THE SEARCH ENGINE UPDATE
Aug. 5, 1997 - Number 10
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."
Please note that long URLs may break into two lines in some mail readers. Please cut and paste, should this occur.
Site Changes - Search Engine Watch
I've now established a Yahoo Submissions Survey, to help measure how long it takes for a submission to be transformed into a listing. I've had a number of complaints come in the inability to get added to Yahoo. I hope the survey will help set some benchmarks that everyone can refer to.
I've also launched the Search Engines Channel. Interactive search engine programming, 24 hours a day. OK, it's nothing that fancy. Those with PointCast 2 or Internet Explorer 4 can subscribe to the channel and receive the site's What's New page, Search Engine News page, and the Search Engine Report sent to them automatically.
FYI, it took only a few days from submission to being listed in the Excite PointCast directory. It's all alphabetical, but I resisted the urge to name my channel the "A-1 Search Engines Channel" to make it to the top of the list. I'm happy to say, people are finding it anyway.
The Search Engine EKGs have been updated with information from June. For those not familiar with the EKGs, they help describe the latest search engine crawling trends. I'll be updating them with July information around mid-August.
A number of other pages within the site have been updated, and these are listed on the What's New page. I also hope to add several new pages during August. All I need is for all the search engines not to generate any new news during August :)
Finally, I'll be hosting an online chat discussion about submitting to search engines on Saturday, August 30. I'll be covering the key design tips that webmasters should keep in mind relating to search engines, and there will be a question-and-answer period after the presentation. It will be held at 10 a.m. Pacific Time, in the PlaceWare Online Auditorium. If there are any changes, I'll post a notice on the What's New page. If you plan to attend, you might want to visit PlaceWare before hand, to get familiar with how the online presentations work.
Yahoo Submissions Survey
Search Engines Channel
Search Engine EKGs
PlaceWare (Online Chat Discussion site)
Site Changes - Subscriber-Only Area
An updated copy of the downloadable version of the guide will be posted this weekend. Also, some minor updates have been made to the AltaVista and Infoseek pages.
Search Engine News
AltaVista Gets New Look, New Search Help
AltaVista unveiled a new look on July 26, with a much cleaner, simplified home page and the integration of its LiveTopics technology into a new "Refine" button. It has also been redesigned to highlight the service's mirror sites across the globe and its ability search by language.
"We wanted to give better exposure to our unique features," said Chief Technical Office Louis Monier, of the changes.
LiveTopics was introduced earlier this year. It's a means of refining searches by dynamically relating web pages to various search terms. Monier said that AltaVista received good feedback about the technology, but it found many people were overlooking its availability.
"It was amazing how many people never saw this feature," Monier said. "When you showed it to them, they were really interested"
Now the LiveTopics name is gone, but the technology remains. After performing a search, the results page displays a large Refine button. Selecting the button brings up a list of "topics," which are different groups of words related to the search words.
This is the same type of list that LiveTopics used to generate, but there have been some substantial changes. Selecting a topic no longer causes AltaVista to try and match every word. Instead, it searches more liberally, looking for pages that match just some of the words and excluding some terms if they appear too often. The result is a narrower search, but not one so narrow that no results appear at all.
The old Topic Relationships map still exists. It can be selected by choosing "Graph" after the Refine button has been used to generate a topics list. Those preferring the graph view can set this as the default for the Refine button by using AltaVista's new ability to store user preferences.
About 3 to 5% of AltaVista users are now taking advantage of the refine function, thanks to the redesign. That sounds like a small number, but Monier said he's pleased with it. Fewer than 3% were using LiveTopics, so the rise means people are more aware of the search assistance facility. In addition, he expects usage to be relatively low, as most people find what they are looking for without the need to refine a search.
AltaVista also introduced the ability to search in different languages just over a month ago. It uses a dictionary-based methodology to identify the dominant language of a page when it is indexed. This allows a search to be narrowed to pages written in French, Spanish or a number of other languages.
