THE SEARCH ENGINE REPORT
September 2, 1998 - Number 22
About The Report
The Search Engine Report is the email companion to Search Engine Watch, http://searchenginewatch.com/. It keeps you informed of changes to the site and general search engine news.
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In This Issue
+ General Notes
+ Search Utilities Go Beyond Metasearch
+ RealNames Expands Listings
+ Direct Hit Debuts On HotBot
+ LookSmart Adds Editors
+ Snap Makes Submitting Easier
+ Excite, Yahoo Debut Community Areas
+ The Latest Acquisitions
+ Infoseek Instant Add Gone For Good
+ Interface Matters To Researchers
+ Search Term Analysis More Affordable
+ Search Engine Notes
+ Search Engine Articles
+ Subscribing/Unsubscribing Info
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I'm currently traveling in my native California, where I'm enjoying Taco Bell, Cocoa Pebbles and people bagging my groceries for me -- things I dearly miss while living in my wife's native country of Britain. Being on the road also means I'm without the proofreading support that my wife usually provides. So, I beg your forgiveness for any typos in this month's newsletter.
The MetaCrawler Top Search Terms page has been updated with July 1998 terms, and the RelevantKnowledge search engine ratings page has been updated with July 1998 data. I also expect to update the Media Metrix ratings with July 1998 data shortly. Links to updated pages can be found on the What's New page.
Search Engine News
Many people love metasearch services, because they make it easy to send a query to several search engines at once. If you're a metasearch fan, now is a good time to consider going a step beyond by using a search utility.
Search utilities have the ability to send queries to multiple search engines. In addition, they offer the ability to sort results in various ways, such as by URL, page title or search engine. Another common feature is the ability to automatically download the actual pages that appear in the search results. These pages can then be further analyzed or viewed individually, offline.
The timing is right for those wishing to experiment with search utilities. A new program called BullsEye is now available, while updated versions of other utilities have recently been released.
I took a brief look at each of these utilities, to gather some initial impressions. However, I did not exhaustively test them, so don't consider this a review of what's best. Each of the utilities is available for trial before purchase, so I recommend experimenting with them to see which is the best fit for your personal tastes and needs. All are available for Windows 95/98/NT.
BullsEye is a powerful utility that will likely appeal to professional and advanced users, though I suspect novices may find it a bit too intimidating. It offers a wide range of searches, such as news, business, software and, of course, web searching.
Nice touches include the ability to spell check a query or display related words and homonyms. I also liked the way it will highlight the search terms on pages, if they have been downloaded for viewing. It also will attempt to group downloaded pages in similar categories.
BullsEye is an 8 MB download, and the basic version sells for US $49. Also, the program is unrelated to the notorious BullsEye bulk email program of the same name.
In contrast to BullsEye, novices should feel more comfortable with Copernic 98. I found the interface to be elegant and easy to use. Power options are available, but they remain hidden unless you invoke them, which makes getting started easy.
I was also pleased with the breadth of specialty searches offered. Music, Movies, Jobs and Sports are just some of the categories offered, and the sources in each category appear to be of good quality.
The free version of Copernic 98 offers web, newsgroup and email searching. The $29.95 "Plus" version includes specialty search options. Both are 2 MB downloads.
Mata Hari is supposedly designed so that you can learn one set of power search commands, which the program will then translate for each search service, as appropriate. I didn't test this, and I suspect it is something other search utilities will also do, especially BullsEye. But if you perform complex queries often on multiple services, then this may be another program worth investigating. It is definitely not a package for novice users.
Mata Hari is a 1.6 MB download and sells for $34.95.
Looking for fast and simple? Then WebFerret is a good choice. It does only web searching, via an extremely simple interface. Unlike the other packages, there is no page download option.
WebFerret is free and a quick, 760K download. The same company also offers WebFerretPro, which has additional features, for $26.95. Unfortunately, no trial version of WebFerretPro is currently available for download.
Those using the RealNames links on AltaVista are more likely to be taken directly to an appropriate web site, now that the RealNames system has greatly expanded its listings.
RealNames is an alternative web site address system, and links to its listings appear at the top of AltaVista search results, for any search of four words or longer.
