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