The advantage of this may not be self-evident, at first. After all, a search with any search engine for something like "Suchmaschinen," which is German for "search engines," is almost certainly only going to find pages written in German. Pages in English or other languages simply won't have that term on them.
However, imagine that you only speak German and want information about Berlin. An ordinary search for "Berlin" will bring up pages in English, German and perhaps other languages.
"You're going to be drowning in a sea of English," Monier explained
By specifying that a search be done only among German language pages, you are able to narrow in on pages you can actually read.
Monier said that the language recognition ability is about 95% accurate, and there have been no complaints so far -- except for people asking that even more languages be included.
He also pointed out some of the interesting things that can be done to measure the preponderance of English on the web. Using Advanced Search, place a * in the search box and click on Search. You'll be shown how many pages in there are in the index. Now do the same thing, but choose a language. Now you'll be shown a count of all documents in that particular language. Divide by the number of total pages, and it gives you a percentage of penetration.
For those that are curious, my spot checks found 78% of the web pages in AltaVista were English, 4% were German, 1.5% were Spanish and 0.25% were Finnish.
Among other changes, the service has also introduced advertising "badges," two spots that are integrated into the service logo that tops every pages.
AltaVista has also slightly expanded its help topics with additional examples and reorganized things nicely. If you haven't read up on how to use the search engine, take a look through the updated files and learn how to perform your searches better.
Alta Vista Help Page
Be sure to choose "Expand Topics" to see additional help information and examples that you might overlook, or use the link below.
AltaVista Expanded Help Topics
AltaVista Preferences Control Panel
Chose your preferred language or languages to search within, set you search mode, display and refine options.
Microsoft Planning Own Search Engine?
You read it here first, back in April. Microsoft is planning to launch its own search engine. The only difference is when I wrote that in April, it was an April Fool's joke. This time, it looks to be for real.
Time Magazine is reporting that Microsoft may launch its own search engine by early next year, with a fall beta opening. The project is code named Yukon. That about all the details Time had; News.com has followed with some analyst quotes.
This looks to be a completely homegrown project. None of the major search engines seem to be involved.
It will be interesting to see how the plan progresses. Microsoft's Find It Fast page seems eternally plagued with slow-load times, and that page is simply a collection of links to offsite resources. Serving search requests will be much more demanding. In contrast, the Netscape Net Search page shows little trouble keeping up with demand.
Furthermore, it seems likely that Microsoft would try to load its search engine with Active X enhancements and other changes that make so many of its other sites difficult to visit. Will it happen? We'll all watch and see.
Microsoft: Yukon Ho?
News.com, Aug. 4, 1997
Search And Ye Shall Find, The Microsoft Way
Time, Aug. 11, 1997
PC Meter Changes Name, To Resume Public Releases
PC Meter has changed its name to Media Metrix, and it plans to resume the public release of key statistics via its web site.
Data has not been posted publicly since February, with only some statistics provided to particular media outlets. The move was made for a number of reasons, in part because the company felt the raw numbers weren't being properly reported, but also because due to concerns about giving away its research for free.
The company is now planning a regular update of key statistics, according to Doug McFarland, senior VP and General Manager of Media Metrix.
Top search engines and domains will be listed, along with a rotating special interest list, to help provide a look at important sites beyond the heavy traffic draws.
The releases will also provide context to the numbers, so that stories won't simply revolve around rises and drops without explanation, McFarland said. It may also help resolve concerns voiced when companies combine domains to express audience.
For example, both Yahoo and Lycos dislike how Excite touts its high "network" share, because it combines the share of various Excite-owned sites such as WebCrawler and Magellan, rather than the lower number of any of them individually. Yet Excite counters that it can deliver to this audience, so citing the combined numbers is fair.
This issue is covered in more depth on the PC Meter page within Search Engine Watch. The page will also be updated shortly with March, April and May search engine audience shares for this year.
