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A new study out today from Seattle-based Optify attempts to get behind the scenes on how Bing and Google operate when big news breaks. Obviously, that’s an interesting topic for news hounds like us. And the results of the study show just how differently the two major search engines operate when news breaks.

Optify analyzed three major news events: the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan; the August 24, 2011 resignation of Apple CEO Steve Jobs; and the October 4, 2011 Seattle return of Amanda Knox.

The study found that both Bing and Google made major changes to the search engine results pages when the news broke in each of the instances, quickly surfacing news, videos, images and real time updates, and placing those news items above the ranked results. Oftentimes, sponsored content was eliminated or moved off the page in order to make room for additional multimedia content.

The study indicates that Google reacted faster to breaking news by changing its ranking algorithm, and that Bing often pushed users to its own properties, such as MSN.com.

“Bing was more “stable” than Google as it was slower to update the natural-organic results to reflect news and real time updates and rewarded sites that made it to the top of the results by keeping them longer,” the study says. “Google, on the other hand, moved its natural-organic results ranking to a different ranking algorithm during real time events. It reacted faster to breaking news events as evidenced by rapid changes tothe natural-organic results. This was consistent with claims from Google that it gives the most relevant results to its users.”

Here’s more from the study as it relates to the specific news event around the resignation of Steve Jobs.

• Bing was faster to modify the (search engine results page) on the term “Steve Jobs” and surfaced news results less than one hour after the announcement on most of the related terms. Google was slower to surface news results for more generic terms (i.e. Steve Jobs) but was as fast to show them on the specific terms (i.e. Steve Jobs resigns).

• Both search engines served placed results above the natural-organic results, essentially pushing the natural-organic results below the fold.

• Bing used the top position on the (search engine results page) to serve MSN.com’s news coverage results exclusively.

• On both search engines, the natural-organic results on the generic terms (i.e. Apple, Steve Jobs) were not updated with more recent results, while the natural-organic results on specific terms (i.e. Steve Jobs Resigns, Apple CEO Resigns) were updated almost im- mediately and kept updating through out the event.

• Google treated the natural-organic results similarly to the news results. It favored reputable sources and rewarded authority over recency. Interestingly, Yahoo! controlled Google’s top organic results with 3 out of the top 5 organic results. Only after four (4) hours into the event, Google started surfacing other sources that included the Wall Street Journal, Seattle Times and Apple’s press releases that pushed the Yahoo! results down.

• Both search engines treated the natural-organic results similarly with the top natural-organic results staying fairly the same through the first four (4) hours of the event, with some shuffling of the results amongst themselves. Only after four (4) hours into the event, other natural-organic results started showing up on the first (search engine results page), pushing down the news-related results.

Here’s a look at the two pages from Bing and Google. (Click on image for full view)


The Optify study also provided additional insights on how online publishers and marketers can capitalize on breaking news, using techniques to get their content on the top of the search engines.

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