Dogpile Sports a Fetching New Look

Meta search engine Dogpile received a major upgrade today, offering a slick new interface and some significant performance enhancements.

Dogpile is arguably the most popular meta search engine, serving up results from search including Google, Yahoo, AltaVista, Ask Jeeves and a number of others. The engine is one of four meta search properties operated by InfoSpace (the others are Metacrawler, Webcrawler and Excite).

While all of InfoSpace’s meta search engines share the same underlying technology, each has its own unique look and feel. Dogpile is considered the flagship property by the company, and is designed primarily for a general consumer audience.

The changes to Dogpile are both cosmetic and structural. The interface has been streamlined, eliminating clutter and making it easier to use the engine’s numerous search functions. There are also some new customization and advanced search features, which I’ll get to in a moment.

By far, the most significant changes are in the presentation of search results. Two changes, in particular, are noteworthy.

The first is that Dogpile has licensed Vivisimo’s clustering technology, and uses it to group results by category in addition to providing standard search results. I’ve been a longtime fan of Vivisimo, and the addition of its clustering technology to Dogpile results is an exceptionally useful addition.

Clustering occurs on the fly, and is specific to your query. In effect, it’s a suggestion tool that groups results into narrower, more helpful categories.

For example, a simple query like “sony” produces a variety of standard results. But the clustered results offer more specific categories, such as music, digital cameras, VAIO computers and so on, making it easy to drill down with a single click to much more relevant results.

In testing the new interface, “74% said clustering provided a better experience,” said Leslie Grandy, vice president, product management for InfoSpace.

The second notable change to results is that all sponsored listings are clearly labeled — not just as a group, but at the bottom of each individual listing. This removes all of the ambiguity about whether results were purchased by advertisers or determined by organic search algorithms.

Search Engine Watch has been sharply critical of InfoSpace in the past for blurring the distinction between sponsored and natural search results. With this new approach to labeling results, Dogpile has set a commendable new standard for disclosure that should raise the bar for the rest of the industry.

Other changes to results are less significant, but still helpful. Previously, Dogpile results were grouped by source — you’d see ten results from Google, then ten from Overture, and so on. If you’ve used Dogpile before, you’ll still see results grouped this way.

New users, however, will see results grouped by relevance. It’s easy to change formats, simply by clicking radio buttons at the top of result pages to “view by relevance” or “view by search engine.”

The presentation of results has been subtly enhanced for easier scanning. Web page titles appear in boldface, and the line length of descriptions is shorter.

The search form interface has also changed. The query box is larger and more prominent, and radio buttons now let you choose to search web pages, images, audio, multimedia, news and shopping, replacing a drop-down menu next to the search form.

The new design removes InfoSpace white pages and yellow pages from the main search page, and makes them accessible through tabs above the main search form. “Favorite Fetches” and “Web Resources” have been moved to the bottom of the page. The home page is now also ad-free.

While these interface enhancements are really good, there are also some changes that have occurred under the hood that are worth mentioning. In addition to a new spell check feature, Dogpile’s advanced search and preference selections have been upgraded.

The advanced search page lets you apply “all,” “any,” “none” or “exact phrase” limiters to keywords. Dogpile now also supports full Boolean search operators, though it is important to note these only work from the advanced search page.

Other advanced search options include restricting results by last page update, a domain filter, an adult filter, language selection, and a option to display results by relevance or grouped from each search engine.

With all of these advanced features, results are only returned from Dogpile search partners that support the features you select.

About the only downside to the new Dogpile is that you can no longer choose which search engines return results. Previously, you could select your preferred engines, excluding all commercial (or non-commercial) search providers, for example, from your meta search results.

This change wasn’t made for business reasons, according to InfoSpace’s Grandy. “The reason was that we had not solved the usability problems with preferences,” said Grandy. “It isn’t to say that it’s going to be permanently gone. We haven’t figured out how to handle the problem.”

Dogpile Guaranteed Inclusion Program

Dogpile’s paid inclusion program offers an interesting option for potentially increasing traffic to web sites.

The program guarantees inclusion in InfoSpace indexes used by Dogpile, Metacrawler, Webcrawler, as well as partners Verizion, ABC, Cablevision, