How Direct Hit Works

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Overview

Direct Hit results are provided both through the Direct Hit site itself and distributed to partner sites.

Direct Hit's system measures what pages users select from search results of all of its partners plus those using its own site. It also estimates how long they spend visiting these pages. In a very simplistic explanation, the more "popular" pages, as measured by these factors, rise to the top of its results.

Aside from clickthrough and viewing time, Direct Hit also weighs other undisclosed factors into its ranking algorithm. Direct Hit also crawls the web, so that it can refine its own listings, rather than rely just on the clickthrough measured at its partners' sites.

The Teoma Factor

In September 2001, Direct Hit-owner Ask Jeeves acquired the Teoma search engine. Teoma is now to take over for Direct Hit by mid-2002.

Specifically, the Direct Hit site is to close, and Direct Hit results will only be made available through partner web sites. Teoma results will also be offered to partner web sites. However, unlike Direct Hit, Teoma results will also be available through the standalone Teoma web site.

What this means for the site owner is that being listed in Direct Hit results is much less important than in the past. Teoma is going to have wider distribution, than Direct Hit.

To help you get listed in Teoma, see the Teoma Results section of the How Ask Jeeves Works page. The first article in that section ("So Long Direct Hit, Hello Teoma") also explains further about what is happening with the Direct Hit service. The rest of this page explains how Direct Hit currently works and how to be listed in it.

Counting Clicks

A primary way Direct Hit measures popularity is by monitoring clickthrough. For instance, look at this search result from HotBot:

1. Today's Horoscopes
How accurate was your horoscope? Talk about your results on the Star Talk discussion board. The all-knowing, all-seeing Mr. Orbit is ready to read your future. (today's
http://www2.webpoint.com/jacksonville_horoscopes/
See results from this site only.

If you look at the embedded link in the site's title, you'll see this:

http://www.hotbot.com/director.asp?
target=http://www2.webpoint.com/jacksonville_horoscopes/
&id=1
&userid=2sSVufJnyGQI
&q=MT=horoscopes
&rsource=DH

The target= part tells Direct Hit the name of the page you selected. The id= part tells Direct Hit where the site was located in the HotBot search results, and the userid= part helps Direct Hit identify you for when you revisit HotBot. Finally, the q= portion tells Direct Hit the terms that were used for the search. So clicking on this link would tell Direct Hit that someone selected the page, which was ranked number 1 for the query "horoscopes."

So now we know how Direct Hit gathers clickthrough information. What does it do with it? Direct Hit makes an estimate of the typical percentage of clicks a site should receive for any position on a page. Sites that exceed this estimate tend to rise in the rankings, while sites that fall short tend to drop.

For instance, the horoscope site above would naturally be expected to draw many clicks by virtue of being in the number one position. But if the site draws a lower percentage of clicks than a typical number one site, it may slip down to number two or even off the top ten list entirely.

Likewise, a site listed in position 36 would be expected to draw very few clicks. But if users are dissatisfied with the top results, they may drill down and discover it. If enough people do this, the site would then rise in the rankings and might eventually make it into the top ten.

Keep proportion in mind when you are thinking of how Direct Hit counts clicks. It's not just who gets the most clicks. For instance, five people visiting a top ranked site might not count for much, since a top ranked site should get many visitors. But five people visiting a site buried in the results carry much more weight in moving that site up the rankings.

Tracking Time

Direct Hit also measures how long people spend at a web site, and this is another primary way used to rank sites. Those with a longer viewing time can move higher. But remember, viewing time is taken into consideration with clickthrough data and some other factors that aren't public.

How can Direct Hit know how long you are at a site? Remember the userid= part in the HotBot links mentioned above? This tells Direct Hit when you leave HotBot. When you next come back and click on a link, it's then able to measure the time between the two clicks. That time is how long is assumes you spent viewing a page.

