THE SEARCH ENGINE UPDATE
January 3, 2001 - Number 92
By Danny Sullivan
Editor, Search Engine Watch
Copyright (c) 2000 internet.com corporation
About The Update
The Search Engine Update is a twice-monthly update of search engine news. It is available only to Search Engine Watch "site subscribers." Please note that long URLs may break into two lines in some mail readers. Cut and paste, should this occur.
In This Issue
+ Site & Conference News
+ Paid Submission & Other Changes At NBCi
+ Changes At AltaVista
+ Changes At Excite
+ Survey Finds Search Engine Referrals Low
+ 12 Minutes To Search Rage
+ Update on Iconocast Poll
+ Search Engine Resources
+ Interesting Search Engine Articles
+ List Info (Subscribing/Unsubscribing)
Site & Conference News
Happy New Year to you all! And thanks to the thousands of you who cast your votes for the first Search Engine Watch awards. I'm still looking through all the suggestions, and I expect to announce the winners later this month. Watch the What's New page to know when.
The next Search Engine Strategies conference is coming to London on February 15. I'll be presenting and moderating sessions at the conference that features experts on search engine marketing issues and panelists from the various major search engines themselves. Services participating so far include GoTo, Inktomi and Lycos Europe.
There will be a special presentation on regional and language issues, of interest to those based in Europe or who need to be listed with European search engines. We will also be having roundtable sessions where European search engine marketing experts will answer questions about advanced issues. More information can be found via the URL below:
Search Engine Strategies 2001 - London
We now also have the dates for our first two day event, which features a day for searcher issues, in addition to the topics aimed at web marketers. It will be March 20 and 21, in Boston, at the Marriott Copley hotel. An agenda and more details for the session should be available later this month. To be notified when it is ready, just leave your email address at the form below:
Search Engine Conferences
Paid Submission & Other Changes At NBCi
NBCi has rolled out a paid submission service that allows faster review of sites for inclusion into its main directory. In addition, the service, formerly known as Snap, has also made some changes to how sites are listed in its results.
In line with express submission pricing from Yahoo and LookSmart, NBCi is charging $199 for those who want an answer within five business days about being included in its directory. However, the price is only $99 as an introductory offer until Feb. 15.
Sites can still be listed for free at NBCi, due to its two-tier listing structure. When someone searches at NBCi, most queries are answered by the main NBCi Directory, a listing of sites that have all been reviewed and approved by editors. This is also called the "Top Sites" directory. However, any NBCi user can submit a site to a secondary "LiveDirectory" set of listings. These unreviewed sites serve as a backup for when there are no matching sites from the main directory.
For example, do a search for "used telescopes," and you'll see that most of the results page is filled with "Top Sites" listings that come out of the Top Sites directory. However, toward the bottom of the page are two "Member-Submitted Sites" that come from the LiveDirectory.
Sites can be added to the LiveDirectory free of charge and typically show up within an hour or less after submission. Moreover, if NBCi's tracking systems determine that they seem to be satisfying queries, sites in the LiveDirectory can then get "promoted" to the Top Sites directory. For site owners, such promotion can mean an increase in traffic, since its usually the main directory listings that people see. The new program allows sites to pay a free to speed up this promotion process.
"Sites normally need to be in the LiveDirectory for about three to four months, so we can see how well they rise to the top, said NBCi's Robert Christiansen, managing producer of the directory. "With the guaranteed review program, if it's worth promoting, we'll do it within days."
Christiansen stressed that the program doesn't guarantee that a site will be actually listed, only that it will be reviewed. But, as with programs from Yahoo and LookSmart, most sites of decent quality should expect to be accepted. However, do be aware that unlike LookSmart and Yahoo, there's no appeals process. If your site is rejected for promotion, you will not receive any tips for making improvements and allowed one more free chance to try again. Instead, you'll need to review the promotion guidelines and make any changes you think might be effective. Then, you either need to try a message to NBCi's user support department asking for a rereview (which could take some time) or chose to pay the promotion fee again for faster action.
