THE SEARCH ENGINE UPDATE
January 5, 1999 - Number 44
About The Update
The Search Engine Update is a twice-monthly update of search engine news. It is available only to those people who have subscribed to Search Engine Watch, http://searchenginewatch.com/.
Please note that long URLs may break into two lines in some mail readers. Cut and paste, should this occur.
In This Issue
+ General Notes
+ GoTo Revamping Customer Service After Dispute
+ AltaVista Adds Related Search Prompter
+ Yahoo Listing Support Address Available
+ RealNames Gets Backing From Network Solutions
+ UKMax: New Inktomi-Powered Search Engine for the UK
+ Search Engine Notes
+ Search Engine Articles
+ Subscribing/Unsubscribing Info
Happy New Year to you all -- I hope your holidays were great!
Within the public portion of the site, the Media Metrix search engine ratings page has been updated with November 1998 data. On the NetRatings page, you'll find some interesting data about audience overlap by search engine.
I've also given the Major Search Engines page an update, having added a few new players that emerged last year.
Links to all the pages mentioned above can be found via the What's New page, below.
Within the Subscribers-Only Area, I've given the More About Meta Tags page a slight update. There aren't any dramatic changes, just a few minor revisions to the search engine specific section.
More About Meta Tags
Search Engine News
Kelly Britt, who runs the Autos.com site, was shocked when he discovered he'd been outbid for top positions at GoTo for a variety of auto-related terms in early December.
Britt had just given GoTo a list of about 150 terms, including unusual ones such as "hondaaccord," and asked GoTo to bid him one cent higher than any existing bids for these terms.
Shock turned to anger when Britt discovered that the company that outbid him, CarsDirect, was owned by idealab -- which also owns GoTo.
"When I ran the whois and saw idealab, that's when I started seeing red," Britt said.
Britt had two main complaints. First, the fact that CarsDirect and GoTo were sister companies left him with the impression that CarsDirect would receive favorable treatment. Second, CarsDirect had obviously been given access to terms that Autos.com had thought up, causing Autos.com to face additional competition for terms that might otherwise have gone unnoticed by CarsDirect.
GoTo is now instituting changes in the wake of Britt's complaints, and both parties consider the matter resolved. The company says there was no wrong-doing, but it is working to ensure that its advertisers are better information about its relationships and of the customer assistance they can obtain.
"We need to put in place a communication process so that everyone understands how GoTo works and what options are available to them are in terms of increasing the efficiency of their ads," said Jeffrey Brewer, president and CEO of GoTo.
Now when advertisers sign up, GoTo is disclosing that it may be related to other advertisers through a common investor, such as idealab. It is also reassuring them that these related companies are given no preference within the service over other advertisers.
There are no plans to ban these companies from advertising on GoTo, however, something Britt had originally suggested.
"It would not only be very complicated to track and administer, but it would be an unreasonable," Brewer said. "If we weren't able to do business with those folks in an arms length way, then we couldn't have a good product for searchers."
I'd agree that a ban would be overkill. Existing search sites already promote their own content and that of partners above others, in differing ways. If GoTo did the same, it would merely be following the well-established lead of others.
Moreover, GoTo isn't planning any favoritism. Instead, it simply will continue to allow these related companies to compete fairly with others for positions within its service.
In fact, Brewer points out that there are examples of other idealab companies which are not top ranked. Success depends on each company's own efforts, rather than any automatic advantage that GoTo gives them.
"eToys doesn't show up as high on the list," Brewer said, speaking of another idealab company. "They are not as keen in managing their account, compared to CarsDirect. CarsDirect sees GoTo as a great investment of their time. But eToys dedicates a relatively smaller amount of their time to GoTo listings."
Even Britt says that banning related companies is not a requirement to keep him doing business with GoTo.
"I guess ultimately the answer would be to not allow competing bids. But that is not such a big issue to me. In the back of my mind, I may still have a little unease, but it is not big enough for me to keep pressing complaints or to stop me from bidding," he said.
Britt's other complaint was over the fact that CarsDirect benefited from terms that Autos.com had researched. It turns out that CarsDirect was indeed given terms that indirectly came out of Autos.com own research. But this was not an act of favoritism. It is something that GoTo was doing for any advertiser placing a large order.
As a service, GoTo will have its editors work with large clients to develop lists of terms relating to their site, which they then bid upon. This list comes from editors researching what users are searching for and from examining the terms that other advertisers have bid on.
There's a real advantage to this assistance, in that developing appropriate search terms to target can be a mystical process for some people. But the obvious downside is that if an advertiser discovers a particular effective term that is being undertargeted by others, the act of bidding on it may bring it to an editor's attention -- and thus to the attention of other advertisers.
