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Now, checking Ink pure search results (via the PT site), and comparing to MSN, I still see substantial differences in the SERP's.
I'm assuming this is the result of M$N applying their algo to the Ink index now, correct?
I've looked harder since my first post, and what seems to be the case, though I hesitate to use the word 'filter', is that M$ is simply filtering out some of the INK pages, resulting in a shorter list.
If I compare the two sets of results, they retain the same order. The difference is that the M$ SERP's don't contain all of the Pure Search results. It's too early to say with any certainty, but there appears to be a pattern regarding the kinds of site/page attributes that are being sorted out by this M$ filter.
Page filtering factors seem easier to ID than site filtering factors.
This is a rather competitive ecom category, though I'm not implying that has anything to do with which sites/pages are getting cut out...
Up until yesterday search.msn.com was consistently displaying "United States" boosted to medium. Today each time I search I get something different, so it seems that they are adjusting it at the moment.
I'm almost certain there's a regional and/or linguistic filter on MSN. Comparing MSN and PT results for my last name, the English-language (American) pages rank a littler higher (and German pages, correspondingly lower) in MSN than they do in PT.
You should also look for differences in site-clustering. Some Inktomi licensees will turn if off completely (making it easy for one domain to have ten listings in a row) while others will set it superstrict (so that no domain has more than one result per page). Clustering can make a huge difference in the appearance of SERPs, even if the the rank order of pages hasn't changed.
Edited to add: If MSN and PT are showing identical SERPs once in a while, it may just mean you searched for something that MSN's filters don't apply to. From my experience, the more obscure and less commercial a topic is, the more likely it is to be unfiltered.
But today on MSN those 4 dead pages are showing up with the meta tags and text from my current index page! I'm amazed that my site is showing up at all, not to mention with pretty good results (though I'm jaded enough to think it may be one of life's cruel teases, to disappear in the next hour or so) but it is a weird phenomenon, those 301 links that live on.