Excite Results Get More Targeted

You may have noticed that Excite responds to certain types of queries, such as those involving a city, a university or a movie, with very targeted information at the top of its results pages. Excite launched this style of targeted results last spring, but it has been greatly expanded over the past few months. Topics such as news, entertainment, sports, universities and geographical locations are all likely to bring up programmed results.

Searches relating to "New York" are a good way to see the variety of results which may appear. Searching for "New York" itself brings a page topped with a map to the city, tourism resources, and the current weather. Searching for "New York weather" brings up an extended forecast. "New York University" brings up contact details and links with information about the educational institution. "New York lottery" presents the current lottery results. "New York Giants" brings up links to information about the football team and displays their last game score. "New York news" pulls up a headline relating to the current police shooting case.

Certain words help trigger the appearance of this type of custom information. For instance, any geographic place name is likely to bring up targeted results. "California," "Utah," "Germany," "Berlin" and "United Kingdom" are all examples. Likewise, using the word "lottery" with a US state name may bring up lottery results, while "weather" brings up forecasts. Many sports team names are programmed, as are colleges and universities throughout the United States.

I was most impressed by the movie results. Do a search for "Analyze This," a current movie in the US, or any other recent film. You'll be presented with a summary of the film, links to actor information, the official movie site and reviews of the film. Moreover, if you have personalized with Excite, you'll be told the location of a theater near you that's screening the movie, along with showtimes. I found this to be a wonderful and incredibly useful feature. Other services offer movie times, but not this easily. For instance, at Yahoo, you have to do the same search, go into the Full Coverage category for the movie, then click on the link below "Showtimes."

Custom results are also available for previously released movies as well as television shows. For instance, looking for "Ally McBeal" displays a summary of the current show, local air times (if you've personalized) and the next episode.

"This has been incredibly popular. People love this. They like to be able to type in their show and check on when it's playing next and what the episode may represent," said Excite search product manager Kris Carpenter. Not surprisingly, Carpenter said movie-related queries tend to peak on Thursdays and Fridays, when new movies are released.

Another popular topic is music, and Excite has programmed results for more than 40,000 North American artists. In particular, using the terms "cd" or "album" along with an artist's name or a album title specifically prompts Excite to look for custom music information.

"The titles of albums are usually too generic to surface automatically, so this helps us make sure we aren't suggesting content that isn't relevant. Often titles are used by multiple artists. To ensure that you are getting the artist you desire, type in the artist name, album name and 'cd' or 'album,'" Carpenter said.

Other areas that bring up programmed results are searches for large companies, such as "microsoft" or "ford," and popular topics such as "geneology," "soap operas" and "beanie babies." Excite plans to continue expanding these over time.

There are also news related topics, but these can be hit-or-miss. Excite won't deliver programmed results unless it is extremely confident that's what someone wants. One way it does this is to watch for the word "news" within queries. For instance, "Kosovo" brings up normal results, but "Kosovo news" brings up a page topped by a particular story about the current conflict.

Be aware that when targeted results appear, the other information below them is condensed. Only web page titles will be displayed, for instance. This is a key reason webmasters should ensure that their page titles are targeted and attractive. When programmed results are presented, you won't have any descriptions in the web results to help entice people to your site.

When there aren't programmed results, Excite defaults to showing matching information related to a query from a variety of sources, including its web index. Typically, the page will begin with matches from the Excite directory, under the title "Web Site Guide." You'll notice that the categories displayed may not actually contain your search terms, yet they will often be relevant to the topic. Excite uses a system to help more broadly define its categories, in order to make this happen.

Unfortunately, there still is no way to submit your site to be listed within the Excite directory. Carpenter advises webmasters to send a request through the normal feedback mechanism, if they want to be considered.

Carpenter said a direct submission system might come in the future, and I certainly hope it does. As the directory results are given more importance, I think it's crucial site owners have a mechanism to at least alert Excite to their sites independently of being stuck within the normal feedback process.

The Web Results section usually follows the directory listings, and it shows matching pages that come from Excite's web index, which is built by spiders. There have been all sorts of rumors and misconceptions flying around recently about the web index, so let's clear a few things up.