PC Meter Renames, Remakes Itself
Wired News, July 21, 1997
PC Meter Temporarily Halts Reports On Web Sites
Inter@ctive Week, July 21, 1997
Tops In PC Meter - But What Does That Mean?
Search Engine Watch, July 1997
Infoseek To Join Others On TV
Infoseek is planning to run television commercials in the fall, which would have it joining Yahoo, Excite and Lycos that have used the "old" medium to reach out to "new" customers and build brand recognition. It apparently does help, though it's very expensive. A month or two of 30-second television ads easily exceeds the cost of a year's placement on the Netscape Net Search page. The articles below discuss the move to television in more depth.
Search engines weigh impact of TV campaigns
Ad Age, June 1997
Web TV Takes On a New Definition
WebWeek, July 21, 1997
Infoseek looks for visibility
San Jose Mercury News, July 21, 1997
Ask Jeeves: Metacrawler With A Twist
Metacrawlers are a popular way to send a search query to several search engines at once. But the Ask Jeeves service puts a spin on normal situation. It provides matching web pages, but results are usually prefaced by questions aimed at helping users find the information they want.
For example, a search for "Bill Clinton" brings back a results pages topped by these questions:
+ Where can I find information about US President Bill Clinton
+ Who ran for U.S. President in 1996?
Selecting one of the questions takes the user to a site that answers the question. Matching web pages from Alta Vista, Excite, Infoseek, Lycos and WebCrawler are also displayed, with each page listed in a drop-down box associated with each search engine.
The questions, and matching sites, are selected by editors and then associated with keywords, so that they will appear as matches for appropriate queries. The editors also test the questions as extensively as possible to make sure that the question comes up correctly when asked.
Selecting a web page from the results makes it appear within a frame, rather than taking the user away from the Ask Jeeves web site. Some users may appreciate this as a way to easily request other pages, if the first answer doesn't suit. If not, use the small "Full" icon in the upper left hand corner of the left hand frame in order to see the results unframed.
The service went into beta in mid-April 1997 and opened fully on June 1.
Excite Offers Free E-Mail
Excite took another large step in its transformation from a search and navigation site to an online service in the guise of America Online. On July 21, it launched a free email service, MailExcite.
The mail system is completely web based, such as those offered by HotMail and RocketMail, and offers the ability to create folders for mail organization and storage. Addresses are of the form "email@example.com." The mail technology is licensed from WhoWhere.
In April, Excite reorganized its site around content-oriented channels. It later added chat, instant messaging and discussion areas. The addition of mail is one more step away from its search engine roots and toward becoming an online destination.
UKPlus Undergoes Redesign
UKPlus, a guide to web sites in the United Kingdom, unveiled a redesign on July 24. The new look reduces page load time by 50% and introduces some changes to make the service easier to use.
"We know that we've got the content right - the 95% repeat visit rate tells us that. But we're not resting on our laurels; we're an industry leader in UK search guides, and we're committed to continually improving and making the best better," said Paul Zwillenberg, Managing Director of Associated Electronic Publishing, which produces the guide.
UKPlus features reviews of UK-relevant sites, prepared by a team of journalists. Reviews are grouped into 18 channels, covering everything from Arts and Business to Travel and Work. They are also searchable.
Visitors can also search unreviewed sites that are hosted on UK-domain servers, or perform a general search across the entire web. The latter two options are offered through a partnership with Infoseek.
Excite Snags Infoseek Exec
Excite announced the hiring of James Desrosier as executive vice president, marketing. Previously, Desrosier was vice president, chief marketing officer at Infoseek. At Excite, Desrosier will oversee the development and implementation of all marketing, advertising, promotional and public relations campaigns for Excite's web sites and the joint initiative with Intuit.
Yahoo and Visa Form New Partnership
In June, it was reported that the plan for Yahoo and Visa to build an online shopping site called Marketplace was apparently dead. In late July, that became reality -- but Yahoo and Visa simultaneously announced a new strategic alliance.