Selecting a RealNames link will take people directly to a site, if the search phrase matches a registered RealName. If a name is not registered, then users are presented with results from the RealNames search engine, which shows the best matching choices from paid listings, editor selections and picks found by a web crawler.
Ideally, RealNames would like people to always be taken directly to a web site when they click on a link. Thus, editors have worked over the past few months to create RealNames for thousands of products, stock ticker symbols, American sports teams and radio stations.
For example, "kleenex" leads to the Kleenex tissue web site. "YHOO" brings up the stock quote for Yahoo. "Lakers" leads to the Los Angeles basketball team's web site, while "KIIS" brings up the LA radio station with those call letters. All of these are editorially added entries.
"We studied queries, and based on that study, have added segments to serve the patterns of usage we have seen," said Ted West, Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing.
In all, there are now about 1 million RealNames resolving to web sites, and the number climbs to 3 million when domain names are included.
Domain name resolution is another new feature of the service. Entering a domain name such as "www.yahoo.com" takes people to the site, just as if they had entered the domain name properly into the browser address box.
This is an extremely helpful change, because many novice web users mistakenly enter domain names into search boxes, when trying to reach web sites.
It would be even better if AltaVista itself, along with the other major search engines, also made this change. Only WebCrawler is currently smart enough to ask a person entering a domain name if they want to visit the site, assuming the URL is preceded with an http://.
RealNames makes its money from those who pay for names, so it seems odd from a business standpoint to have editors undermine the system by creating so many "free" names. Only about 5,000 names in the listings have been purchased.
However, CEO Keith Teare sees the enhancements as strengthening the system for users. If they make it more usable, and thus popular, he believes companies will see value in registering their own names for $100 per year.
"We've got to hope that if the changes produce a greater user experience, then that becomes a magnet," Teare said.
RealNames also plans to push paid registrations more heavily, now that listings have been enhanced. A number of RealNames resellers will be announced shortly.
RealNames says the usage of its system via AltaVista has also increased dramatically over the past two months. RealNames links are selected about one million times per day at AltaVista, giving the system just over a three percent clickthrough rate. That's up from 300,000 per day, when the RealNames launched on AltaVista in May.
Key to this improvement has been altering the text associated with the RealNames links. Previously, the text used to read "Subscribe your company, brands and trademarks to the Real Name System." Now it has been changed to say "Click above for the RealName, the easy web address for company and product names."
"We virtually removed the RealNames branding on July 30th," said West. "That increased the traffic immediately."
RealNames also expects even more people to begin using the system in the near future, as it continues to seek new partnerships.
"Quite soon, we'll be announcing another distribution partnership which will increase our traffic by 30 to 50 percent again," said Teare.
Direct Hit Debuts On HotBot
Last issue, I wrote about the Direct Hit system, which measures what search engine users are clicking on to help improve relevancy. Now you can try the system yourself, as it debuted on HotBot in mid-August.
Simply perform any search. On the results page, next to the "Revise" button, you'll see an option that says "Find Direct Hit's most popular sites for your query." Clicking on this will bring up results as ranked by Direct Hit's measuring system.
The option will only appear if Direct Hit has enough data about a particular term, which the company says should be about 75 percent of the time.
Counting Clicks and Looking At Links
More about how the Direct Hit system works.
LookSmart announced that it has doubled its editorial staff, as part of an effort to increase its site listings five-fold over the next year.
The service currently lists about 500,000 sites in more than 23,000 categories. In contrast, Yahoo lists about 1 million sites.
LookSmart now has about 70 editors, compared to Yahoo's 80 or more editors.
"We believe this team will be able to out-produce rival editorial teams in terms of both quantity of sites described and, more importantly, in the quality, selection, organization and description of those sites," said LookSmart CEO Evan Thronley.
Where did Procter & Gamble and Red Sky go to get the highest quality Internet advertising editorial for the FAST Summit website?
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Until recently, submitting a site to Snap could only be done via email. Now the service has a form-based system, which makes the task much easier.
As with Yahoo, submission starts with locating the right category for your site. Either browse from the home page to a category that seems suitable, or search on some terms related to your site and see what other sites appear. A category listing will preface them, and that category may be a good home for your site.
