The search engine world is still buzzing following the recent decision of Yahoo to effectively shut down its own search infrastructure and outsource its search results business to Microsoft in the guise of its latest and hottest search interface, “Bing”. The deal represents an admission from both partners that they need to team up and leverage their respective strengths if they want to have a hope of competing with the 500 pound gorilla, Google. Pooling their collective search markets will give them a combined 30% of searches in America, compared with Google’s 65%.
But what does this mean for Yahoo Japan? In this country the positions of the number one and two search players are almost identically reversed. Yahoo Japan pulls in the largest market share of search engine players and has reported increased sales and profits for the first quarter of 2009. The Yahoo portal brand is powerful locally. Google Japan on the other hand has resorted to seemingly desperate and embarrassing moves to increase its market share.
The obvious question is “how will this effect Yahoo Japan’s search functions?” The question arises because Yahoo itself is only a minority owner of the Yahoo Japan franchise. The Japanese Softbank company is the largest shareholder with around 40% equity. Under the terms of the main deal, Microsoft retains 12% of search revenue from clicks on the Yahoo site. Whether they can strike an equally amicable deal with the Yahoo Japan stakeholders remains to be seen. Since Microsoft has their own Japanese Bing version it might not even be in their own interests to do so. As at the time of writing this article no announcement has been made about how the Yahoo/Bing deal will play out in Japan.
There is also the possibility that things at Yahoo Japan will stay as they are . Yahoo Japan is served search results by Overture Japan which is a 100% owned subsidiary of the former company, having been bought for a song back in 2007 from the Overture parent company, wholly owned by Yahoo. Given their current strength, there may not be a compelling reason for Yahoo Japan to switch search providers unless Bing’s newest features prove popular or they bring something else to the deal.
Another possibility out of left field is that Yahoo Japan may enter negotiations with Naver, the Korean owned search engine company. Naver Japan has so far made small inroads into the Japanese search market but parent company CEO Chae Hwi-Young has expressed an interest in significantly boosting their presence. The founder and current CEO of Softbank, Masayoshi Son has Korean family connections, coincidentally.
Another foreign owned company that might step up to the plate is Chinese owned , Baidu Japan which opened an office and R&D presence in Japan in 2008. They might also offer a potential foothold for Yahoo Japan service products into the lucrative Chinese market. The Chinese language shares a similar pictographic language system with Japanese and hence Baidu has extensive experience in dealing with pictographic search concepts. The President of Baidu Japan, Toshikazu Inoue was previously “Vice-President of Search” at Yahoo Japan.
Several international SEO commentators have been speculating that the recent Yahoo / Microsoft alignment may in fact be the beginning of a kind of international anti-Google grand alliance. If Yahoo / Microsoft were to bring Baidu into the team along with other small search players, Google’s international search dominance would start to look threatened.
There is also the possibility that things at Yahoo Japan will stay as they are.
BRING ON THE BING
Assuming that Microsoft does end up serving the search content for Yahoo Japan, what can webmasters and website owners do to maximize their search engine rankings in the new engine? Research into the matter so far is rather limited. There are many contradictory claims concerning which SEO factors weight more heavily in Bing compared to Google based on sometimes little or inconclusive evidence. There appear to be just two things that are nearly universally agreed by SEO analysts at this point.
- Bing puts even more importance on domain age than Google
- Bing puts even more importance on keywords in the URL than Google
More research is needed into the topic so the best strategy for site owners at the moment is to simply carry on doing the normal search engline optimization things they should be doing anyway. Make sure you are publishing content that people will want to link to. Write good Title tags for your site. Keep your code clean and easy for search engines to index. Be sure to use your target keywords in heading tags and in the body of your text.
One excellent tool for comparing Bing and Google results which every SEO should have bookmarked is Bingle which gives a frames view of Bing and Google side by side for the same search keywords. Very interesting.
In conclusion there is a lot to be gained by search marketing professionals if Bing can make itself a serious competitor to Google. Hopefully the increased competition will spur both sides to greater innovation, drive down cost per click fees and improve search marketing ROI. For now it is uncertain who will be providing the search engine support for Yahoo Japan. The most likely contender would appear to be Microsoft with Bing. Site owners need to be aware that having keyword friendly URLs and well aged domains will play a more significant role in Bing rankings than in Google.