What's likely to be rejected? Sites with little unique or original content, for one. "If you are some person who just has a web page full of affiliate links, you're not going to be in the Top Sites directory," said Christiansen.
Sites accepted for promotion will also benefit from "expedited updates," which means a five day or less response to change requests. When viewing the "Site Details" of a promoted site (as explained below), you'll see an Update option available. Selecting it will allow you to send comments and change requests to the Top Sites editors. However, be sure you are logged into NBCi under the same account as used when submitting the site originally. Otherwise, your change request will not be sent to the expedited queue for processing.
Another benefit includes listing a site in multiple categories. This means that Top Sites editors will review your site and see if there's more than one place that's appropriate for it. For example, if you submitted a business site to a particular product category, the Top Site editors might also give you a regional listing, if appropriate.
Unfortunately, there's no way to suggest other categories during the promotion process. This may be added in the future. Until then, NBCi advises that you should apply for promotion, see if you are accepted, then see what, if any, new categories your site is added to. If you then feel you should be included in another category, go back and use the Update option to send a message to the editors explaining which other category you should be in and why.
Finally, "expert keyword enhancement" is another feature of the program. This means that when reviewing your site, the NBCi editors will associated it with 10 or more keywords that appear relevant to the site. Part of this is determined by reviewing the keywords you supply during the LiveDirectory submission process. The editors will also review what keywords the site already seems to be ranking well for, plus add any others they deem appropriate.
The keyword enhancement does not guarantee that a site will rank well for its associated keywords, but it does give the site an added boost for those terms. Unfortunately, there's no way to see what terms your site is associated with, after it has been promoted. One suggestion from NBCi is that after the promotion process, you might go back and use the update form to alert the editors to any keywords you consider essential to the site. Make this a short list of your very top terms. You might suggest a review in this way:
I just wanted to make sure that our site, which was recently promoted, is associated with these keywords:
keyword 1, keyword 2, ....
They are all among the top ways people might be seeking our content.
Also, keep in mind that NBCi uses clickthrough measurements to help determine which sites should rise to the top, in response to different searches. This means that over time, if enough people are finding your site and clicking on it in response to searches, it may move up in the rankings. However, don't be inclined to go in and just click on your own site over and over. NBCi does watch for bogus clickthroughs.
To promote a site, you first have to submit it to the LiveDirectory, and the links below provide more advice about this. I should also have a completely revised NBCi page posted by January 8, if not sooner, that will take you through the process and provide further tips that take into account the new promotion option. Once a site is added to the LiveDirectory, you'll receive an email from NBCi with promotion instructions. You'll also see any sites you've previously submitted through the LiveDirectory system listed on the LiveDirectory home page, when you log in. Any that can be promoted will have a little "Promote" icon next to them.
What about all those sites already promoted or that were added before the LiveDirectory system was launched in November 1999? Unfortunately, there's no expedited way to get these sites changed, ensure they have multiple category listings or certain keywords associated with them. Instead, you'll have to use the regular user support channels to request changes. However, this may change in the future.
"We are probably going to be releasing a general update for the existing sites," said Christiansen. "We are thinking about some type of update fee."
Should you promote your sites? Almost certainly. It should give them a much better chance of coming up before users. No doubt it will take longer for you to feel the fee has paid for itself in traffic, in comparison to Yahoo and LookSmart, because sites listed in those directories reach a much broader audience. Nevertheless, NBCi remains an important directory, and so this is also an essential fee you should be budgeting for, at least for the home page of your web site.
If you have inside pages also listed, getting them promoted may be less a priority. If you find they are already showing up on the first page of results for the terms you are concerned with, then getting them promoted out of the LiveDirectory isn't a big deal. Promotion probably won't increase traffic that much, and they stand a decent chance of getting promoted automatically. However, if you have important inside pages that don't rank well, promotion is a good option to consider. Just remember -- there's no appeal process, so be sure these are good quality pages.
