Lycos Adds New Features, Reorganizes Suggested Links

Lycos has added some additional search enhancements, including reorganizing the way it handles suggested links.

Last month, I wrote of how the service was ranking its own “Web Guides” first in response to queries such as “entertainment.” I also noted one case where Microsoft’s CarPoint site was being ranked first, in response to “autos.”

At the time, Lycos said it was still experimenting with how to handle these types of preferential listings. There are some good reasons for using them, though the CarPoint link might create concerns of a mixture of editorial and advertising content. See last month’s article (link below) for more details on these issues.

Now when you search, links to relevant Lycos web guides appear in the “Related Topics” section of the results page, not in the actual search results.

For example, a search for “travel” lists the Lycos Travel Web Guide. Additional links ask if you wish to perform specialty searches on the topic, such as to find pictures, or see matching sites in the Lycos Top 5% directory.

A link to Barnes and Noble’s book sales database also appears in this area, similar to how retailer links appear in other search engines. For example, a search for “tom clancy” brings up results on Yahoo, accompanied by a small box prompting you to find related books at Amazon.

The key is that these listings are delineated from the actual search results. That’s what was so unusual with the CarPoint listing last month. It was a paid placement appearing directly in the search results, something that has not happened with any search engine since Open Text’s experiment in mid-1996.

It’s important to keep in mind that Lycos did say they were experimenting with how to handle this, and true to their word, at the public launch of the new changes at Internet World last month, that link was moved out of the regular search results.

Now, the link appears at the bottom of the “Related Topics” with a bullseye symbol and the words “BULLSEYE!” next to it. It also appears in the suggested links above this, though Lycos said this is a glitch that will be corrected.

“We definitely do not want to put paid things under the related topics,” said Rajive Mathur, search manager for Lycos. “The non-bullseye links under “Related Topics” are not ad-supported, fee-based links.”

The bullseye links, which Lycos calls “pop-up text,” will be available on any keyword to any advertiser within the next week, Mathur said. At the moment, only Microsoft is running them.

In other changes, Lycos is running a small “Browse Topics” box that appears on the left-hand side of results pages. This box is meant to suggest other searches related to the original query. For example, someone searching simply for “travel” is prompted with a suggestion to search for “travel information” or “travel agents.” The result is to bring people who search too generally closer to what they may be looking for.

At the bottom of the search results is a new “Refine Your Search” box. This allows you to search within a set of results, a completely new feature for Lycos. For example, if you had searched for “travel agents,” entering “newport beach” would sift through the results to find pages that also contain those words. That can increase your odds of finding an agent in that city.

Below the Refine box is a “More Ways to Search” section, with three links: to search for your query within page titles, within a URL or within a particular web site.

You can also go directly to these specialty searches by clicking on “Search Features” from the home page or via the address below. The URL search will be of particular interest to webmasters wishing to check how their various pages are listed. Previously, the only way to do this was to query each page individually, using the Lycos Check URL feature.

The search within a site feature is also handy for those who wish to find a page at a site that does not have its own internal search engine

Unfortunately, the URL search and site search features aren’t working perfectly. Some pages that are listed may not be found, and sometimes the searches aren’t processed at all. Lycos is looking to correct the problems.

There are a few other changes that pre-date this latest round, but are worth mentioning in the context of the new additions.

Lycos has continued to add items to the drop down box that appears next to the search box. By default, it will cause you to search for web pages. However, you can choose to search for weather information, Reuters News and other options. “Personal Homepages” is a search of free web space provided to GeoCities homesteaders.

On the front page, “Advance Search” takes you to the Lycos Pro interface. This allows you to have much more control over the searches you wish to perform. By default, the HTML version loads. Here, new “match strength” options were added last October.

“Good match” looks for your first term before your second term. “Near match” tries to find terms with 25 words of each other, in any order, the same as using the NEAR command. “Close match” does a near search, but the terms have to appear in the order entered. “Strong match” finds pages where the terms are adjacent to each other.

Other options are phrase search, which looks for the terms as a phrase, natural language, which treats operators such as OR as regular words, not commands. Finally, you can search for all or any terms.

The small Power Panel tab brings up an HTML version of the Lycos Pro Power Panel, which provides controls over the actual ranking algorithm. The Java version also remains. Just look for the links, to use it.

Finally, in the next week or so, expect to see Lycos debut two new search features: Sort By Site and More Like This.

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