When you've found the right category, click on the "submit" link that appears at the bottom of the page. A submission form will appear. On it, you can enter your site's title, URL and a description.
A smart idea is to recycle your Yahoo description, though you'll need to edit it down to 15 words. Also, the standard tips on titles and descriptions for Yahoo make sense to follow with Snap. In particular, make your descriptions to the point and without marketing jargon. Snap says this will help improve the odds that your site will be accepted.
"Sites with great descriptions stand out," said Snap associate producer Paul Wood.
Unlike Yahoo, there is no option to suggest a second category for your site. Pick the best one, in your opinion. In some cases, editors may choose to cross link, though this isn't common.
"We tend to think that a web site should really only live in one place," Wood said.
Editors may also create an entire new category, so don't be disheartened if you can't find a perfect match. Go with the closest choice and expect that new categories may emerge, as the directory matures.
The subject and navigation choices on the submit form should automatically set themselves to match the category you've selected, so you can ignore these. The last option is whether to "Update old entry" or "Submit new entry." Obviously, if this is a new submission, choose new. We'll deal with updating further below.
After submitting, a second form with optional location and contact information will appear. Answering these few questions is easy.
There is no promised turn-around time with Snap. However, if your site isn't accepted within four to six weeks, Wood said it is fine to resubmit.
If you don't get in the first time, reconsider whether the category you originally selected was indeed appropriate for your site. Also check to see if there are any new categories that might be more relevant. Additionally, make sure your description is appropriate.
Use the aforementioned update option if you are already listed in Snap and are changing a URL, title or description. Changes won't appear automatically, but editors are supposed to get to them quickly, Wood said.
How sites are ranked in Snap will be of interest to both webmasters and searchers. It is much different than the system used at Yahoo.
Do a search at Yahoo, say for "travel agents," and Yahoo categories matching those terms will be listed first. Next will come matching web sites from the Yahoo directory. In general, these sites will be grouped by category and ranked within the category by the frequency in which terms appear in their titles and descriptions. Finally, matching web sites from the Inktomi search engine will be listed.
In contrast, there is no category-first system at Snap, though you may get that impression because all sites are listed with their home category above them. This is a navigational feature, meant to provide context to a particular site.
"It gives a two fold experience. You have a chance to go to a site we've chosen, but you also have the opportunity to go to a category and pick your own web site," said Wood.
Another key difference is that sites are also given a quality rating by editors. This unseen rating, along with the presence of search terms in the site title and description, influences how well a site will rank. Those with better ratings will come first.
The system doesn't always seem to make sense, however. In the "travel agents" example, the Internet Travel Network is clearly a well-regarded site, since a "best" icon appears next to its listing. However, ITN appears further down on the list than AusTravel. That site is in the same category as ITN, but it has no "best" rating, and the search terms appear less frequently in the AusTravel title and description than with ITN.
Given this, it makes sense for those searching with Snap to scroll a bit further down and review other top offerings. Even better, click though to an interesting category rather than departing to a particular site. You may find some better choices this way.
Not content with just offering home pages, Excite unveiled a beta version of its new communities service on August 17. The next day, Yahoo launched a similar service called Yahoo Clubs.
The idea behind both services is to allow users to create "communities" or identity areas that revolve around a particular topic. For example, a community might focus on a family, a business or even a television show.
At Excite, community areas can have their own calendar of events, photo albums, shared bookmarks, contact lists and discussion areas. Discussions can also be attached to objects in the community, such as an event or a photo.
There is also a great deal of control over who can join and participate in a community. A community can be open to anyone or only open by invitation. Privileges can also be assigned as to how members can build or change content within the community.
Unfortunately, the beta test status means you may have to wait to be able to create communities or join existing ones. In the meantime, an online tour offers the curious a look at what Excite is offering.
Over at Yahoo, its communities service is completely live. When you first enter the site, you'll find listings of club areas organized along the lines of the main Yahoo directory.
The community tool offerings are sparser than at Excite. The clubs don't have photo albums, shared calendars or contact lists. Like Excite, Yahoo offers shared link lists and message boards.
