Bing Webmaster Guidelines Gets a Makeover — Here’s What’s Included

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On June 30, 2020, Bing updated their Webmaster Guidelines to include a ton of updated information about how Bing discovers, crawls, indexes, and ranks content, as well as best practices and guidelines.

Here’s what that update includes, and why it matters.

Content discovery takes the top spot

Prior to this update, the Bing Webmaster Guidelines started with a section about content, followed by links, social, and then indexation. 

In the most updated version though, content discovery is prioritized first.  

old Bing Webmaster Guidelines
A version of the Bing Webmaster Guidelines from just before the update, courtesy of the Wayback Machine.

Older versions of the Bing Webmaster Guidelines do state that “Being indexed is the first step to developing traffic from Bing,” but the new layout seems to reflect that better.

More extensive sitemap guidelines

The old version of the Bing Webmaster Guidelines had five sentences about sitemaps. The new version released on June 30th is much more extensive.

Bing's updated sitemap guidelines

As one of the primary ways Bing discovers content, sitemaps are the first to be listed under the section on “how to help Bing find all of your pages.”

A few other key things to note from the new sitemap section of Bing’s Webmaster Guidelines:

  • The new version clarifies that sitemaps aren’t just for text content, but images, videos, and other files as well. 
  • The new version clarifies that sitemaps aren’t just lists of URLs, but also provide Bing with additional information like when each page was last updated.
  • While Bing had additional sitemap guidelines elsewhere, the old version of the Bing Webmaster Guidelines page didn’t contain information about how to make your sitemap available to Bing, or general sitemap guidelines. The new version does.   

Info about the Bing URL & Content Submission API

The new version of Bing’s Webmaster Guidelines contains information about their URL and Content Submission API. This API lets you submit new and updated content to Bing for much faster indexing, and if you didn’t know, Botify’s FastIndex integrates with the Bing API!

In their new guidelines, Bing recommends that if you can’t utilize the API, then you can rely on sitemaps or individual URL submission via Bing Webmaster Tools.

Bing content submission API

As with the old version, the new version of Bing’s Webmaster Guidelines describe links as both a tool for content discovery and a signal of content popularity. 

The main difference is that, while the older version seemed to emphasize links as a signal of popularity (and how not to abuse that), the newer version contains much more content on links as a tool for content discovery. 

Just take a look at the side-by-side comparison. Language describing links as a popularity signal are in green, while language describing links as a form of content discovery are in purple. Take a look at how that changes from the old version to the new.

Bing's updated link guidelines

This could indicate that there’s less of a problem with link spam than there used to be, that Bing is better at detecting and ignoring link spam, Bing’s attempt to give a more balanced explanation of how they view links, or a combination of all three. 

Duplicate content more about crawl budget than content quality

While the older version of the Bing Webmaster Guidelines did contain information about limiting the number of URLs in the index, it was more about duplicate content causing “Bing to lose trust in some of those URLs over time.”

The newer version, however, lists “limit the number of web pages” as a way to “help Bing find all your pages.” 

This seems like a clear shift away from duplicate content as a content quality issue toward duplicate content as a crawl budget issue. 

Bing, like Google, doesn’t have unlimited time and resources to crawl and index the web. Help them out by using the canonical tag, configuring your URL parameters, and avoiding mobile-specific URLs (a new addition to the Bing Webmaster Guidelines).

Bing's duplicate content guidelines

Keep redirects in place for at least three months

The new Bing Webmaster Guidelines specifies that, “if you move content on your website to another location, use a 301 permanent redirect for at least 3 months.”

The rest of Bing’s guidance about redirects seems to be mostly the same, such as using 302s for temporary redirects (although they now clarify that “temporary” means something along the lines of “less than one day”) and avoiding the use of canonical tags for content location changes.

Bing's redirect guidelines

Bing recommends dynamic rendering

While older versions of the Bing Webmaster Guidelines have a few cautions against burying links and content inside rich media like JavaScript, the new version of the guidelines is much more explicit about Bing’s limitations and what they recommend as a solution.

According to the newest version of the Bing Webmaster Guidelines:

“Bing is generally able to process JavaScript, however, there are limitations to processing JavaScript at scale while minimizing the number of HTTP requests. Bing recommends Dynamic Rendering to switch between client-side rendered and pre-rendered content for specific user agents such as Bingbot especially for large web sites.”

How Bing treats JavaScript and dynamic rendering

Learn more about dynamic rendering.

