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Excite Changes Look, Results

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Excite has released a new look to its search results that also coincides with a new ranking system. In response to a search, Excite's new "Excite Precision Search" generally displays only matches from its crawler-built database. The simple design mimics the "less is more" move that AltaVista kicked off in May with its Raging Search. Behind the scenes, Excite is making better use of link analysis than it has in the past to improve its search results.

The search format changes should be welcomed by Excite users. In particular, it was becoming increasingly difficult to understand how Excite would construct its search results page. Sometimes web page results would appear with full summaries, then other times only titles would appear. Directory listings, news headlines or information from other data sources would pop up almost whimsically. But far from whimsical, Excite was purposely varying its results format depending on the context of the search in an attempt to better serve users. Being predictable is now the watchword.

"We're aiming for consistency," said Abbot Chambers, Excite's Senior Director of Search and Directory Products. "Some users really liked the different results, but it did have the untended expect of unsettling users."

Simplicity is also a key aim. Search for something on Excite, such as "fireworks," and you'll get back 10 results that come from Excite crawler-based index. Other information, such as human-compiled directory listings, news articles and multimedia results will only appear if you specifically request them using links at the top of the results page. Doing so will rerun your queries against those search offerings, described further below.

The only exception to this is if you search for something popular or which falls into a category where Excite editors have produced some programmed results. In those cases, a "Quick Results" box appears to the left of the search results. It has links to related information within the Excite portal. For examples, try "vw bug," "britney spears" or use another example from the Targeted Results article, below.

Excite also says it has upgraded its use of link analysis to improve the quality of its results. Previously, Excite gave pages a boost depending on how many links were pointing at them, with no attempt to measure the quality of those links. Now, sites that have some degree of authority, as measured by the number of links pointing at them, are able to transmit this authority to other sites. In other words, a few links from high quality sites may factor in more highly than many links from ordinary web sites.

"Formerly, if 5,000 sites pointed at you and only 2,000 pointed at another site, barring all the other factors, we would have given you an edge," Chambers said. "Now, we are stepping back another level. We aren't just taking into account other pages pointing at you. We are also looking at both the number and quality of the sites that are pointing at you."

In addition, Chambers said that Excite is also making more use of link text, something that's been a key component of how Google works. The idea in that regard is that you examine words in or near the hyperlink to determine the relevance of the page being linked to. For instance, if a link says "Great Place For Books" and points to Amazon, then usage of link text would understand that Amazon is relevant for the word "book."

Once again, link building becomes more important to the success of your site on search engines. I'm working up a long feature on how to go about link building that I hope to have ready in the near future, to guide you more. But until then, here are the key tips that you should follow.

+ Context is important. You don't just want links from any place. Ideally, you want links from sites that are relevant to the terms you wish to be found for.

+ To find these sites, use the search engines! Search for the top keywords that you want to be found for. Review the top sites that appear for these terms. Find those which are non-competitive with you. Then go to the sites and ask them for links. Remember, these are the sites that the search engines consider most relevant, and so getting links may help you pick up some of their importance. In addition, if these sites are listed well with search engines, then they are receiving traffic. Getting links from them means that you can tap into some of that traffic.

+ Make it easy for people to link to you. When you send a message, include the title of your web site, your URL and a suggested description. You'll be surprised at how many people will list you exactly as you suggest.

+ Guilt is your friend! Make a reciprocal links page for your site, and add any site that you wish to get a link from to that page. Then send your link request, noting that you've already added them to your link list, and provide the URL, so they can see it.

Talking with Excite also raised some questions about whether searches hit its entire index or just some of it. Chambers suggested that a smaller index of popular pages is hit first, then a query might fall through to a larger index of web pages, if necessary to satisfy the query. How exactly this might work was unclear, and Excite's engineering team refused to clarify the situation further. Presumably, they fear giving away some secret either to webmasters or their competitors. That's a valid concern, but it's also increasingly important to understand the key details when multiple indexes are being used. Without this information, it becomes difficult to evaluate search engines against each other. Moreover, the situation that I assume is happening with Excite is hardly secret. Inktomi has been doing that same with its partners, and Google plans the same.

As for index freshness, Excite says that no pages should be more than two weeks old, under its new system. Some pages may be updated more frequently, even on a daily basis. Also, while you may note that Excite has been more consistently monitoring clickthrough, this is not being used as a relevancy factor, Chambers said.