Also at NBCi, you'll find new "More Like This" and "Site Details" links appearing at the bottom of each site listed. In addition, the existing "Listed in NBCi Category" and "Find more sites about" links remain for each listing. Here's a rundown on how you might take advantage of these options.
Let's say you searched for "Mir," the ageing Russian space station. The second listing that comes up is "Mir Space Station," a page from NASA. After the page's description, you'll see a link that says "Listed in NBCi Category: Mir." Selecting this category link brings up other sites that NBCi has classified about Mir, helpful if you want a human-edited list of sites about the station. By default, you'll only be shown editor reviewed sites, but by choosing the "Member-Submitted Sites" link at the top of the category, you can see other sites on the topic that have been added by NBCi users and which may be of interest.
Under the NASA "Mir Space Station" listing is also a line that says "Find more sites about: space station | international space station | space colonies." Each topic is a link, and selecting one reruns your search using those words. Behind the scenes, what's happening is that NBCi can track that some sites selected by people who search for Mir are also chosen by people who search for other topics, such as "space station." From this, NBCi can suggest that these other searches might be of interest to those who search for Mir. So, the "Find more sites" option provides a useful way to take your search in a new but related direction from your original search topic.
By selecting the "More Like This" link, you'll see other sites similar to the NASA site about Mir. Unlike using the "Listing in NBCi Category" link, More Like This will bring back sites beyond those just listed in the Mir category. You'll also see any related searches and related categories that may be of interest.
The "Site Details" link is probably of most interest to webmasters and site promoters. It shows you how a particular site ranks for major search terms. For example, the NASA Mir site is ranked number 2 for "mir" and number 5 for "space station." To see how your own site does, just search for it, then choose the Site Details link. You can also see if a site resides in the main directory. If so, it will say, "Listed in: NBCi Directory" under the "Site Information" section of the Site Details page. Otherwise, you'll be told it is listed in the "Live Directory" and you'll see site submission and update details.
Finally, NBCi continues to experiment with paid links from GoTo. Sometimes, the top three listings for a particular term at GoTo will appear at the top of NBCi's search results page. Other times, the top eight links will run along the right-hand side of the results page, in a "Search Marketplace" box. Occasionally, the top ten paid links can be reached only by selecting the "Search Marketplace" link in the navigation box on the search results page. NBCi says the experimenting will continue through this month.
LiveDirectory Home Page
Learn more about submitting to the LiveDirectory here. Once you've done that, you'll then be able to promote your submitted sites to the Top Sites directory.
NBCi Promote a Site Help Center
More specific help from NBCi about its promotion program, including guidelines about what is and isn't eligible for promotion.
NBCi E-mail Us Page
Use this page to get in contact about changes to sites in the Top Sites directory that were added before the promotion program began.
NBCi (Snap) Unveils LiveDirectory
The Search Engine Update, Dec. 6, 1999
Past article about the LiveDirectory system. Lots of tips that are still useful about submitting, though you might want to wait until I've posted the updated NBCi page (below).
How NBCi (Snap) Works
Will be fully updated by January 8th (or sooner) and explains submission to NBCi, including tips on the new promotion system.
NBCi Faces Struggle to Become Major Portal
Bloomberg, Dec. 29, 2000
Unlike AltaVista, which pulled back from the portal game late last year, NBCi is taking aim at the likes of AOL, Yahoo and MSN. But NBCi has US $380 million in free advertising on US network NBC to use in its fight. Be aware this article may not be available for free for very long.
Changes At AltaVista
Attempts are clearly being made to route traffic into AltaVista's directory listings, which are powered by LookSmart. This isn't surprising, given that AltaVista shares in the revenue for submission to LookSmart that originate at its site.
After you perform a query, a "Related Searches" section may appear underneath the search box, on the results page. This isn't new, and selecting a link in this area continues to rerun your search using the words shown in the related searches link. What's different is that you'll often now also be shown a "See reviewed sites in" section. Selecting one of these "Reviewed Sites" links doesn't rerun your search. Instead, it brings up matches on that topic from AltaVista's version of LookSmart.
