In December 2014, Senior Program Manager for Bing Michael Basilyan posted a blog entry revealing how Microsoft’s search engine assesses the quality of content when ranking pages. The blog entry didn’t attract a huge amount of attention at the time, but a second look reveals an interesting new approach by Bing. In the entry, Basilyan explains the philosophy around which Bing’s search algorithms are built. Behind each query, he says, “is a real user with a real need for information”. However, much of the content on the internet “is of low quality”. As such, Bing’s algorithms don’t just look for the apparent relevance of content in relation to a given query, but also how authoritative, useful and well-presented that content is. Basilyan describes these factors as the “three pillars of content quality”.
The ‘authority’ of a web page is how trustworthy it is. When trying to establish the authority of a page, Bing looks at several different things, including the author’s identity (if known) and what sources the page cites. It also examines signals from social networks relating to the page. By factoring these components into Bing’s algorithms, it is hoped that the search engine will be able to weed out untrustworthy and unreliable sources.
Gauging the usefulness of a page (or it’s “utility” as Basilyan puts it) also requires numerous different factors to be included in Bing’s algorithms, including how much supporting information the page provides and what level of depth it goes into: “We prefer pages with relevant supporting multimedia content” Basilyan explains. Bing also tries to estimate what level of knowledge and expertise were required to produce the page to ensure that the most useful content is given the highest page-rank. It does this by looking for unique content that could only have been created by a well-informed web master (as opposed to simply being recycled from other pages).
Finally, the algorithms attempt to differentiate well-presented websites and web-pages from poorly-presented ones by looking for how easy the primary content is to access. In other words, the more adverts and unrelated material a user has to wade through to find their content, the lower a page will sink in Bing’s rankings.
By factoring in the authority, utility and presentation of web pages, Bing hopes to ensure that its search results are genuinely relevant to the user, not just superficially relevant. It also means that those hoping to use Bing as a platform for online marketing will have to be careful to optimise their content in a way that ensures the search engine still reads it as useful, presentable and trustworthy.