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Chris Richardson


Does Microsoft consider the server environment a site is hosted on when applying relevancy rankings for their search results? If this were indeed true, wouldn't manipulation of this sort render their SERPs as biased and non-relevant?

Is MSN Search manipulating their search results to give more weight (relevance) to sites being hosted on IIS environments? Would you even consider using a search engine that was thought to be manipulating their results? Discuss at WebProWorld.

If the study conducted by Ivor Hewitt (which was first reported by /.) continues to yield the results his less thorough tests did, he may be on to something that could cast some doubt towards one of the more promising search engines to hit the market in some time.

The story goes like this: in an act of curiosity, Ivor began testing keywords from the Google Zeitgeist in both Google's search and MSN Search in an effort to document ranking differences. However, the conclusions he developed indicated a lot more than simple SERP variations:

On the whole is seems that the MSN search engine is indeed placing IIS hosted sites higher in the results more frequently than other webservers. Frequently the MSN search is placing more IIS servers in the important top 10 results than Google even where result sets from a query have actually returned fewer IIS servers overall on MSN.

Which means, if you follow Ivor's logic, MSN Search may be giving preferential treatment to sites hosted on the IIS environment. Understandably, Ivor's conclusion is quite troubling and leads to a number of questions: Is MSN manipulating their search results to give higher rankings to IIS sites? If so, does this not render MSN Search as a null and void search engine?

Perhaps some other points need to be discussed before Ivor's observations get accepted as gospel.

First and foremost, many critics of Ivor's conclusions immediately noticed his range of keywords was quite limited. In response to this, Ivor administered the test again, this time using 1000 random keywords instead of the Zeitgeist. However, reactions were the same: not enough keywords were tested to formulate a strong hypothesis. Ivor is currently re-conducting his test, and this time, he's using 10000 keywords.

However, results from this latest test have not been posted.

Another point made by a number of people has to do with quality level of sites hosted on IIS environments, as opposed to those hosted on Linux or Apache environs. The general counterpoint indicated perhaps lesser quality sites, blogs, and vanity sites were being hosted on Apache/Linux, while the more optimized; search engine-friendly sites are apart of the IIS family (to which iEntry's IT Manager, Jay Fougere replied: "that's a straw man argument").

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Do you think someone should tell Google and Amazon their respective vanity sites would be better off as a member of the IIS family?

Now, before everyone runs out to purchase their tinfoil hats, consider the additional points made by Ivor:

So what's going on, why the bias?

I have no idea; I doubt it's all a big conspiracy... but some possible explanations spring to mind:

Perhaps the MSN search has simply been coded by developers used to talking to IIS machines and so it just does that job better?

Perhaps the MSN spider is taking advantage of some specific IIS features to provide enhanced indexing?

However, Jay has some thoughts about Ivor's theory as well:

"I don't buy it -- HTTP is HTTP is HTTP -- there is nothing in it that even allows for indexing. I mean a site is made up of pages with links -- you write a program to crawl those pages (follow every link). There is nothing there to help or hinder IIS/Apache/Linux.

"The protocol, HTTP, is the same for Unix/ IIS /Apache /insert favorite webserver here. However, each server environment will return a header with what it is running, if you ask it. Although, many admins tell their servers to announce themselves as servers they are not -- to confuse hackers."

Although the results from Ivor's extensive keyword test are not available, the early implications from previous tests have caused some arched eyebrows. However, it's almost silly to suggest such a thing simply because of the public relations mess MSN Search would have to handle if Ivor's data isn't coincidental. While it's true that MS has had their share of PR nightmares, one of this magnitude would be quite damaging to their credibility.

No one would use an engine suspected of manipulating their results, and the folks at MSN Search know this as well.

About the Author:
Chris Richardson is a search engine writer for WebProNews. Visit WebProNews for the latest search news.

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