SERPs and the Super Bowl

Without a doubt, the Super Bowl, the championship game of the National Football League, is the apex of the football season. Almost a national U.S. holiday, the game is one of the most-watched TV broadcasts of the year. Some watch the game, others tune in for the commercials.

Can SERPs (define) predict the outcome of Super Bowl XLI? Probably not. But the information they present can provide an interesting journey through a macro-analysis of natural search results, and perhaps some insight into the game’s outcome.

Let’s take a look at few SERPs from MSN Live, Yahoo, and Google to determine if the major engines are equilaterally and algorithmically aligned before the big game. To be fair, all search queries tested are single words: “bears” and “colts.” We’ll take a look at the number of pages indexed, estimated number of inbound links, search engine snippets (or embellished snippets as presented), and a few other harbingers of natural search results.

All three search engines presented the same URLs in the top results of my search for the Bears and the Colts, respectively. Only the Colts have set up a temporary redirect to ensure the most recent information is available at the home page.

The Colts domain was registered on December 12, 1998, while the Bears’ domain was registered over a year later on March 1, 2000. Both sites have considerable Web histories behind their search engine results. All the same, Alexa ranks the Bears substantially ahead of the Colts — 8,777 and 21,128, respectively.

Note that isn’t owned by the Chicago Bears; consequently, the Bears’ domain includes the geographic destination in its name. The NFL does own the domain, but it probably figured most folks have enough trouble spelling Indianapolis, so the domain name isn’t used for the primary Web destination. Too bad for those who can spell Indianapolis: the NFL parks the domain rather than permanently redirects it to the Colts Web site.

MSN Plays Favorites

In MSN Live Search results, both teams are well indexed, but the Bears have greater linking loyalty. A quick query string to check indexation reveals that “” produces 3,155 results, while “” only reveals 2,882 results, a 273-page spread favoring the Colts. Yet net inbound links tally 42,855 for the Bears (“”) and only 29,439 inbound links for the Colts (“”). Granted, all numbers presented by the engines are estimates, but it’s hard to ignore the Bears inbound linking prowess over the Colts.

If search engine snippets are any indication, MSN Live Search appears to favor the Colts. The Bears have two listings, just like the Colts. But the Colts’ search engine snippet is adorned with the team’s emblem, along with the team’s record, most recent scores, and current sports headlines.

Does the presence of the Colts horseshoe indicate MSN Live Search thinks Indianapolis will win?

Yahoo’s Balanced Results?

With a quick audit, we can see the Colts have 6,522 pages indexed in Yahoo, while the Bears have about half as many, with 4,325 possible results. This 2,197-page spread favoring the Colts equates to an 3:2 ratio in potential results. Yet, the Bears again trump the Colts on back links: 55,258 and 32,602, respectively. We could consider this a 5:3 popularity factor in favor of the Bears, but the Colts have more Yahoo Directory listings than the Bears: seven to the Bears’ three.

Yahoo results appear to treat the Colts and Bears in an equitable graphical manner. Team scores, highlights, ticket information, sports news headlines, and Yahoo shortcuts are presented the same way for both teams. However, the Bears lack any suggested results to try other Yahoo searches. Perhaps the Colts’ move from Baltimore to Indianapolis remains a stigma for the team, even though the sneaky redirection occurred back in 1983.

Are a couple of suggested results and a light bulb enough to indicate Yahoo favors one team over another in Super Bowl XLI? Probably not. Yahoo’s presentation is far more equitable than MSN Live Search’s apparent slant toward the Colts.

Equality on Google

A peak under Google’s hood reveals the Colts have 8,660 pages indexed and the Bears have about 5,720 pages. Since all three engines’ indices include many more pages for the Colts than the Bears, it’s safe to say Indianapolis has a larger site than Chicago.

The Bears continue to drub the Colts with back links: 2,280 to the Colts’ 814. Throw DMOZ influence into the mix, and the Colts barely beat the Bears with 10 directory listings to 9. Google offers four site links for the Bears and three for the Colts. All in all, graphical presentations for the Colts and the Bears are relatively neutral on Google.

Outside the Lines

Does content provide some hints on the upcoming game’s outcome? The Bears’ home page uses “super bowl” in visible text 18 times and “chicago bears” 3 times. The Colts’ home page uses “super bowl” in visible text 10 times and “indianapolis colts” once. Curiously, the Colts’ page mentions the “chicago bears” five times in visible text, yet the Bears’ page only mentions “indianapolis colts ” once.

Yahoo and Google appear to treat both Super Bowl XLI contenders in an equalized manner, but MSN Live Search seems to strongly favors the Colts. The Colts beat the Bears when it comes to site size and domain history, and the Colts outperform the Bears by a slim margin in several major directories. Yet the Bears beat the Colts when it comes to inbound link popularity.

Since inbound links are such an integral element of natural search engine optimization, far outstripping the directories as key influencers, I’d call it a tie, were it not for MSN Live Search results.

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