At the Women 2.0 Conference Bing’s Duane Forrester answered startups’ most pressing search-related queries. Here’s the most common questions they asked. 

By Duane Forrester (Senior Product Marketing Manager, Bing Webmaster Tools)

Let’s take a look at the most common questions we saw from startups when we had open office hours, as we did last February 14th during the Women 2.0 event in San Francisco. These five questions popped up in most of the sessions we held throughout the afternoon, and also in hallway conversations during the day and into the evening. The questions might seem simple enough, but as usual, the answers are a bit more detailed.

Why Does One Search Engine Have Much More of My Site Indexed Than the Other?

In almost every case where we examined sites, we found that the robots.txt file was blocking Bingbot from accessing content. This was most often in the form of an outright block, telling us to stay away, but in a few instances, it was a crawl delay message whose length was long enough to slow us to the point where we couldn’t crawl all the content of a site in a reasonable timeframe. For medium to large sites, this meant it’d take us a week or more to find everything, and by then, new content had been created and the process started over again.

The new Bing Sitemap Plugin can help manage sitemaps for a site, which can greatly help us find your content – that’s the job of the sitemap.

Make sure you understand how to build a proper robots.txt file and that you understand what the commands you place inside it are doing.  In the case of blocking Bingbot above, it was actually cases where ALL robots were blocked.  We choose to follow the protocol and honor the request, whereas other engines choose to ignore this command and go index everything anyway.

How Do I Get More of My Content Into the Search Engine?

As mentioned above, part of this is covered with your sitemaps.  That step helps ensure we can actually see all of your content.

The next step is to make sure you have content people want. Repurposing content from other websites isn’t going to cut it. It needs to be unique and useful. Ask yourself this: “Have I answered the question with enough detail to ensure the searcher needs to go nowhere else to get their answers?”  If the answer to the question is anything other than “Absolutely”, you need to dig deeper and create more content. If we already have the content you’re repurposing on your page from the original source, why do we need your version, too?

Inside your Bing Webmaster Tools account is a tool for submitting new content direct to our index. Use the tool to test your content. By submitting via this tool, you bypass all checks and end up straight in the index, and we start showing you to searchers.  If searchers like your content, it’ll stay there and continue to rank. If searchers fail to engage with your content, it drops lower in the rankings. It’s a great way to judge the quality of your content, too.  Quality is in the eye of the searcher.

How Do I Grow My Business?

Probably the surest way to future success is by cultivating an army of people who love your business.  Getting there isn’t a new trick either. Engage with your customers, reward them, listen to them and take action based on their feedback. Never make the mistake of thinking you know more about what they want than they do.

Using social media you can build a robust community of loyal fans who will happily recommend you to family and friends, who will spread the word about any changes, and who may even support you in times of need, like when negative situations arise online.

Usability (or user experience) can play a big role in success today, too. Faster websites are preferred by search engines, but humans also very much appreciate them. By understanding usability, and by performing usability testing on your own site, you’ll uncover a lot of areas you can improve. By investing in those areas, you’ll not only build a better web experience for users, but will make them happier and more likely to share you with others.

I Use Social Now, but How Can I Grow Its Usefulness?

Most people think of social as a “push” mechanism.  A business has an offer they send that offer to followers and wait for sales to ratchet upwards. Most consumers want social to be a conversation. They see your offers, and take action on those of interest, but if all you every do is say “Buy from me,” consumers become disillusioned and start ignoring you.

reak the mold by creating a meaningful, engaging social media presence.  One where 80% of what you share is designed to help them in ways related to your product or service, yet only 20% of what you share talks about your own products or services.  Social is about conversations, not about direct selling.

Learn what motivates people.  Understanding “Hooks” can help here: ego, anger, contrarian, humor and so on are forms of hooks that can elicit a response from consumers.

How Do I Hire an SEO?

Very, very carefully.  Seriously, so many startups think that getting funding will enable them to afford top flight services, be they SEO or otherwise. The problem is a VC sees this as a risk. They know you’ll spend a LOT of money on those services, and unless everything else is simply amazing, it’s money out the door for little return.

You should approach hiring an SEO the same way you’d approach hiring an employee.  Set up an interview, ask to see past work and get references. Most importantly, contact the references and never forget to ask if the reference would hire the consultant today to do the same work.  A couple years ago I wrote an article on hiring an SEO, and it’s still valid advice today.

We had a great time engaging with the small businesses attending the Women 2.0 event, and hope folks will reach out as they have questions.

Women 2.0 readers: Do you have a search-related question that wasn’t answered here?

8322.DuaneForrester_19C64CFDAbout the guest blogger: Duane Forrester is a senior product manager with Bing’s Webmaster Program. Previously, he was an in-house SEM running the SEO program for MSN. He’s also the founding co-chair of SEMPO’s In-House SEM Committee, was formerly on the Board of Directors for SEMPO and is the author of two books: How To Make Money With Your Blog and Turn Clicks Into Customers. He has advised startups on SEO/SEM practices at incubators in Boston, New York and Silicon Valley. Follow him on Twitter at @duaneforrester