GoTo has temporarily suspended the use of bidded search terms when offering search term assistance through the end of January. But it will almost certainly resume the practice. Brewer explained that the company feels everyone, advertisers and users alike, benefit from when advertisers bid on as many terms as possible.
This goes back to GoTo's basic model, which is that economic competition provides the best relevancy. Thus, if advertisers bid on many terms, relevancy should rise, and users benefit. In turn, if relevancy is good, more users should turn to the service, which means more possible traffic for advertisers.
"Our job over time is to foster market competition where advertisers have relevant offerings," Brewer said. "We think that benefits the consumer, because the bidding process provides a valuable filter."
The big change will be to ensure that advertisers are aware that their search term suggestions may be used by others, and even more importantly, to level the playing field by ensuring that all advertisers know that assistance with developing terms is available, Brewer said.
GoTo's not alone in sharing keyword lists. Those purchasing keyword-linked banner ads on any of the major search engines can get a list of suggested terms, which will almost certainly have been developed in part out of past ad buys. But positioning at GoTo is a bargain compared to the major search engines, and each new advertiser that competes pushes the bid rates up a bit higher. So, the issue of sharing terms is more sensitive. Certainly Britt doesn't want to see it return.
"I don't think that terms should go into a publicly available pool for other advertisers. I hope they don't resume this," he said.
Pushing bids up also benefits one other important party, of course -- GoTo itself. Higher bids mean more money for the service, and it fully intends to ensure it maximizes revenue.
"They're taking an advantage of a market inefficiency," said Brewer, speaking of advertisers that discover important unbidded terms. "That's an inefficiency that should be our job to make go away."
Brewer does point out that GoTo is not completely mercenary. It doesn't set minimum bid amounts, nor require bids to increase in set increments, such as five or ten cents. It wants to make sure terms are being purchased, but GoTo leaves it to the market to determine the going rate.
"Advertisers say exactly what they are willing to pay, and we don't charge them more than that," Brewer said. "If there is someone willing to pay more based on their business model, we think that's a good indicator of the value to the consumer."
Britt agrees the service is a good investment, at least for the moment.
"Their model works. It's a good buy. They're getting traffic, and we get traffic from them. For the period we were bidding, it was a very good value. I don't know if it's going to stay a good value for the long term," Britt said.
But beyond value, there's also the issue of faith, which for Britt, was shaken by his recent experience:
"Certainly you want to have confidence you can place a bid without these kind of things happening, and that confidence was blown away."
But to GoTo's credit, its actions so far have restored some of his confidence.
"I feel a little better that they are paying more attention to these things and taking more responsible behavior toward customer support issues," Britt said.
You'll find a link to the original complaint from this page, which states that issues with GoTo have been resolved.
GoTo gives its side of the story.
See what some marketers had to say regarding the issue.
AltaVista debuted a new "Related Searches" prompter in December that is designed to help users be more specific in their queries.
To see the feature in action, do a search, then on the results page, look just below the search box. You'll see text that says "Related Searches" followed by hyperlinked topics related to your original search.
For example, a search for "cars" brings up related queries such as "new cars," "rental car" and "cars for sale." A search for "travel" brings up terms including "travel agency" and "air travel."
Clicking on any of the related searches automatically reruns your search using those terms.
Ideally, listing related topics in this way will painlessly help users be more specific with their searches, which in turn should provide better quality results.
For instance, imagine a novice searcher who is looking for information about the famed "face" on Mars. They might start off too broadly, and simply search for "mars."
If so, AltaVista would suggest "face on mars" as a related search. Clicking on this suggestion reruns the search using those words. In response, AltaVista presents results that are specifically about the face -- and results far better than those that appear in response to the more generic "mars" search.
As you drill down, even more specific topics may appear. For example, "mars" suggests "face on mars," which in turn suggests "face on mars picture."
Another feature is that if a search includes words such as "picture" or "photo," the user is given results from the AltaVista Photo Finder service, rather than the web index. So clicking on "face on mars picture" brings up actual pictures of the Martian "face," which can be found via the web.
Using Related Searches doesn't always guarantee high quality results, of course. For example, going from "cars" to "new cars" does find pages that are about new cars, but the pages probably won't be useful to most people.
But overall, the search prompter is a great addition that will likely be appreciated by novice and advanced users alike.
To make the magic happen, AltaVista compares a search to all queries it has logged in recent months. Then, the most popular queries containing terms in the original search are displayed in order of popularity.
That's a very basic explanation. AltaVista also does some other things to make the results more usable. For instance, it capitalizes some suggestions if those terms are commonly capitalized on web pages. Popularity thresholds are also used to ensure suggestions are "interesting and relevant." In other words, if many people are searching for a particular topic, it is unlikely to be presented as a suggestion.