The two companies are now going to work together on the "Visa Shopping Guide by Yahoo," a co-branded Yahoo Visa card and other joint promotions. The Visa logo will be featured through Yahoo web sites, while Visa will expand its advertising on Yahoo sites and will endorse Yahoo as its preferred guide.
The Marketplace project was to be run by a joint Yahoo-Visa company, but now Yahoo has exchanged Visa 45% ownership in that company for 466,321 shares of Yahoo common stock, worth $21,245,000. Visa had invested only $300,000 in Yahoo Marketplace L.L.C., giving it an incredible 700% paper profit while plunging Yahoo's previously profitable second quarter deep into the red.
I haven't heard back from Yahoo about why Visa would seem to gain so much for the end to the partnership, especially when it seems to be gaining quite a bit from the new alliance. At first glance, it seems awfully one sided. If I hear more, I'll let you know.
Yahoo, Visa recast their I-commerce collaboration
InfoWorld Electric, July 30, 1997
Yahoo buys back its shopping revenues
MSNBC, July 30, 1997
Yahoo, Visa end e-commerce pact
News.com, July 29, 1997
Yahoo-Visa deal on shaky ground
News.Com, June 20, 1997
Hyperlink Indexes Links
A unique search engine that indexes only hyperlink text debuted in July and is operating as a demonstration site for the technology. Hyperlink indexes hyperlink text, then associates the text with the linked page.
For example, imagine the text below was a hyperlink to the Search Engine Watch home page (http://searchenginewatch.com/):
Click Here for Search Engine Information
All the words in the hyperlink text would be associated with the home page URL. That means that when someone searches for "search engine information," there's a chance the Search Engine Watch home page might appear.
None of the major search engines indexes only hyperlink text (also called anchor text). AltaVista does allow searches to be limited to hyperlink text by using a command like:
anchor:search engine information.
Entering that into the AltaVista search box would perform a Hyperlink-style search. However, the results would not be ranked in any particular order, and it would list pages that contain the links, not the pages that the links point toward.
Hyperlink suggests that its search mechanism is more democratic, in that people vote on good sites by linking to them. There's validity to this idea, which is why several search engines already use link popularity in terms of boosting some pages higher in the rankings or in determining which pages to list.
However, the Hyperlink configuration depends heavily on people creating descriptive links for its particular voting mechanism to work. For example, Netscape could have a million links pointing to it, but if they only say "Netscape," then with Hyperlink, the site is not going to do well if someone searches for "browser."
Robin Li, the scientist behind the search engine, says that many people do create descriptive links.
Hyperlink is not meant to be a competitor to the traditional search engines. Instead, it's meant to be a demonstration site for the technology. The index has information from over 5 million web pages in it, and it's planned to be updated every two months.
However, IDD Information Services, the company behind Hyperlink, is hoping to license its technology as an enhancement for those already running search engines.
A Democratic Way to Search
Wired News, July 25, 1997
Search Engine Traffic Survey Results
NetGambit, developer of the PositionAgent search engine ranking and monitoring service, released results in July of a survey relating to the traffic generated by search engines.
Over 1,500 PositionAgent users were asked about how much they depend on search engines for visitors, along with other questions. While the results are from a group with a particular interest drawing visitors from search engines, they are nonetheless interesting.
Virtually all of the respondents submit their websites to the search engines, and 42% said they had used a free or pay version of a commercial submission service to improve traffic.
Nearly 70% of those surveyed reported that search engines generated up to 10,000 visitors per month for their sites. The 100 to 1,000 visitor range was most popular, with 26% of respondents falling into this category. One rather shocking statistic was that 23% of those responding had no idea how many visitors search engines contributed to their traffic. Chances are, this same group has no idea how any of their traffic is generated.
It did not turn out that nearly everyone depends, or doesn't depend, on search engines to generate traffic. Instead, there were only minor differences in the range of dependency surveyed.