For example, a search for "digital cameras" brings up, among others, a Review Sites link called "Digital Camera Buyers Guides." Clicking on the link takes you into a list of sites on that topic.
Don't be surprised if you find sites are ordered differently than at LookSmart itself, when comparing the same categories at both places. AltaVista is applying its own ordering sequence. I'm checking on exactly what's happening, but I suspect they may be reranking sites based on link popularity, similar to what Google does with the Open Directory.
Meanwhile, something caused some web sites to get cross-linked with listings from a porn site. It looked to be a repeat of the "Wedding Photo - Phone Sex" situation, as explained in the article below.
Two sites reported to me separately that a search for their name brought up a completely irrelevant page from a porn site, rather than their own sites. A third complaint came in about a search for a children's hospital bringing up the same porn page. AltaVista said it appeared to be "sophisticated spam," and the problem was solved for the sites in question.
What's odd is that the porn page in question didn't appear to use any cloaking that I could detect. Instead, it seemed much more like the wedding photo - phone sex example, where some type of cross-linking occurred. Moreover, while the particular page in evidence was removed, other pages from the site were kept in AltaVista -- not something you'd expect them to do for a porn site employing "sophisticated spam."
AltaVista's search trends section lives again. The feature was placed in hibernation after the staff layoffs of September, but it began showing signs of life in December. It's now been reshaped to feature cool sites listings, but on the right-hand side of the page, you'll see the top 25 search terms at AltaVista. The bottom of the page shows terms that are rising and following. "Bottom Feeders" are those terms that were once incredibly popular but which now hover just on the edge of the radar screen of significance.
Yes, it is possible to nominate your own site as "cool" using the suggestion link on this page. There's no particular format -- emailing the title, URL and description of your site is basic enough information. But the editor says he isn't interested in sites that are simply new.
"I do get suggestions for sites, but a lot of people just want their business promoted, so I'll get sites like 'Check out our new financial portal that connects buyers and suppliers of plumbing equipment.' Definitely not what I'm looking for," said BJ Candella, who oversees the section.
Instead, if you nominate your site (or someone else's), it needs to be compelling in some way. "I have no criteria other than it makes me laugh or makes me click," Candella said.
So, think carefully about how you pitch your nomination. Write an introduction to the site that will pique interest. And, above all, be sure the site really is cool in some way.
From Wedding Photos To Phone Sex
The Search Engine Report, March 3, 2000
Covers how a wedding photo site got mixed up with a phone sex site at AltaVista.
AltaVista Cool Sites
Changes At Excite
You may have noticed a slight redesign to Excite last month, and there were also some other changes that have come up in the past weeks. I'll be taking a longer look at happenings there in the near future, but here's a rundown on some key alterations.
+ Excite's directory, which is powered by LookSmart, is being promoted more. After a search, you'll a "Web Directory" link near the top of the results page, in the "Show Results" section. Selecting this will bring up matching categories and web sites from the Excite directory, rather than from Excite's crawler-based results.
+ Links to the directory also appear below sites listed in Excite's crawler-based results, if they are also listed within the directory. For example, a search for "oscars" from Excite's home page brings up Oscar.com as the top site listed. Below the URL, you'll see a line called "Excite Directory Match" with a link to "Best Movie/TV Resources on the Web." Selecting the link takes you to that category, where the Oscar.com site is listed among others.
+ New sidebar text ads are now appearing on the right-hand side of the results page, in response to some searches. Called "Enhanced Sponsor Boxes" or ESBs, these went live in the first week of November. Unlike sidebar text ads sold by Ask Jeeves and Google, these are not self-serve. You currently purchase them as part of a banner buy, through Excite's regular ad sales force. To see some live, try a search for "casinos" and you'll see an entirely text-based ad for Casino-on-Net appear, below a graphical one for the same company.
+ Excite has signed a deal with paid links service FindWhat.com to promote FindWhat.com to those making use of Excite's Freetailer service. Freetailer allows anyone to set up an online store with Excite for free. FindWhat links are NOT being integrated within Excite's search results. This is simply a deal to promote FindWhat to Freetailer merchants.
