible and well-constructed content. However, many used this to run headlines that Google doesn’t care about grammar, which is not even close to being confirmed.

As Search Engine Land points out, way back in 2011, Cutts publicly stated that there is a correlation between spelling and PageRank, but Google does not use grammar as a “direct signal.” But, in his latest statement on the issue Cutts specifies that you don’t need to worry about the grammar in your comments “as long as the grammar on your own page is fine.” This suggests Google does in fact care about the level of writing you are publishing.

It is unclear exactly where the line is for Google at the moment, as they imply that grammar within your content does matter, but they have never stated it is a ranking signal. Chances are a typo or two won’t hurt you, but it is likely Google may punish pages with rampant errors and legibility issues.

On the other hand, Bing has recently made it pretty clear that they do care about technical quality in content as part of their ranking factors. Duane Forrester shared a blog post on the Bing Webmaster Blog which states, “just as you’re judging others’ writing, so the engines judge yours.”

Duane continues, “if you [as a human] struggle to get past typos, why would an engine show a page of content with errors higher in the rankings when other pages of error free content exist to serve the searcher?”

In the end, it all comes down to search engines trying to provide the best quality content they can. The search engines don’t want to direct users to content that will be hard to make sense of, and technical errors can severely impact a well thought-out argument.

As always, the best way to approach the issue is to simply write content for your readers. If your content can communicate clearly to your audience, the search engines shouldn’t have any problems with it. But, if a real person has trouble understanding you, the search engines aren’t going to do you any favors.

Stop Sign

Thanks to the big brand-named algorithm updates, Google has definitely been at the forefront of the link building discussion recently, but obviously the other search engines have their own opinions as well.

As Search Engine Land reports, Duane Forrester, Senior Product Manager for Bing, recently wrote a post on the Bing Webmaster Blog detailing the four worst link building techniques and why you shouldn’t do them.

Unsurprisingly, these link building strategies are largely in line with the methods Google has been fighting more publicly. Nonetheless, it is important to highlight the more spammy methods people are still using to try to boost their link profile.

  1. Blind Requests – Links aren’t something that should just be given out. Sending mass template emails to websites is about as spammy as you can get. The only people who will respond are those who won’t give you a quality link. Buying email lists to try to send out mass requests is an even bigger waste of funds that really won’t get you far, but could likely incur some penalties.
  2. Blog/Forum Comments – Some link builders will try to drop links almost randomly into blog comments and forum conversations, but these won’t improve your rankings a single bit. The search engines have been aware of the practice for some time now.
  3. Link Injection – This is a tactic used by spammers where sites are hacked and links are injected into content such as headers or footers. Some will even push links directly into the body content. Bing does encourage keeping your CMS software up to date and secure, but they also try to take precautions on their side against this tactic.
  4. Guest Blogging – This is one of the more controversial link building strategies because it isn’t explicitly bad. The problem is, if your focus with guest blogging is to build links, you probably shouldn’t be doing it. Forrester explains, “if you’re going to guest blog, best to do it with the intention to buildyour brand, drive traffic, and create awareness. Doing it to bolster your SEO efforts is a #FAIL these days.”
Duane Forrester

Duane Forrester from Bing

While I often focus on Google’s search engine because it draws roughly a third of all searches, Bing is still important for most webmasters. It draws in the second most traffic, and Bing is clearly fighting to gain more of the market. That means we do need to keep up to date with their best practices and guidelines and listen when they share insight.

Bing’s Duane Forrester did just that recently when he shared some thoughts about SEO on the official Bing blog. His statements aren’t radically different from what you would expect from anyone else working in search, but it does give a little insight into how Bing functions. Free SEO News, a regular newsletter, collected the most important quotes.

  1. Links are still important – “They are still a trust signal that can help ranking. […] The kind [of backlinks] where your site impressed someone enough that they blogged about it, or shared it socially. […] These are best as they allow the engines the strongest confidence that the link is trustworthy.”
  2. There’s nothing wrong with reciprocal links – “Reciprocal links still have value. Shocked? Don’t be, as the value may not be what you’re thinking. They don’t hold a lot of value in terms of lifting rankings, but they are capable of driving traffic to your site, so a recip link can be useful for new sites in terms of direct traffic, and these links can help us find your content in the first place.”
  3. Buying Likes, Tweets, or Retweets is useless – “We all want ‘em, and therein lies the problem. Because likes are sought after, people try to sell them. […] Similar to how a link farm operates, like farms exist, promising to supply hundreds or thousands of likes in a short period. Yeah, yeah, they claim to be ‘all natural, totally organic’, etc. Simply put, they are not and are easily seen.”

None of this is groundbreaking of course. It is no surprise to us that we shouldn’t try to cheat Bing or Google and that you can do optimization without spamming. Following the best practices Google and Bing both publicly share with web masters will protect you from all your problems.