Aside from web searching, Excite offers four other major search options. Let's take them in turn by first stopping at the new Excite Precision Search home page. To reach it, click on the "More" link that appears below the search box, on the Excite home page. By default, the page will be set to do web searching. Click on "Category Search," and you can search for matching categories or web sites that come out of Excite's directory, which is primarily powered by LookSmart. Some listings remain from the days when Excite assembled the directory itself. Other than that, except for adult listings, Excite's directory is essentially LookSmart. Unfortunately, no option to browse the directory is presented. Instead, you'll need to go back to the Excite home page itself, then follow links in the "Explore Excite" box. Directory categories will appear on the right side of the screen.

"News Search" allows you to search for "Web News" articles from over 350 news sites, which are checked several times per day. The "Newswires" option lets you check against a much smaller group of wire services, such as the Associated Press and Reuters, while "News Photos" brings back news images from those two wire services. Unfortunately, Excite fails to notify you about its helpful NewsTracker service, from the News Search home page. That's a shame. The NewsTracker clipping service is one of Excite's biggest strengths, yet people I talk with never seem to have found it. You should definitely try it (see link below), and I only wish Excite would add an option to have finds emailed to you and fix the "Learn What I Like" option, which doesn't seem to learn anything, anymore.

"Photo Search" runs a query against pictures from Excite's "Webshots" web site, in particular against the WebShots Community collection, which allows people to contribute photos to other Webshot members. It sounds great -- Excite touts this as giving searchers access to over 750,000 "free" photos. But how "free" are these photos? According to the Webshots Terms and Conditions, members give Excite the right to distribute their photos to other members, when they contribute them. As for what rights Excite then grants you, they seem to be restricted to sending photos as email greeting cards or to download for use in the Webshots screen saver.

As for "Audio/Video Search," it checks for matching multimedia files that Excite has found across the web, such as AVI and MP3 files. Excite says it has between 500,000 and 1 million files indexed.

Other searches and assistance can also be found on the Precision Search home page. There are 25 different search tips that rotate on the page. Popular searches spotted by Excite editors are spotlighted along the left hand side of the screen, while specialty searches such as Maps and TV Shows are also itemized on this page.

Finally, Excite's Add URL page has undergone a change. Click on it, and you'll now see options to submit to the Excite Directory or the Excite Search Index. A submission to the directory simply routes your request to LookSmart and into its $199 Express Submit system. You can also go directly to LookSmart itself and submit, and I'd recommend doing this, in order to select the right category for your site. See the article below about why this is helpful.

Choosing to submit to the Excite Search Index will bring up the old Excite Add URL page, which sends your page to Excite's crawling system. It's best to submit your home page plus a few "inside" pages, mainly to help ensure that Excite has a way inside your site, in case there's a problem with the home page. Excite is very good about adding the home pages (those that are the root URL of a web server), and it seems to be providing better coverage of inside pages than in the past. However, there's still no strong correlation between what you submit and what Excite chooses to index. So, although Excite will allow you to submit 25 URLs per day (up from 25 per week, when I last wrote about Excite submits), there's no great advantage to doing so. Ultimately, Excite's systems will make its own decision about what to index, independently of add URL submissions.

Excite
http://www.excite.com/

Excite Add URL Page
http://www.excite.com/info/add_url/

Excite Search Index Add URL Page
http://www.excite.com/info/add_url_form

AltaVista Launches New Search Site
The Search Engine Update, May 3, 2000
http://searchenginewatch.com/subscribers/articles/0005-altavista.html

More about AltaVista going for the pure search market with its Raging Search site.

Counting Clicks and Looking at Links
The Search Engine Update, Aug. 4, 1998
http://searchenginewatch.com/subscribers/articles/9808-clicks.html

An older article that nonetheless still covers the basics behind link analysis, including the notion that some sites have more authority than others.

Longer Domain Names Arrive
The Search Engine Update, Jan. 4, 2000
http://searchenginewatch.com/subscribers/articles/0001-domains.html

Have multiple domain names? This touches on why using the same one is best when doing link building.

Targeted Categories At Excite
The Search Engine Report, April 5, 1999
http://searchenginewatch.com/sereport/99/04-excite-categories.html

An older article that still provides current examples of how to see Quick Results appear at Excite.

Excite NewsTracker
http://nt.excite.com/

Excite's news clipping service, a long-time favorite of mine, can be found here.

Moreover: News Lover's Delight
The Search Engine Report, June 2, 2000
http://searchenginewatch.com/sereport/00/06-briefs.html#moreover

If you are searching for news, you'll also want to try Moreover. More about the service.


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