By the way, if you sign up for a Freetailer account, you'll discover an "Upgrade Zone" where sites can get extra services for a fee. One of these is called "Search Engine Registration," which has this enticing pitch:
"Who better to list your site with search engines than a company that is a search engine? We have the expertise to help you be successful by listing your site with the Internet's best portals and directories."
Selecting the link then brings up a further pitch: "Have our in-house experts submit your site to 250 search engines, including Excite, Lycos, WebCrawler, AltaVista, HotBot, and InfoSeek."
Excite is almost certainly not offering this service using any of its in-house staff, making the suggestion that you're getting any special inside search engine knowledge surprisingly misleading. In all likelihood, the service is instead being provided by a third party search engine submission company. I'm still waiting for confirmation from Excite about this and will let you know if it turns out I'm incorrect.
In either case, the amount of expertise offered by this service will be minimal. It looks to be a basic mass URL submit program. In other words, the home page of your Freetailer site is apparently submitted to multiple search engines, but no optimization of your home page is done nor is your site likely submitted to major directories. This type of basic submission has some minimal value, but you can do as well for less money at a place such as SelfPromotion.com.
Survey Finds Search Engine Referrals Low
New statistics from WebSideStory's StatMarket service show that search engines generate only 7 percent of traffic to web sites, far below the leading methods of direct navigation or following links. The low figure is very surprising, because other surveys have consistently found that people report search engines as one of the top ways they find web sites.
The StatMarket survey found that either direct navigation or using bookmarks was the most popular way of reaching web sites, generating 47 percent of traffic. Following links was the second most popular, generating 46 percent of traffic. Included in the links total were clicks on banner ads.
The statistics are gathered by measuring traffic to 200,000 sites that use WebSideStory's HitBox tracking service. These sites include everything from large businesses, to hobbyists, to porn sites. The statistics are as measured on Dec. 17, 2000.
Only pages actually tagged with the HitBox tracker get counted, which could have a big impact on the search engine representation. For example, if many people only tag their home pages, then search engine referrals to inside pages (which are common) would be missed entirely.
My suspicion is that the true average of visits generated by search engines is higher, perhaps considerably so, especially when you consider how popular search services are as rated by user measurement companies such as Media Metrix and Nielsen//NetRatings.
How much should you expect to receive? There's no easy answer, because expected traffic from search engines can vary for many reasons. For example, if you offer a very specialized service, it may well be that few people are searching for your services on the web.
In general, I suggest that you should expect to get anywhere from 15 to 50 percent of your traffic from search engines. That's not a scientific number -- it's just based on having worked with different sites and talked with many people in the industry. Nevertheless, I do think it's useful.
If you get more than 50 percent of your traffic from search engines, you are probably too dependent on them. Consider diversifying how you drive traffic to your site. If you are under 15 percent of your traffic, you could probably do better. Consider making some basic changes to please the search engines.
Of course, given the latest StatMarket figure, you might consider 7 percent to be the new low end.
Search Engines Refer Only A Small Percentage Of Traffic To Web Sites Worldwide
StatMarket, Dec. 19, 2000
Release with details of the survey from StatMarket.
Ratings, Reviews and Tests
You'll find more information about StatMarket on the StatMarket Ratings page, as well as statistics from other ratings firms. Please note I'm working to update these this month. Also see the Search Engine Index page, which provides an at-a-glance look at key statistics about search engines.
12 Minutes To Search Rage
How long is too long until searching the web drives you crazy? Apparently, 12 minutes, according to a new survey commissioned by search engine WebTop.com.
The survey found that 71 percent of Internet users say they get frustrated when searching, and it takes about 12 minutes, on average, for them to feel this search rage.
