Shopping Search Engine Week!

This week, SearchDay focuses on specialized shopping search engines, with an eye toward helping you make the most of your searching skills during the holiday gift buying season.

Shopping search engines have been around in various forms form for many years. But it has only been in the past year or so that they've evolved into mainstream tools that can not only help you find good deals, but also assist with the crucial research and comparison process before you actually make a purchase.

One of the first web shopping search programs was Bargain Finder, developed by Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) in 1995. Bargain Finder was actually a web robot, similar to the crawlers used by search engines. It was a simple program, querying ten online music stores to find an particular album, and returning prices from the stores for comparison.

Most online merchants in 1995 had yet to establish a brand or develop much customer loyalty, so the price comparisons Bargain Finder offered were not welcome. More than a third of the merchants on Bargain Finder's list took steps to block the robot from accessing their sites. Without access to the product information, the utility of the program quickly faded.

These days, savvy merchants do anything they can to attract visitors to their online stores. Shopping search engines have evolved considerably from Bargain Finder's crude price comparisons, providing lots of other relevant product information such as shipping rates or taxes, stock quantities, consumer reviews, and so on.

Merchants have also realized that since people no longer base purchase decisions solely on price, shopping search engines offer an excellent avenue for acquiring customers. In fact, studies that I'll discuss later in the week suggest that shopping search engines are more effective at delivering buyers than paid placement ads on general purpose search engines.

Tomorrow, I'll take a look at a number of useful sites dedicated to helping you research products and the reputations of online merchants. Wednesday will feature a profile of one of the major players in the shopping search arena, with a behind the scenes look at how it works and how it differs from a general purpose search engine. Thursday will feature a roundup of some of the web's most popular and useful specialized shopping search sites.

A recent survey by the Business Software Alliance found that 71% of Net users that said they plan to buy some to all of their holiday purchases online. If you're among that savvy group, this week's focus on shopping search engines should help you leverage your own searching skills to help save both time and money.

Search Engine Forums Spotlight

AltaVista - New design forgot the users
Cre8asite Forums
"They have the databases, company connections, and brand name. What they need is new ideas, new technology, breaking away from existing contracts that aren't doing them any good..., and finding ways to be as user-friendly/accessible as possible."

The future: Info content over commerce?
Webmaster World Forums
"As soon as Google is convinced that a big enough segment of customers go to Google search and other general search engines to go on shopping expeditions, I am absolutely sure they will roll out 'Google Shopping'..."

SEO conversions
The I-Search Discussion List
"The first experience 4 out of 5 new visitors of your site will have is landing from search engines. SEO Conversions start at the SERP. So does your Web Usability."

How to write an anti-robot txt file?
Cre8asite Forums
"Unfortunately, for the robots.txt file, many of the bad robots (leachers, email harvesters, etc.) don't read the robots.txt file anyway, so you need to have other solutions."

AllTheWeb validates to W3C standards
Webmaster World Forums
"Following the precedent set by the ODP, AllTheWeb has become the first major crawler based search engine to validate their home page to support W3C HTML and accessibility standards."

Google and dmoz loose expired domains fight
Webmaster World Forums
"The ODP is not a domain registry (neither is Google), so they simply can't remove sites from the directory automatically the same moment as they expire. But there are a number of editors who specialize in this kind of research."

Search Engine Forums Spotlight courtesy Search Engine Guide.

Search Headlines

NOTE: Article links often change. In case of a bad link, use the publication's search facility, which most have, and search for the headline.

Domain name news
Nominet warns of dodgy domain sales tactics...
The Register Nov 18 2002 12:25PM GMT
ICANN Needs Another Long Trip...
Wired News Nov 18 2002 12:09PM GMT
Online content news
Word wise web...
Guardian Unlimited Nov 18 2002 11:15AM GMT
Online search engines news
Promotion Tip: Search Engine Themes And Page Rank...
Net Mechanic Nov 18 2002 4:28AM GMT
Ask Jeeves for Google...
Computer Shopper Nov 17 2002 2:51PM GMT
Domain name news
Beginner Tip: Get The Most From Your Domain Name...
Net Mechanic Nov 17 2002 4:27AM GMT
Technology features
Hardwiring copyrights...
CNET Nov 17 2002 4:23AM GMT
Online search engines news
Ask Jeeves Launches Outdoor Ad Campaign... Nov 17 2002 3:00AM GMT
Technology features
Death of the free Web...
CNET Nov 16 2002 9:28AM GMT
Online legal issues news
W3C rejects net patent tax, avoids web schism...
The Register Nov 16 2002 1:44AM GMT
Top internet stories
Napster bought for $5m... Nov 15 2002 6:17PM GMT
Online search engines news
AltaVista, MyWay: Thin is In for Search...
Online Journalism Review Nov 15 2002 4:15PM GMT
Search Engine Optimization Catch-up...
High Rankings Nov 14 2002 4:24PM GMT
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About the author

Chris Sherman is a frequent contributor to several information industry journals. He's written several books, including The McGraw-Hill CD ROM Handbook and The Invisible Web: Uncovering Information Sources Search Engines Can't See, co-authored with Gary Price. Chris has written about search and search engines since 1994, when he developed online searching tutorials for several clients. From 1998 to 2001, he was's Web Search Guide.