First, there is absolutely no 25 page per site listing limit at Excite. There has never been such a limit. Excite does have a 25 page per week submission limit, but as I've written many times in the past, submitting to Excite has nearly no impact on the actual pages that get listed. So this limit really doesn't matter. Submitting does help the spider know that the pages exist, and it will be the only way the spider knows about "doorway" pages that have no links to them. But the Excite spider will come to your site, index a large number of pages and then some of these may eventually appear in the index -- without any apparent reason as to why some make the cut.

Another rumor going around is that Excite is not indexing subpages of web sites, only the "default" or "root" page. For instance, Excite would list the default page that appears when I go here:


but it wouldn't list this page or even accept it for spidering consideration:


This is NOT the case. Excite does and will index inside pages, and you are certainly able to submit them. The confusion arises over the fact that Excite favors default pages more than inside pages. You are virtually assured of seeing a default page appear in the index, and often within a week. Inside pages may or may not appear, and this can take up to a month to happen. Default pages also tend to stay in the index, while inside pages are often dropped and others rotated in. Finally, Excite says it gives default pages a ranking boost -- something AltaVista also does.

I know some of you may get conflicting messages from Excite support on this, but I've reconfirmed all the above with Carpenter herself. Please keep in mind that the techs at all the search engines don't always get it right, though you wish they would. And to be fair, sometimes it's the techs that do clue you in on something that the search engines will otherwise deny. In this case, I think it's more a case of confusion.

You should expect that many of your pages may suddenly disappear out of the Excite index for no apparent reason. Carpenter said there were a few reasons why this might happen, due to glitches and snafus on Excite's part, along with normal reasons such as the spider not being able to reach a page three times in a row. One other major reason is simply that there isn't enough room to store all the pages that the spiders visit. Thus, pages that have been listed may get dropped as part of the index "churn," Carpenter said.

It's hard to pin exactly which pages are listed from a site within the Excite index, because it lacks a url: command that would let you get a definitive count of pages from a particular domain. You can do a search for the URL string, but this may not reveal all the pages actually indexed -- and if you Sort By Site, you'll only be shown the top 40 results in response to your query sorted by site. That doesn't mean that all the pages from each site shown will be presented. A site could have pages that weren't in the top 40 and so wouldn't be displayed.

One thing that will help in the future is that Excite plans to move non-English web pages into separate indexes by the end of April. That will mean there is more room in the main index that currently holds 50 million pages from across the world, in all different languages. Until then, Carpenter says to contact customer support via Excite's feedback form, if your site seems underrepresented.

Also, many are aware that Excite powers the AOL NetFind and Netscape Search services. You may find that the same search provides somewhat different results, at times. This is because both AOL NetFind and Netscape Search have the ability to boost certain sites that they consider important. Likewise, Excite provides boosts to sites it has reviewed. As a result, using the same index of sites may still yield different results.

After the Web Results section is usually other information. The Reference section has relevant links to online reference material, while news articles may appear in the News Articles section. The Discussions area presents links to Excite chat and discussion boards, as well as links to relevant newsgroup listings.

Excite has also made a tweak to downgrade pages that come from online forums so that they don't rank as high within the Web Results section. The pages are still indexed, and they would still appear in response to a specific query. But they are less likely to appear in response to more general queries, which I think is mostly positive. These pages can sometimes be years old and no longer as relevant. Users certainly wanted the change, according to Excite.

"One of the things we kept hearing from consumers was 'Gee, I'm wandering through my web content, and I keep coming across these news postings. They're getting in the way," Carpenter said.

Finally, Excite has introduced Related Searches functionality similar to that at AltaVista. These appear mainly when there are also targeted listings. For instance, a search for "Madonna" shows the related search of "True Blue," just under the search box on the results page.

Excite is also sticking with its suggested terms feature, which suggests words to add to the query. I can't reveal the exact figure, but very significant numbers of users are making use of it.

Targeted Categories At Excite
A list of major categories where Excite provides targeted results, along with specific examples.