With Microsoft throwing its hat into the ring alongside Google and Yahoo!, consumers as well as search marketers have more choices.

Choices and competition are good for the marketplace. But, for search marketers, along with more choices comes potential confusion—about what works and what doesn't work on each engine.

I've assembled this side-by-side comparison of the top three search engines to serve as a quick reference sheet about each engine's strengths, weaknesses, acceptance of search engine optimization best practices, and tolerance levels for SEO worst practices:

  MSN Google Yahoo!
Recommended Practices      
Keyword-rich title tags Yes Yes Yes
Keyword-rich body copy Yes Yes Yes
Links from "important" sites Yes Yes Yes
Keyword-rich link text Yes Yes Yes

Practices to Avoid
Complex URLs >5 parameters >6 parameters Unknown, but less tolerant than Google and MSN Search
Frames To a degree (but orphan frames are common) To a degree (but orphan frames are common) To a degree (but orphan frames are common)
JavaScript-based links No To a degree To a degree
Too many links per page Unknown >100 links Unknown
Page is too many clicks away from home page >7 clicks Unknown Unknown
Automated queries Currently not discouraged Excessive queries from an IP address can result in the IP being blocked; violates Google's ToS unless using Google's API Excessive queries from an IP address are ignored

Vital Statistics
Amount of page indexed 150K 101K 150K (500K for PDFs)
Default no. of results per page 10 10 20
Size of index 5 billion documents 8 billion documents undisclosed
Market share 15% 45% 32%

inurl: No Yes Yes
filetype: No Yes Yes
link: Yes Yes (but results are only a sampling) Yes
Linkdomain: No No Yes
Boolean logic (+, OR, -) Yes Yes Yes
Local search "Near Me" (currently very limited) Google Local Yahoo! Local
Reordering the search results Yes (by freshness, popularity, exactness of match) No No
Query word limit No limit 32 words No limit
Results via RSS Yes No Yes (Yahoo! News only)

Keyword-Rich Title Tags

The text within your page title (also known as the title tag) is given more weight by the search engines than any other text on the page. The keywords at the beginning of the title tag are given the most weight. So, by leading with keywords that are relevant to your business and popular with searchers, you make your page appear more relevant to those keywords in a search.

Keyword-Rich Body Copy

Relevant and popular keywords should also be included in the page's body copy, particularly near the top of the HTML, as they will then be weighted more heavily by the search engines. Be careful not to go overboard—that is, to the point that your copy doesn't read well. Ideally, incorporate at least 200 to 250 words on each page so the search engines have enough content to determine the theme of the page.

Links From 'Important' Sites

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Stephan Spencer is the founder of Science of SEO and an SEO expert, author, and speaker.

LinkedIn: Stephan Spencer

Twitter: @sspencer