THE SEARCH ENGINE UPDATE
August 19, 1998 - Number 35
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
+ Direct Hit Debuts On HotBot
+ Snap Makes Submitting Easier
+ Excite, Yahoo Debut Community Areas
+ The Latest Acquisitions
+ Infoseek Instant Add Gone For Good
+ Interface Matters To Researchers
+ Search Engine Notes
+ Search Engine Articles
+ Subscribing/Unsubscribing Info
I've moved two new charts into the Projects in Progress section of the Subscribers-Only Area. The first, Portal Features, shows which portal services such as free email or home pages are offered by the different search services. The second, Search Engine Acquisitions, gives a rundown on the major purchases each service has made. Neither is quite ready for prime time, but many of you may find them interesting. Suggestions or corrections are also welcomed.
In the main site, The MetaCrawler Top Search Terms page has been updated with July 1998 terms, and the RelevantKnowledge search engine ratings page has been updated with July 1998 data. Links to both can be found off the What's New page.
Search Engine News
Last issue, I wrote about the Direct Hit system, which measures what search engine users are clicking on to help improve relevancy. Now you can try the system yourself, as it debuted on HotBot today.
Simply perform any search. On the results page, next to the "Revise" button, you'll see an option that says "Find Direct Hit's most popular sites for your query." Clicking on this will bring up results as ranked by Direct Hit's measuring system.
The option will only appear if Direct Hit has enough data about a particular term, which the company says should be about 75 percent of the time.
Counting Clicks and Looking At Links
The Search Engine Report, Aug. 4, 1998
More about how the Direct Hit system works.
Until recently, submitting a site to Snap could only be done via email. Now the service has a form-based system, which makes the task much easier.
As with Yahoo, submission starts with locating the right category for your site. Either browse from the home page to a category that seems suitable, or search on some terms related to your site and see what other sites appear. A category listing will preface them, and that category may be a good home for your site.
When you've found the right category, click on the "submit" link that appears at the bottom of the page. A submission form will appear. On it, you can enter your site's title, URL and a description.
A smart idea is to recycle your Yahoo description, though you'll need to edit it down to 15 words. Also, the standard tips on titles and descriptions for Yahoo make sense to follow with Snap. In particular, make your descriptions to the point and without marketing jargon. Snap says this will help improve the odds that your site will be accepted.
"Sites with great descriptions stand out," said Snap associate producer Paul Wood.
Unlike Yahoo, there is no option to suggest a second category for your site. Pick the best one, in your opinion. In some cases, editors may choose to cross link, though this isn't common.
"We tend to think that a web site should really only live in one place," Wood said.
Editors may also create an entire new category, so don't be disheartened if you can't find a perfect match. Go with the closest choice and expect that new categories may emerge, as the directory matures.
The subject and navigation choices on the submit form should automatically set themselves to match the category you've selected, so you can ignore these. The last option is whether to "Update old entry" or "Submit new entry." Obviously, if this is a new submission, choose new. We'll deal with updating further below.
After submitting, a second form with optional location and contact information will appear. Answering these few questions is easy.
There is no promised turn-around time with Snap. However, if your site isn't accepted within four to six weeks, Wood said it is fine to resubmit.
If you don't get in the first time, reconsider whether the category you originally selected was indeed appropriate for your site. Also check to see if there are any new categories that might be more relevant. Additionally, make sure your description is appropriate.
Finally, when doing a second or subsequent submission, Wood said to choose the update option rather than the new option. This will put your request into a different queue, one that is reviewed more quickly. Don't abuse this option. The editors will be able to tell how you originally submitted, or if you have submitted many times in a short period of time.
Obviously, you should also use the update option if you are already listed in Snap and are changing a URL, title or description. Changes won't appear automatically, but editors are supposed to get to them quickly, Wood said.
How sites are ranked in Snap will be of interest to both webmasters and searchers. It is much different than the system used at Yahoo.
Do a search at Yahoo, say for "travel agents," and Yahoo categories matching those terms will be listed first. Next will come matching web sites from the Yahoo directory. In general, these sites will be grouped by category and ranked within the category by the frequency in which terms appear in their titles and descriptions. Finally, matching web sites from the Inktomi search engine will be listed.