Clubs are either listed or unlisted. If listed, anyone can join them and participate. If unlisted, then only those you invite to the club location will participate.
Be warned, most of the clubs at Yahoo have one or two members, at the moment. That's not surprising, given that the service has just launched. You may also find yourself drilling down to find a club, only to discover that the category exists, but no actual club has been created.
Yahoo offers community building
News.com, Aug. 18, 1998
Details on the number of registered Yahoo users (18 million) and how Yahoo plans to set up opt-in mail promotions to take advantage of its new communities offerings.
Infoseek has agreed to acquire Quando for US $17 million in stock. Quando builds custom directories of information, and Infoseek will be using the technology to power new shopping and local event guides it plans to launch later this year.
Lycos has agree to acquire WhoWhere, a free home page and email provider that also powers the free branded email service of Lycos-competitor Excite. Lycos currently uses iName for its own branded email service. The deal is for $133 million in stock. Lycos has also acquired GuestWorld, which provides guest book services to web sites, in a $3.9 million stock deal.
AltaVista made it official. It announced on August 11 that it has reached an agreement to acquire the altavista.com domain. Financial terms were not disclosed, but previous press reports have put the sale amount at over $3 million.
Inktomi has agreed to purchase C2B Technologies, which develops comparison shopping software, for a $90 million stock swap. Inktomi plans to use the acquired technology to create a shopping search service that it can offer to its partners.
AltaVista To Buy altavista.com Domain
The Search Engine Report, August 4, 1998
Details about how AltaVista found itself chasing after the altavista.com name.
Lycos Weaves Tangled Acquisition Web
Red Herring, Aug. 13, 1998
The recent buying spree by Lycos has left it with companies that still serve its competitors and which overlap in the features it offers users. A look at the various issues, with Lycos, and with its competitors.
Inktomi Buys Shop Bot Shop
Wired, Sept. 1, 1998
More details on the Inktomi purchase.
Infoseek says that its "instant add" feature will not be returning to the service. The feature allowed any page submitted via the Add URL form to appear in the Infoseek index within minutes. It was temporarily disabled in June, and now the change is permanent, said Nilo Zaratan, who oversees the Infoseek spidering process.
Instead, pages submitted via the Add URL form will appear one to two business days after submission, Zaratan said. This still makes Infoseek one of the fastest search engines to list new pages.
AltaVista also lists pages within this timeframe, as does Inktomi when things are working normally. However, things are definitely remaining abnormal, with pages submitted to Inktomi via the HotBot Add URL form taking two weeks or longer to appear.
Infoseek also said that it is speeding up the processing of email submissions. Previously, URLs sent via email took a week to be added. Now, they will appear within one to two business days.
E-mail submission is primarily meant for sites that wish to submit more than 50 URLs per day, those using free web space and sites with adult content. However, anyone can use it as an alternative to the Add URL form.
Infoseek Add URL
A survey of prospect researchers found that a search engine's interface is one of the most important elements to professional searchers.
Those surveyed were asked which search engine they turned to first, and AltaVista was a clear winner, at 37 percent. HotBot came in second, at 21 percent, followed by Yahoo, at 17 percent.
The survey also asked what features of the first choice search engine were important. The results weren't cross-tabulated, so you can't match the answers directly to a particular service. But overall, relevancy was ranked first, at 65 percent, with a surprise second place showing for interface, at 36 percent. Defined as "ease of use and overall presentation," interface beat out other features such advance query options and index size.
In another surprise, the Dogpile metasearch service beat out MetaCrawler by three to one among those who exclusively use a metasearch service. Also, less than 10 percent of those surveyed reported using offline search software.
The sample was extremely small, only 120 people, and the survey was admittedly unscientific. But the results will nevertheless be interesting to professional researchers. More details can be found below.
Prospect Researchers Survey
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The best way to measure your success with search engines is to examine your web site logs to find the actual search phrases used to reach your web site. This has gotten easier thanks to Marketwave dropping the price of its Hit List Pro log analysis software from US $995 to $295.
