Excite Results Get More Targeted

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You may have noticed that Excite responds to certain types of queries, such as those involving a city, a university or a movie, with very targeted information at the top of its results pages. Excite launched this style of targeted results last spring, but it has been greatly expanded over the past few months. Topics such as news, entertainment, sports, universities and geographical locations are all likely to bring up programmed results.

Searches relating to "New York" are a good way to see the variety of results which may appear. Searching for "New York" itself brings a page topped with a map to the city, tourism resources, and the current weather. Searching for "New York weather" brings up an extended forecast. "New York University" brings up contact details and links with information about the educational institution. "New York lottery" presents the current lottery results. "New York Giants" brings up links to information about the football team and displays their last game score. "New York news" pulls up a headline relating to the current police shooting case.

Certain words help trigger the appearance of this type of custom information. For instance, any geographic place name is likely to bring up targeted results. "California," "Utah," "Germany," "Berlin" and "United Kingdom" are all examples. Likewise, using the word "lottery" with a US state name may bring up lottery results, while "weather" brings up forecasts. Many sports team names are programmed, as are colleges and universities throughout the United States.

I was most impressed by the movie results. Do a search for "Analyze This," a current movie in the US, or any other recent film. You'll be presented with a summary of the film, links to actor information, the official movie site and reviews of the film. Moreover, if you have personalized with Excite, you'll be told the location of a theater near you that's screening the movie, along with showtimes. I found this to be a wonderful and incredibly useful feature. Other services offer movie times, but not this easily. For instance, at Yahoo, you have to do the same search, go into the Full Coverage category for the movie, then click on the link below "Showtimes."

Custom results are also available for previously released movies as well as television shows. For instance, looking for "Ally McBeal" displays a summary of the current show, local air times (if you've personalized) and the next episode.

"This has been incredibly popular. People love this. They like to be able to type in their show and check on when it's playing next and what the episode may represent," said Excite search product manager Kris Carpenter. Not surprisingly, Carpenter said movie-related queries tend to peak on Thursdays and Fridays, when new movies are released.

Another popular topic is music, and Excite has programmed results for more than 40,000 North American artists. In particular, using the terms "cd" or "album" along with an artist's name or a album title specifically prompts Excite to look for custom music information.

"The titles of albums are usually too generic to surface automatically, so this helps us make sure we aren't suggesting content that isn't relevant. Often titles are used by multiple artists. To ensure that you are getting the artist you desire, type in the artist name, album name and 'cd' or 'album,'" Carpenter said.

Other areas that bring up programmed results are searches for large companies, such as "microsoft" or "ford," and popular topics such as "geneology," "soap operas" and "beanie babies." Excite plans to continue expanding these over time.

There are also news related topics, but these can be hit-or-miss. Excite won't deliver programmed results unless it is extremely confident that's what someone wants. One way it does this is to watch for the word "news" within queries. For instance, "Kosovo" brings up normal results, but "Kosovo news" brings up a page topped by a particular story about the current conflict.

When there aren't programmed results, Excite defaults to showing matching information related to a query from a variety of sources, including its web index. Typically, the page will begin with matches from the Excite directory, under the title "Web Site Guide." You'll notice that the categories displayed may not actually contain your search terms, yet they will often be relevant to the topic. Excite uses a system to help more broadly define its categories, in order to make this happen.

The Web Results section usually follows the directory listings, and it shows matching pages that come from Excite's web index, which is built by spiders.

After the Web Results section is usually other information. The Reference section has relevant links to online reference material, while news articles may appear in the News Articles section. The Discussions area presents links to Excite chat and discussion boards, as well as links to relevant newsgroup listings.

Excite has also made a tweak to downgrade pages that come from online forums so that they don't rank as high within the Web Results section. The pages are still indexed, and they would still appear in response to a specific query. But they are less likely to appear in response to more general queries, which I think is mostly positive. These pages can sometimes be years old and no longer as relevant. Users certainly wanted the change, according to Excite.

"One of the things we kept hearing from consumers was 'Gee, I'm wandering through my web content, and I keep coming across these news postings. They're getting in the way," Carpenter said.

Finally, Excite has introduced Related Searches functionality similar to that at AltaVista. These appear mainly when there are also targeted listings. For instance, a search for "Madonna" shows the related search of "True Blue," just under the search box on the results page.

Excite is also sticking with its suggested terms feature, which suggests words to add to the query. I can't reveal the exact figure, but very significant numbers of users are making use of it.

Targeted Categories At Excite
A list of major categories where Excite provides targeted results, along with specific examples.

A longer, more detailed version of this article is
available to Search Engine Watch members.
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