AltaVista says there is even a mechanism designed to filter out queries whose popularity has been artificially boosted. For example, a site owner might rank well for a particular phrase. Conceivably, by searching for that phrase repetitively, they might cause it to appear as related search topic and in turn receive a minor traffic boost.
AltaVista Debuts New Search Features
The Search Engine Update, Nov. 4, 1998
Related Searches is just one of many new features AltaVista has added to help searchers. This review covers other recent changes.
Yahoo has established a new email support address for those having problems getting listed in the directory or getting change requests processed. Below are some guidelines on using the new address.
New sites should be submitted as normal, and if the site isn't listed within a few weeks, then do a resubmission. If the site still doesn't appear after a few weeks, then email firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance. You must send the exact URL that you submitted, but you do not need to send the categories you submitted to or the actual dates you submitted on.
The procedure regarding change requests is slightly different:
"We ask that they submit the change, wait at least 7-10 days for processing, then email us. With change requests, in addition to the URL, we also need the exact date of the change request so we can access the form," said Yahoo's Srinija Srinivasan, who oversees the listings process.
Srinivasan adds that the new address is not a way to get a "priority" listing, nor a way to get around the normal add or change submission process. Additionally, don't use the address to tell Yahoo that you've just done a submission, such as, "Hi, I submitted my site and wanted to make sure you got it."
Web marketers who deal with multiple sites are asked not to use the address for more than five URLs per week, and the proper add or change procedures outlined above should still be followed.
Network Solutions, which oversees the registration of .com, .net, .org and .edu domain names, has agreed to sell RealNames as part of its services. It is also making a $4.2 million investment in Centraal, the company behind RealNames.
The move came in December, along with a series of other deals Network Solutions has established relating to domain name sales. The company is poised to lose its monopoly on registering popular top level domains. To protect its bottom line, it has already tied up exclusive agreements to marketing domain registration services on Yahoo and at Netscape.
NSI teams with Centraal on Web names
News.com, Dec. 9, 1998
The partnership between the old guard of domain naming, Network Solutions, and the upstart addressing system that RealNames promotes, could be powerful. Why both companies may benefit from closer ties.
NSI to be promoted on Netcenter
Reuters, Dec. 17, 1998
NSI stock jumps on Yahoo deal
Bloomberg, Dec. 15, 1998
RealNames Expands Listings
The Search Engine Report, Sept. 2, 1998
More about the RealNames system.
UKMax, a search engine for the United Kingdom, launched in December. Powered by Inktomi, the service allows users to search only pages within the .uk domain or perform a worldwide search.
Directory listings are also available within some of the UKMax channels. To find them, look for a "Directory" icon on the right-hand side of the page, after entering a channel from the home page. Listings have been developed by UKMax's staff.
UKMax also offers regional news content, weather reports, and portal features such portfolio tracking. A free email offering is promised soon.
The service is currently using the Virginia-based Inktomi index for its search engine results. By February, it should switch over to a new index that Inktomi will host in the UK for its European customers.
"UKMax will be the first site anywhere to use that European cluster," said Dan Conaghan, Vice President of Hollinger Digital UK, which runs the site.
The changeover should provide UKMax users with faster search results, since queries will no longer be sent across the Atlantic. The new index will also provide broader coverage of UK web sites, Conaghan said.
Currently, there is no way for webmasters to submit a site, but an Add URL page is planned soon.
Hollinger Digital is part of Hollinger International, a worldwide media company which also publishes the UK's Daily Telegraph and produces the Inktomi-powered Canada.com search engine.
Search Engine Notes
Google, SavvySearch Get New Addresses
Two search sites formerly hosted under university domains have gained new .com addresses. The Google search engine, which is notable for its link popularity ranking system, can now be found at http://www.google.com/. SavvySearch, a popular metasearch service, can now be found at http://www.savvysearch.com/
Counting Clicks and Looking At Links
The Search Engine Report, Aug. 4, 1998
More about how Google works.
Ask Jeeves Debuts Intranet Product
Ask Jeeves has rolled out its first Intranet product: Ask Dudley, which provides visitors to the Dell site with answers to tech support questions through the unique Ask Jeeves interface. Ask Jeeves says this is the first in several customer support contracts it has lined up.
MSN Opens Submission Page
A new page allowing site owners to submit to Inktomi-powered MSN Search is now available.
MSN Add URL Page
Search Engine Articles
Online, Main Street Is a Portal Deal
New York times, Dec. 22, 1998
A nice overview of the types of ways online merchants are partnering with portals, ranging from banner campaigns to anchor tenancies.
LookSmart abstains from adult advertising
News.com, Dec. 21, 1998
Following the Infoseek/Go lead, LookSmart dumps porn ads.
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