In contrast, there is no category-first system at Snap, though you may get that impression because all sites are listed with their home category above them. This is a navigational feature, meant to provide context to a particular site.
"It gives a two fold experience. You have a chance to go to a site we've chosen, but you also have the opportunity to go to a category and pick your own web site," said Wood.
Another key difference is that sites are also given a quality rating by editors. This unseen rating, along with the presence of search terms in the site title and description, influences how well a site will rank. Those with better ratings will come first.
The system doesn't always seem to make sense, however. In the "travel agents" example, the Internet Travel Network is clearly a well-regarded site, since a "best" icon appears next to its listing. However, ITN appears further down on the list than AusTravel. That site is in the same category as ITN, but it has no "best" rating, and the search terms appear less frequently in the AusTravel title and description than with ITN.
Given this, it makes sense for those searching with Snap to scroll a bit further down and review other top offerings. Even better, click though to an interesting category rather than departing to a particular site. You may find some better choices this way.
Not content with just offering home pages, Excite unveiled a beta version of its new communities service on August 17. The next day, Yahoo launched a similar service called Yahoo Clubs.
The idea behind both services is to allow users to create "communities" or identity areas that revolve around a particular topic. For example, a community might focus on a family, a business or even a television show.
At Excite, community areas can have their own calendar of events, photo albums, shared bookmarks, contact lists and discussion areas. Discussions can also be attached to objects in the community, such as an event or a photo.
There is also a great deal of control over who can join and participate in a community. A community can be open to anyone or only open by invitation. Privileges can also be assigned as to how members can build or change content within the community.
Unfortunately, the beta test status means you may have to wait to be able to create communities or join existing ones. In the meantime, an online tour offers the curious a look at what Excite is offering.
Over at Yahoo, its communities service is completely live. When you first enter the site, you'll find listings of club areas organized along the lines of the main Yahoo directory.
The community tool offerings are sparser than at Excite. The clubs don't have photo albums, shared calendars or contact lists. Like Excite, Yahoo offers shared link lists and message boards.
Clubs are either listed or unlisted. If listed, anyone can join them and participate. If unlisted, then only those you invite to the club location will participate.
Be warned, most of the clubs at Yahoo have one or two members, at the moment. That's not surprising, given that the service has just launched. You may also find yourself drilling down to find a club, only to discover that the category exists, but no actual club has been created.
Yahoo offers community building
News.com, Aug. 18, 1998
Details on the number of registered Yahoo users (18 million) and how Yahoo plans to set up opt-in mail promotions to take advantage of its new communities offerings.
Infoseek has agreed to acquire Quando for $17 million in stock. Quando builds custom directories of information, and Infoseek will be using the technology to power new shopping and local event guides it plans to launch later this year.
Lycos has agree to acquire WhoWhere, a free home page and email provider that also powers the free branded email service of Lycos-competitor Excite. Lycos currently uses iName for its own branded email service. The deal is for $133 million in stock. Lycos has also acquired GuestWorld, which provides guest book services to web sites, in a $3.9 million stock deal.
AltaVista made it official. It announced on August 11 that it has reached an agreement to acquire the altavista.com domain. Financial terms were not disclosed, but previous press reports have put the sale amount at over $3 million.
AltaVista To Buy altavista.com Domain
The Search Engine Report, August 4, 1998
Details about how AltaVista found itself chasing after the altavista.com name.
Lycos Weaves Tangled Acquisition Web
Red Herring, Aug. 13, 1998
The recent buying spree by Lycos has left it with companies that still serve its competitors and which overlap in the features it offers users. A look at the various issues, with Lycos, and with its competitors.
Infoseek says that its "instant add" feature will not be returning to the service. The feature allowed any page submitted via the Add URL form to appear in the Infoseek index within minutes. It was temporarily disabled in June, and now the change is permanent, said Nilo Zaratan, who oversees the Infoseek spidering process.