More extensive robots.txt guidance

While both the old and new versions of the Bing Webmaster Guidelines explain that robots.txt files tell Bingbot where to go and not to go, the new version offers some helpful points of clarification, such as:

  • What type of content you might want Bingbot to stay away from, such as “search result pages or login pages”
  • Disallowing Bingbot from crawling certain pages does not guarantee that those pages won’t end up in the index and search results. To ensure a page doesn’t end up in the index, Bing recommends using the noindex tag. 
  • The new version now also links directly to a full page on how to create a robots.txt file

More extensive content quality guidelines that follow content discovery

Whereas content was the first section in the old Bing Webmaster Guidelines, the section on content is now nested within the “Help Bing understand your pages” which follows the “Help Bing find your pages” section.

We’re big fans of that new structure over at Botify, if you couldn’t tell from our “crawl to convert” methodology!

crawl to convert methodology

But it’s not just the location of the content guidelines that’s changed. They also added and removed some things from their content guidelines.

  • While the old guidelines encouraged webmasters to “build content based on keyword research,” the new guidelines clarify that, while keyword research is still valuable, content should be created “for searchers not search engines.”
  • While the old guidelines discourage non-unique content, the new guidelines clarify that non-unique content is OK as long as you canonicalize to the source.
  • Bing seems to have updated their definition of “content freshness.” While the old guidelines encouraged webmasters to “produce new content frequently” because crawlers would visit you more, Bing now says that freshness means “the page consistently provides up-to-date information” and many pages will remain relevant without updates for years. It just depends on the topic, but Bing doesn’t want you creating new content just so Bingbot will visit you more.
  • Bing added a section around usability, encouraging us to do things like check the accuracy and quality of alt text for images and videos.  

Dedicated “SEO” section removed

The old version of Bing’s Webmaster Guidelines had a dedicated section for SEO, listing instructions regarding everything from title tags to crawlability.

Bing Webmaster Guidelines on SEO

In the new version, the section on things like title tags, meta descriptions, and H1s is now listed under an HTML Tags section.

Bing's guidelines on HTML tags

Things like crawlability and links are listed elsewhere. 

This seems like an important change. Instead of SEO being viewed as one of many things you can do to “help your content be found and indexed within Bing,” SEO is now more accurately painted as synonymous with helping your content be found and indexed. 

New section on how Bing ranks content

One of the biggest changes to the Bing Webmaster Guidelines is a new section called “How Bing ranks your content.”

Bing describes this as a “high-level overview” of their ranking factors, listed in order of importance. 

Bing’s ranking factors include:

  • Relevance
  • Quality and Credibility
  • User Engagement
  • Freshness
  • Location
  • Page Load Time
How Bing ranks content

This is a helpful addition that removes some of the mystery behind Bing’s ranking algorithm. Interestingly, it mirrors how Google ranks web pages very closely. 

Google’s ranking factors include:

  • Relevance
  • Quality
  • Usability
  • Context and Settings
How Google ranks content

One notable difference between how Google and Bing rank web pages is Bing’s user engagement signal, which they describe as:

“Bing also considers how users interact with search results. To determine user engagement, Bing asks questions like: Did users click through to search results for a given query, and if so, which results? Did users spend time on these search results they clicked through to or did they quickly return to Bing?  Did the user adjust or reformulate their query?”

Bing is describing activities that SEOs have deemed “pogo-sticking” and “dwell time,” which are things that Google has never quite admitted that they consider.

In fact, Google’s John Mueller has said Google doesn’t use signals like pogo-sticking when it comes to search since there are a number of reasons why users might go back and forth between pages in search results. 

Updated guidance on “abuse and things to avoid”

Like the original version, Bing’s updated Webmaster Guidelines concludes with a section on abuse and things to avoid.

While the list remained mostly the same, there were a few key additions and one removal.

  • Automatically generated content: Bing added that you could get penalized for creating content through automated computer processes without human intervention.
  • Affiliate programs without adding sufficient value: Bing added “Thin Affiliation Sites” to their list of things to avoid. They describe these as sites that link to products from other websites but pretend that they are an official retailer or in affiliation with those sites.  
  • Malicious behavior: While Bing has obviously never been OK with things like phishing and viruses, they made sure to include that as something to avoid in their updated Webmaster Guidelines. 
  • Scraped content: Bing’s “things to avoid” list now includes scraping, which they define as copying content from other sites and republishing as your own, even if you modify it slightly. 
  • Meta refresh redirects: Bing no longer includes meta refresh redirects in their list of “things to avoid.” 

It’s easy as SEOs to be preoccupied with Google, but chances are, some percentage of your site’s search traffic comes from Bing. By understanding how Bing discovers and ranks content, we’ll be better equipped to reach that segment of our audience!

 

 

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