Imagine this typical scenario. You do a search for "horoscopes," then click on the first link listed. You spend a few seconds looking at it, then use your browser's back button to return to the list of sites at HotBot. Now you pick the second link listed. When you click on it, Direct Hit can now measure the time between your first and second click. It can see there were only a few seconds between clicks, so it knows you weren't at the first site for very long.

At the second site, you take longer. You might even look at a few other pages there. But you still don't find what you like, so after a few minutes, you go back to HotBot. You might go back to your original list, or you might rerun the search. Regardless, as soon as you click on another link, Direct Hit can measure the time between your second and third click to estimate your time at the second site, which was a few minutes.

Finally, you pick a third site from the list that you like. You don't come back to HotBot for days. When you do and click on a link, Direct Hit again measures the time between clicks and learns that you spent a long time at the third site.

Of course, Direct Hit can't tell exactly how long you spend at the third site. After all, you've been gone for days and looked at many sites in the meantime. There are situations where someone might click to a site, then never go back to HotBot. Others may go back to HotBot after they've cleared their browser's cookies, so that Direct Hit can't recognize they've returned. Some people may even open several browser windows from the results list at the same time, which would give Direct Hit the impression that they spent only a few seconds at a site between clicks.

All these things complicate measuring time accurately. Direct Hit says it compensates for these type of problems by looking at averages and excluding data that's extremely unusual.

Getting Listed & Ranking Well

The best way to get listed with Direct Hit is to be listed with its partner sites. For example, if you were to be listed with the Open Directory or Inktomi, then you might appear at HotBot, which uses both of those data sources.

In turn, the clicks on your listing would be sent to Direct Hit. If your site attracted enough quality clicks, you might begin to appear as a "popular" site in Direct Hit results.

To help improve your clickthrough, make use of the meta description tag, to ensure your listing is written to attract users to your site. See the How To Use Meta Tags page for more about the meta description tag.

In addition, make sure that you have good usability within your web site. When users arrive, can they quickly locate what they are looking for? If not, they'll depart the site quickly and seek another. That will hurt you with Direct Hit, since it rewards sites that keep users at their sites.

The article below discusses some usability issues and provides resources with additional help in keeping your users.

Avoiding The Search Gap
The Search Engine Update, May 2, 2001

A common question is whether webmasters can artificially boost themselves by simply clicking on their links many times. Direct Hit says it has systems in place to prevent this type of behavior. An obvious thing Direct Hit watches for is a high number of clicks from the same person. Aside from this, any activity out of the norm is likely to attract attention and review.

The Direct Hit Crawler

As mentioned above, Direct Hit primarily works by measuring clicks on results at its partners' web sites. Direct Hit also has its own index of web pages, gathered by crawling the web. There is even an Add URL page, where you can submit your site:

Direct Hit Add URL page
http://directhit.com/util/addurl.html

Unfortunately, Direct Hit says that it is no longer crawling the web, because the Direct Hit site is slated to close in mid-2002. This means that it is not likely that new pages will be added, unless they are found through the popularity clicks, as described above. And, although there is an Add URL page, using it is simply a waste of time. The submissions aren't being used.

Directory Listings

From the home page, you'll find category links just below the search box. These lead to the Direct Hit version of the Open Directory, where sites are ranked in order of popularity, as measured by clickthrough. To appear in the directory, you'll need to be listed with the Open Directory, as explained on the How The Open Directory Works page.

Paid Listings

On the Direct Hit results page, the numbered links all come from Direct Hit's database. In contrast, the listings under the "Partner Search Results" heading come from Overture. To appear in this section at Direct Hit for a particular search term, you would need to be the 1st, 2nd or 3rd ranked site for that term at Overture. The How Overture (GoTo) Works page explains how to get listed with Overture.

Partners

The pages below list Direct Hit's major partners. They cover how to submit to those partners and how those partners make use of Direct Hit's information.

HotBot
How HotBot Works page

MSN Search
How MSN Search Works page