Dear Bill Gates.
You did it. You casually left a live grenade at the Grand Charity Gala and walked out of the room to see if anybody, especially Google, will notice.
Once again, you have created an innovation in marketing that is poised to take the world by storm. What I love about it is how you have just tossed it out into the public for all to see, and yet nobody seems to be noticing it.
Flitting from forum to forum, everyone is talking about your new MSN beta search engine ( http://beta.search.msn.com/ ), but nobody seems to have discovered the secret marketing bomb you left ticking there.
Google sure was clever with its PageRank gimmick. In fairness, PageRank is not just a gimmick, but it was marketed as much more than it is -- the big ka-boom that sets Google apart, despite being only a small part of its algorithm.
But your ka-boom will be bigger. You have actually given searchers like me control over my own rankings. While other search engines are talking about "personalized search", you've given us the levers to incrementally change rankings in searches themselves.
You are probably aware that webmasters are kicking the tires on your new search engine to see how high they rank. Those who are more adventuresome or who earn their living understanding (or trying to understand) search engines are taking some of your special features for a spin. Most of those features are fairly mundane. Like "links to" (although it might just be the most comprehensive listing on the Internet – hint to webmasters) and "language".
But what's this at the very bottom, almost falling off my screen?
Hey, this is cool. I can control the results myself. I can give more weight to recently-updated sites, which is great when I am following a breaking story (After the America's Cup, I do not want to find all the pre-race predictions, for example.). Or I can weight the results in favor of static pages if I am trying to find again the health information I had read last time my daughter broke out in blue and green splotches all over her body.
And you let me decide whether to weigh heavily exact matches, if I know exactly what I am looking for, or approximate matches if I know only that the itchy splotches come from some rare Polar virus transmitted by stampeding trans-Atlantic penguins.
I even get to choose to boost rankings for popular sites or, if I'm feeling like a rebel, for less popular sites. Yes, you have even appealed to my deepest psychological mood swings. This is really cool.
But what really counts is this: I control MSN!
I can just imagine the TV ads you have already planned: The ad character (a student, a construction worker, a nurse?) says, "Move over Bill Gates, I'm in charge now." The voiceover says, "Search MSN" PageRank will taste like yesterday's chewing gum.
I decided to find out if I really do control MSN, using one of my client sites. I chose Dotcom-Monitor Web Site Monitoring ( http://www.dotcom-monitor.com ) and the search term "website monitoring". As I write, the site sits at #3 for that search term.
I turbo charged the popularity lever to 100%. Whoa. Dotcom-Monitor lost a spot. What does that mean? Somebody who does not rank as highly as my client got a boost by weighing link popularity higher (and, by extension, on-page content lower).
This tells me that my client's on-page content is in good shape. It also tells me which competitor has the best backlinks to check out.
PageRank was an effective gimmick for wrapping webmasters and SEO consultants around Google's fingers. But this results ranking thingy could wrap both the public and webmasters around MSN's fingers.
Just one word of advice, Bill. Results Ranking? Is that the catchiest moniker you could give it?
Bill, you are to be congratulated for devising such a clever marketing tool, and for purposefully leaving it right out in the open like a live grenade without even a hint that it is there. That is what you did, isn't it? You did do it on purpose, didn't you?
If not, please let me know, so I can send you my invoice for your next great marketing idea.
David Leonhardt is an SEO consultant
and a website marketing consultant:
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