How AOL Search Works

Recent Articles

Important developments since this page was last updated, along with other information related to this service, can be found within the AOL section of Search Topics. At the bottom of the page is a list of older articles that may be of interest.

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AOL Search provides users with access to web, image, multimedia, shopping, news and local search results. This page focuses mainly on the web results AOL Search provides.

Web Results

By default, a search on AOL Search brings back matches from across the web. Most of these web listings come from Google, but listings from other data sources may also appear. Here’s a guide to what you’ll see on the search results page when performing a web search:

Snapshot Area

For popular queries (such as cars), AOL may present a “Snapshot” area at the top of the page containing listings selected by its own editors, AOL-owned material or sponsored listings. There is no way to submit to AOL editors for inclusion here.

Becoming a sponsored listing is done by purchasing advertising directly from AOL, as opposed via Google, as explained below. Use AOL’s advertising contact page to contact them about this section.

To learn more about the Snapshot section, see this help page from AOL. Snapshots were added in November 2004.

Recommended Sites

These are listings selected by AOL editors that lead to web content or content that AOL itself owns or operates. There’s no way to submit for being listed here. To see an example of a recommended site listing, try a search for dvd players. For a bit more about these listings, see the AOL help page on the topic.

Sponsored Links

The search results page will often have a “Sponsored Links” area near the top. Up to four links may appear in this area, then another four show in the “More Sponsored Links” section at the bottom of the page. These links come from the Google AdWords program. If you are a Google AdWords advertiser and appearing in the top spots at Google, then you will generally appear in these section at AOL Search. For more about advertising through AdWords, see the AdWords page of the How Google Works section of Search Engine Watch.

Be aware that AOL is not “geotargeting” ads from Google, in the way that Google does on its own site. In other words, on Google, you can ask that only those in the United States be shown ads. They would not be displayed to those outside the US. On AOL, this is does not happen. So, even if you geotarget ads to a particular country or area, that geotargeting does not take place for those coming to AOL Search.

AOL may also display a “Web Offers” box to in the upper right-hand corner of the search results page. These show terms related to the original query. When clicking on them, they bring back Google AdWords listings for the term selected. So, this is an alternative way that your paid listings may show up at AOL.

Matching Sites

The major portion of the search results page is the “Matching Sites” section, where listings from Google’s crawler-based index is displayed. If you are listed in Google’s crawler-based results (as explained on the Google Web Crawler page within Search Engine Watch), then you are already contained within the database that AOL Search will use for searches. In other words, there’s no need to try and “submit” to AOL Search. If you are listed with Google, that’s what AOL will tap into.

Being listed in Google or even ranking well for a particular term doesn’t mean you will rank exactly the same way at AOL Search, however. Why not? One reason is that AOL does not appear to tap into the entire Google database. If it doesn’t search against all the pages Google knows about, then that may have an impact on rankings.

In addition, AOL (like any Google partner) has the ability to tweak or change Google’s results in various ways. A example of this how it manually removed the official George W. Bush biography for showing up in its results for a search on “miserable failure.”

While things may not be exactly the same as at Google, you’ll generally find the differences are slight, if any show at all.

Browse By Category

At the bottom of the results page is often the “Browse By Category” section, which shows categories from the Open Directory. Clicking on any of these brings back matching sites for that topic, listed alphabetically.

To appear in a category shown, you need to submit your site to the Open Directory for that category, as explained on the How The Open Directory Works page. Once listed with the Open Directory, your site should appear eventually appear in AOL’s version of the Open Directory.

Be aware that Google operates its own version of the Open Directory, where sites are listed by “PageRank” popularity order. AOL has not shifted over to using this version from Google.

What does this mean for the site owner? If you are accepted to the Open Directory, then your site will appear in category listings at both Google and AOL Search. However, if you compare a particular category where you are listed at Google to the same category at AOL Search, you’ll see the sites in that category are ranked in a differently. There’s nothing you can do to correct this.

Image Results

AOL draws from Google Images for its image listings. For more about Google Images, see the Google Specialty Searches page in Search Engine Watch.

Audio/Video Results

AOL gets its AV/multimedia listings from the Singingfish search engine that it owns. The articles below provide some more background about Singingfish:

See also the Singingfish section of Search Topics at Search Engine Watch for other news that may have appeared about Singingfish since this page was updated.

Shopping Results

AOL gets its shopping results from the Pinpoint Shopping search engine that it operates. That search engine draws listings from BizRate/Shopzilla but uses AOL’s own ranking system to sort through results. The articles below provide more background about both Pinpoint and Shopzilla:

News Results

AOL says that news search results come from major wire services.

In Your Area

This section provides listings from the AOL Yellow Pages and editorial content about entertainment, events, attractions and other material drawn out of the AOL City Guides (Digital City).

Non-US Services

The information on the page above is for AOL Search in the US. AOL Search in other countries may be different, though you should find that in terms of web results, all will pull from Google in some way for editorial and paid listings.

Past Articles

Below are major articles from Search Engine Watch (or its sister publication, ClickZ) relating to this service. See also the AOL section of Search Topics in Search Engine Watch for additional coverage of this service dating from September 2004 onwards.

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