At one end of the scale, 15% of those responding said they depended on search engines for 10% or less or their traffic. At the other end, 10% said they depended on search engines for 90% of their traffic. Between these points, answers were all ranged between 6% to 15%.
It also found that webmasters and marketers are likely to hunt a bit further into search engine results to find what they are looking for. Only 13% said they would find what they wanted in the top ten results presented. Nearly 40% said they reviewed the top 20 results listed, while nearly 30% said they would review the top 50 results.
Search Engine Losses
Second quarter results are out for three major search services, and no one made a profit. Originally, Yahoo did post a profit, but it revised its numbers in the wake of the Visa Marketplace deal, mentioned above. The numbers, and some articles for more information:
Yahoo: $20.5 million
Infoseek: $11.9 million
Excite: $7.9 million
Search engines urged to expand business model
News.com, July 9, 1997
Quotes analysts saying that search engines need to diversify away from online advertising revenues to ensure survival.
Yahoo beats the Street
News.com, July 9, 1997
Yahoo Transitions Marketplace Activities
Yahoo, July 29, 1997
Revised 2nd quarter numbers for Yahoo can be found here.
Infoseek losses miss mark
News.com, July 15, 1997
Excite Deals Mean Smaller Loss
News.com, July 21, 1997
CEO expects Excite to break even
News.com, July 30, 1997
Excite Turns Japanese
Excite launched a Japanese edition of its search service on July 23. The service allows search queries be entered in Kanji, Kana or Romanji character sets. Users can also specify whether to match pages only in Japan or across the entire web. This is Excite's fifth international edition.
Excite is using LinguistX software from InXight Software to help it cope with the demands of the Japanese language. For example, spaces are not used to separate words in written Japanese. LinguistX uses a mathematical model of the Japanese language to identify word breaks. The software also recognizes different word tenses, relationships, abbreviations, contractions and can recognize phrases.
"It's not enough to just support Japanese character sets. The system must recognize word concepts and syntax, and be fast and reliable enough for industrial-strength applications," said Trudy Bartlett, Director of Engineering for Excite.
LinguistX software is also available for licensing to those running search engines and information retrieval mechanisms for other languages: Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish, and two Norwegian dialects, Bokmaal and Nynorsk. It runs on Unix and Win32 platforms.
Moo Moo For Yahoo
@g News polled its agriculture-oriented audience about their favorite search engines. With 280 responses, the results were Yahoo, 38%; WebCrawler, 19%, Alta Vista, 16%; Infoseek, 10% and the remainder spread among Excite, HotBot, Lycos and Search.com. The results were posted on July 28.
Infoseek Closes Corporate Division
Infoseek has closed its Corporate Information Division, with a loss of 15 people. The division had just opened in April of this year. It was supposed to lead Infoseek toward becoming the search engine of business users, a strategy announced earlier this year. But that strategy has been in flux, as summarized in last month's report. With the closure of this division, it seems likely that Infoseek will now move in a different direction.
Infoseek Gives Up on Push
Wired News, July 23, 1997
Excite and Apple Partner
Excite and Apple have partnered to provide Mac OS 8 users a personalized gateway to the Internet from the Mac desktop, it was announced July 22.
Those accessing the web from the Mac desktop are greeted by a start-up page featuring My Channel - a personal Web guide specifically tailored for Mac OS users. It offers users selected Apple and Mac OS news and links to Apple-related Web sites, and also allows them to keep up-to-date with the news and information of their choice, including world news, stock portfolios, sports scores, television listings, and more.
Mac My Channel
Excite Search - Mac Edition
Excite Directory - Mac Edition
Yahoo Tops With Business Users
Yahoo is turned to more often by business Internet users than its competitors, according to PC Meter's first released measurements of business usage. In April, Yahoo had a 48.8% reach, against WebCrawler at 20.3%, Lycos at 19.2% and Excite at 18.3%. Yahoo's business reach is even greater than that its home user reach, where it had a 37.2% reach for the same period.