Instead, pages submitted via the Add URL form will appear one to two business days after submission, Zaratan said. This still makes Infoseek one of the fastest search engines to list new pages.
AltaVista also lists pages within this timeframe, as does Inktomi when things are working normally. However, things are definitely remaining abnormal, with pages submitted to Inktomi via the HotBot Add URL form taking two weeks or longer to appear.
Infoseek also said that it is speeding up the processing of email submissions. Previously, URLs sent via email took a week to be added. Now, they will appear within one to two business days.
E-mail submission is primarily meant for sites that wish to submit more than 50 URLs per day, those using free web space and sites with adult content. However, anyone can use it as an alternative to the Add URL form.
Infoseek Add URL
A survey of prospect researchers found that a search engine's interface is one of the most important elements to professional searchers.
Those surveyed were asked which search engine they turned to first, and AltaVista was a clear winner, at 37 percent. HotBot came in second, at 21 percent, followed by Yahoo, at 17 percent.
The survey also asked what features of the first choice search engine were important. The results weren't cross-tabulated, so you can't match the answers directly to a particular service. But overall, relevancy was ranked first, at 65 percent, with a surprise second place showing for interface, at 36 percent. Defined as "ease of use and overall presentation," interface beat out other features such advance query options and index size.
In another surprise, the Dogpile metasearch service beat out MetaCrawler by three to one among those who exclusively use a meta search service. Also, less than 10 percent of those surveyed reported using offline search software.
The sample was extremely small, only 120 people, and the survey was admittedly unscientific. But the results will nevertheless be interesting to professional researchers. More details can be found below.
Prospect Researchers Survey
Search Engine Notes
Infoseek Online Available
Infoseek's branded Internet access service, Infoseek Online, is now available. The service is offered in conjunction with AT&T and launched in mid-August. AT&T also powers Excite Online and Lycos Online, which launched earlier this year. Yahoo Online, launched in March, is powered by MCI.
Snap Gets Personal, Sprouts Tabs
Snap has introduced new "tab" navigational buttons at the top of its pages. "My Snap" allows people to personalize Snap, a new feature launched on Aug. 5, in conjunction with the tab interface. "Local" provides access to news, weather, movie listings and other information related to the zip code that a user has registered with the service. "Home" brings users to the main search service.
Search Engine Articles
Search Sites' Shocking Secret
AnchorDesk, Aug. 17, 1998
I've had a number of people message me for my opinion about this column. I normally love the AnchorDesk, but in this particular issue, much of what's suggested was true last year, not now. Other parts were just wrong, in my opinion.
Secret 1 suggests that search sites are out of date and aren't improving relevancy. In reality, Excite and Infoseek have both made significant changes to how they present results, while both AltaVista and HotBot have greatly expanded the sizes of their indexes.
Secret 2 discusses the role of search optimization companies in influencing rankings. This is definitely true, and something many people aren't aware of. And, as discussed last issue, its one reason why paid listings controlled by the search engines might actually provide more relevant results than allowing third parties to continually hammer them into submission.
Secret 3 said that search sites are deemphasizing search technology. In reality, there's been a renewed interest in improving search after a long period last year where companies were instead concentrating on portal offerings and building market share. Portal moves were made all last year, but they are just now getting publicity. That, in turn, is overshadowing the recent return to search improvement.
Secret 4 says some search sites sell rankings, and this is my biggest problem with the column. It will renew the rumors that go around about this. For the record, only GoTo.com sells rankings, among the more prominent services. AltaVista, Excite, HotBot, Infoseek, Lycos, WebCrawler, Yahoo, LookSmart and Snap do not sell preferential placement within their results.
Having said all this, it is certainly true that search could be made much better. Frustration is clear in many of the messages that can be found in association with the column, at the link above.
Lycos to Planet: Save Yourself
Wired, August 14, 1998
Long and detailed article covering the breakup between Lycos and environmental content partner EnviroLink.
What You Don't Know About Microsoft's Portal Plans
AnchorDesk, Aug. 3, 1998
Curious about where Microsoft is going with its portal plans? Jesse Berst offers a good preview.
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