Hit List has long been one of my favorite tools, because it can be easily configured to display search phrases for a variety of search engines. By default, it ships with reports for AltaVista, Excite, Infoseek, Lycos and Yahoo. However, I've enhanced my copy to display terms from HotBot, WebCrawler, GoTo, LookSmart, Snap and many other services and metacrawlers.
Many WebTrends users mistakenly believe they also are getting search phrase information for several major search engines, but this is not the case. Instead, WebTrends breaks down search phrases into individual keywords.
For example, if someone entered "income tax forms" into Yahoo and found your site, WebTrends would report that you were found for "income" and "tax" and "forms," not "income tax forms."
That may not seem so confusing with just one example, but imagine what happens when hundreds of phrases are broken down into individual keywords. It becomes impossible to distinguish the exact phrases that brought a site traffic.
If you use WebTrends, don't despair. The company says the next release, due within two months, will correct this problem. The product currently sells for $299, though it is often available for a discount through web hosting providers.
Another option for those interested in search phrases is FlashStats. The program is primarily designed as a real-time, server-side analysis tool, but it can be run locally on a personal web server for offline analysis. It comes preconfigured with search phrase reporting for 16 search engines, more than any other log analysis program that I'm aware of. The price is $99.
Marketwave Hit List
Search Engine Watch Subscription Information
Those who support Search Engine Watch with a paid yearly subscription have access to a page that discusses exactly how to enhance Hit List to display search phrases from a wide variety of search engines. The link above describes the benefits of subscribing and leads to an online order form.
Search Engine Notes
Infoseek Online Available
Infoseek's branded Internet access service, Infoseek Online, is now available. The service is offered in conjunction with AT&T and launched in mid-August. AT&T also powers Excite Online and Lycos Online, which launched earlier this year. Yahoo Online, launched in March, is powered by MCI.
Snap Gets Personal, Sprouts Tabs
Snap has introduced new "tab" navigational buttons at the top of its pages. "My Snap" allows people to personalize Snap, a new feature launched on Aug. 5, in conjunction with the tab interface. "Local" provides access to news, weather, movie listings and other information related to the zip code that a user has registered with the service. "Home" brings users to the main search service.
Northern Light has added 1,100 business, health and consumer publication titles to its searchable Special Collection material, raising the number of total titles to 4,500. Users of the service may search this information, then choose to pay between $1 to $4 to read articles of interest. Searching the web at Northern Light is free.
Search Engine Articles
Search Sites' Shocking Secret
AnchorDesk, Aug. 17, 1998
I've had a number of people message me for my opinion about this column. I normally love the AnchorDesk, but in this particular issue, much of what's suggested was true last year, not now. Other parts were just wrong, in my opinion.
Secret 1 suggests that search sites are out of date and aren't improving relevancy. In reality, Excite and Infoseek have both made significant changes to how they present results, while both AltaVista and HotBot have greatly expanded the sizes of their indexes.
Secret 2 discusses the role of search optimization companies in influencing rankings. This is definitely true, and something many people aren't aware of. And, as discussed last issue, its one reason why paid listings controlled by the search engines might actually provide more relevant results than allowing third parties to continually hammer them into submission.
Secret 3 said that search sites are deemphasizing search technology. In reality, there's been a renewed interest in improving search after a long period last year where companies were instead concentrating on portal offerings and building market share. Portal moves were made all last year, but they are just now getting publicity. That, in turn, is overshadowing the recent return to search improvement.
Secret 4 says some search sites sell rankings, and this is my biggest problem with the column. It will renew the rumors that go around about this. For the record, only GoTo.com sells rankings, among the more prominent services. AltaVista, Excite, HotBot, Infoseek, Lycos, WebCrawler, Yahoo, LookSmart and Snap do not sell preferential placement within their results.
Having said all this, it is certainly true that search could be made much better. Frustration is clear in many of the messages that can be found in association with the column, at the link above.
Lycos to Planet: Save Yourself
Wired, August 14, 1998
Long and detailed article covering the breakup between Lycos and environmental content partner EnviroLink.
What You Don't Know About Microsoft's Portal Plans
AnchorDesk, Aug. 3, 1998
Curious about where Microsoft is going with its portal plans? Jesse Berst offers a good preview.
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