The 12 minutes figure is actually a very good benchmark for anyone to use. Search engines are wonderful tools, but everything you are looking for is not on the web. If you've been searching for about 10 minutes, consider some more "traditional" alternatives. For example, consult an informational professional, such as a librarian. Or, looking for a company's web site and still had no luck? Pick up that magical device called a telephone, call directory assistance and get the company's phone number -- then ask them for their web address.
The survey also found that 86 percent of users thought searching could be made more efficient, and that more than one-third of users (36 percent) spend more than 2 hours per week searching the web.
My favorite statistic was that 46 percent of users said that finding wrong information is frustrating. So, does that mean the other 54 percent don't mind getting incorrect results? More likely, it's just that most people expect that web searches will not be perfect, I suspect.
The survey was conducted from July 27 to August 1, 2000 by Roper Starch Worldwide and involved 566 adults, interviewed by telephone.
The World Wide $#@%@$ing Web!
ZDNet News, Dec. 23, 2000
Some comments from me and others about the survey results.
Update On Iconocast Poll
Last issue, I reported on the Iconocast surveyed about search engine optimization issues. I did get clarification on the question about the difference between "Paid for faster submission" and "Paid for directory listing," and there could have been some confusion among those surveyed. I've posted a revised version of the article at the URL below.
Iconocast Poll Sheds Light On Search Engine Optimization Issues
The Search Engine Report, Jan. 3, 2001
Search Engine Resources
Launched in December, this country-specific edition of AltaVista offers 8 million Brazil-specific pages in addition to the AltaVista world wide index.
Also launched in December, this edition of AltaVista offers over 1 million Portuguese-specific pages in addition to the AltaVista world wide index.
This popular meta search site underwent a facelift in December. The home page and results pages are said to have been redesigned to load faster, and the look is certainly cleaner overall. You'll also find the dog mascot (his name is Arfie) is used more prominently than in the past.
This guide to "invisible web" or "deep web" content has doubled the size of its database to 38,500 sources. More about CompletePlanet can also be found via this earlier review: "Invisible Web Gets Deeper," http://searchenginewatch.com/sereport/00/08-deepweb.html.
Search Engine Articles
Johns Hopkins Cures Its Search Woes
InternetWeek, Dec. 28, 2000
How Johns Hopkins University put Inktomi's Ultraseek software to work to make its campus web site searchable.
AltaVista puts Raging Bull on block
CBS MarketWatch, Dec. 26, 2000
AltaVista is selling off its Raging Bull stock market site, just over one year from when it purchased it.
LookSmart big wheels rush for the exit door
The Age, Dec. 21, 2000
Interesting details on LookSmart executives selling off their stock.
Golf organization asks Yahoo to pull gambling ads
Bloomberg, Dec. 18, 2000
Major US sports associations have been pressuring Yahoo to remove online gambling ads from pages where they have content agreements.
Northern Light Officially Launches SinglePoint
Information Today, Dec. 18, 2000
Review of new Northern Light product that provides integrated searching across a company's intranet or web site, the web as a whole and Northern Light's Special Collection documents.
Memo details AltaVista management shake-up, changes
News.com, Dec. 15, 2000
AltaVista may split its business into two groups, one serving consumer web search and the other providing search solutions for businesses, according to a leaked memo.
Ask Jeeves shows staff the door
InfoWorld, Dec. 13, 2000
Ask Jeeves is laying off 180 employees -- 25 percent of its staff -- and is to split into two companies, one concentrating on the Ask Jeeves search solutions for businesses and the other focused on its own consumer search sites.
Search engines get the enterprise treatment
ZDNet, Dec. 12, 2000
News search service Moreover.com inks a partnership with Inktomi, which means that we'll likely see Inktomi partners offer news search in the near future. Inktomi also cuts a deal with video search company Virage, while AltaVista upgrades the search software it offers to businesses.
What Makes a Site Link-Worthy?
ClickZ, Dec. 7, 2000
Want to gain links? You've got to offer content. Eric Ward has advice on what this really means.
Search Engines Fire On More Cylinders
Internet Week, Dec. 7, 2000
Details on upgrades to AltaVista search software that is available to businesses for site specific and intranet needs.
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