Yahoo Press Release
Yahoo, July 21, 1997
Business Users Spend 65 Percent More Time on the Web Than Home Users, Says PC Meter
PC Meter, July 14, 1997
Search Engine Articles
Find Anything Online
ComputerLife, August 97
A review of top search tools, with a nice features chart and ratings. The ratings are confusing, however. Top search engines are ranked, but a metasearch engine is included, as is DejaNews, which is not a search engine for web pages. Meanwhile, a separate chart lists "indexes," which will be more familiar to people as directories or site reviews. Here, some search engines are rated again, this time on the basis of their associated directories. However, WebCrawler is included and rated apparently on its search engine listings. I said it was confusing, didn't I? Anyway, HotBot, Infoseek, Excite and Yahoo come out tops, depending on which chart you look at. AltaVista and WebCrawler run a close second. Lycos is a definite third.
2nd Annual Search Engine Shoot-out
PC Computing, Sept. 1997
PC Computing takes its yearly look at the search engines. Don't confuse this report with the 2nd Annual PC Computing Search Engine Challenge, which was a separate competition held earlier this year. It's mentioned as part of the report, but the magazine also has new ratings. HotBot and Infoseek get excellent ratings; AltaVista and Excite get good ratings. Lycos and WebCrawler were not reviewed.
Giddy-Yap! Get More Horsepower From Search Engine Advertising
ClickZ, July 31, 1997
A very good advice piece on how to balance search engine advertising against how you are listed in search engines. Nice details on the traffic some terms can bring.
When a typo leads to porn
News.com, July 14, 1997
Fascinating look at how porn sites have registered misspellings of major search engines in hopes of catching accidental traffic.
Search Engine Notes
WebCrawler SearchTicker = Magellan Voyeur
Web marketers and anyone curious about what and how people search like to visit either the WebCrawler SearchTicker or Magellan Voyeur, which display real-time search requests. Unfortunately, these are no longer distinct services. The same results, apparently from WebCrawler, are now being shown on them both. It may be hard to notice, as the presentation is slightly different. But a simultaneous query clearly shows that the same data is being used in both places.
WebCrawler Search Ticker
Magellan Search Voyeur
What People Search For
Infoseek Ranking Strangeness
Throughout July, Infoseek was making a number of changes to how it was ranking pages. At one point -- in some cases -- it seemed any page already listed could be resubmitted and find itself at the top of the heap.
Later in the month, the exact opposite began happening. In some cases, resubmitting a page, even a spam-free page, could knock it out of a top position. I witnessed several cases where people were clearly resubmitting pages for no other reason than to bump them lower in the rankings.
Things now seem to be back to "normal." It looks as if Infoseek may have been experimenting with submission penalties or other methods to curb spammers taking advantage of its instant Add URL feature.
Infoseek said that there have been a number of changes made over the past month, as it has aggressively fought off attempts to spam the index and improved its spam filters.
Penalizing pages based on submission frequency raises some real concerns. There's been a rise in what I call spam vigilantes: people who submit pages they believe slipped into an index before spam penalties took effect, in hopes of having new penalties applied to the page.
Many mean well, but unfortunately, the situation is not that clear cut. Furthermore, some perfectly innocent pages may suffer by those taking advantage of submission penalties resubmitting pages they don't own over and over again, in order to penalize them. These "position pirates" are performing submissions for no reason other to benefit themselves.
Ideally, this situation won't occur in a good search engine, because it will revisit pages on a regular basis, constantly evaluating them against spam filters.
I'm working on a new page for Search Engine Watch about this subject, which got a good airing in the Link Exchange Digest recently. Watch the site's What's New page, and you'll know when it goes up.
FYI, Infoseek has also occasionally flashed a "We're sorry, but Infoseek's ability to add URLs interactively is undergoing some work" message. In these cases, things have usually returned to normal within a few minutes.
Below are sponsor messages that ran in this month's issue of the Search Engine Report, which may be of interest to Search Engine Update readers.
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