Blekko may be little more than a week old, but in order for it to achieve its aim to be the third voice in search, it is going to have to deliver a pretty sweet search experience to differentiate itself in the market. It need only look to Bing, Yahoo, and Ask to gauge the challenge ahead. Search is an expensive business and getting users to switch is challenging. Despite Microsoft's deep pockets, Bing is fighting for a percentage point here and there while Google continues to gain ground in core search market share. However, having been born in the era of cloud computing, Blekko is able to take advantage of the Amazon EC2 cloud to significantly reduce the costs of crawling the web. Furthermore, Blekko has a pretty unique philosophy with some neat tricks up its sleeve.
The Sweet Spot
The new search engine on the block is bringing large scale human curation to the web, and, in its own words, is "combining wikipedia model with search algorithms to focus results on high quality content sources."
However, in stark contrast to Google and Bing, Blekko takes a bit of getting your head around. In fact, Blekko has all the appeal of Ikea flat-pack furniture. Looks simple and elegant in the showroom, but upon returning home to build it yourself, you that find the instructions are in Swedish. However, this is not a spurious analogy - if you think of it like a flat packed search engine, you'll be able to really get to grips with what Blekko is trying to do.
The Flat Packed Search Engine
Much like flat packed furniture, Blekko's index is made up of lots of standardized components which can be combined together for different results. Broadly speaking, these components are essentially content sources, content curators, content types, and content views - all of which are activated via "slashtags."
Blekko's raison d'etre is to deliver "results from high quality sites and leaving behind spammers, aggregators and content farms" by harnessing the power of users who will curate the best sources on the web. While Blekko's crawler indexes the web itself, the social layer built into the service gives users the power to create their own search engine. In effect, a user can create their own list of searchable sources on the fly and share them with other users. So, rather than having to search the entire web you can search a small curated subset of it.
Slash the Web
Slashtags are essentially these mini indexes - content buckets, or sets of sites that cover a particular niche, that are rendered searchable and sortable by Blekko's ranker. Users can follow each others slashtags. To get the best results, it's worth following experts or looking for the expertise of your friends - it's a bit like going to your buddy's house and perusing their library or music collection.
There are also public slashtags that everyone can use and with their exit from private beta another feature has been enabled called "auto-slashing." Auto-slashing occurs when Blekko detects an overwhelming amount of spam in the index, or an over-engineered set of results (which it calls "gray-spam"), and it defaults to a public slashtag it has on the same topic. A classic example it cites is "cure for headaches," which triggers auto-slashing to "/health." Blekko's category cites many medical authorities whereas the same search on Google delivers how-to sites, herbal remedies, and exact match domain type results. Botox even appears - which seems a bit of an extreme cure! It's this kind of "editorial voice" based on the link graph that Blekko wants to challenge.
Blekko's search results are personalized to your user profile - but not in a behavioral sense. Whatever query you enter performs a lookup on your own slashtags and the slashtags you are following. If no relevant slashtags appear, then Blekko defaults to it's own index or auto slashing.
Slashtags are key to understanding what you can achieve with Blekko. And they're really not that complicated. The allusion by name to Twitter's hashtags is a useful one as Blekko's slashtags function in much the same way. Just like Twitter, they resemble a command line syntax that enable key events and to activate them, as for retweets and hashtags, you have to get the syntax right. Slashtags must always be appended to your initial search query. You can also add as many slashtags as required to get the view of the web you want.
The formula goes something like this:
"your search query" /slashtag
"your search query" /slashtag /slashtag
A working example might be to track the latest coverage on Google on this website:
"Google /date /searchenginewatch.com"
Blekko has a list of built-in slashtags that you can try. Below, is a list of ones that I have found useful:
The simplest slashtag to get your head around is '/date'. This command re-orders the index in descending order of latest content sorted by publishing date.
The most obvious "flat pack" feature is '/map'. Whereas on other search engines you cannot necessarily predict when a map result is going to be triggered, on Blekko you can define when you want it to appear, simply by appending this slashtag.
/youtube + /flickr
Blekko's connections to other content source APIs means that you can search those sites directly from Blekko.
Similarly to the example above, you can also query content from a particular domain. While this feature works much the same way as Google's SITE:command, combine this slashtag with '/date' to get a view of the latest content from that site. I use this feature a lot as Google's own site index search results are not as easy to sort.
Much like Google's "link:www.domain.com" command, appending '/link' to your domain search will show you all the site linking to that domain. However, it is more powerful than Google as you can query links to a specific page/URL.
One of Blekko's founding principles is openness and to that end the '/rank' command will display a summary view of what pages it is ranking for any given query.
Furthering openness, Blekko actually provides a display of all of the factors which contribute to site ranking. Presumably since there are a fair share of ex-google developers at Blekko, there may be hints in here as to what Google is analyzing!
Transform the search results page into a feed.
2 Blekko Ninja Tactics
So now that you have got your head around just some of the nuts and bolts of Blekko, it's time to start building cool stuff! Below are some nifty query combinations that could help with SEO on for any search engine.
/source /link /date
This is an excellent query! Basically you can look at inbound links to any domain or any page URL in order of the most recent link.
link:http://searchenginewatch.com/364133 on Google.
http://searchenginewatch.com/3641233 /link /date on Blekko.
Powerful stuff for an SEO who wants to improve the link profile of their website.
Need more motivation to build links? Add '/rss' to the query (/source /link /date /rss) to get a real-time feed of every link generated to your site. Put the URL into your feedreader to track the link graph to your site as it happens. It's extremely rewarding!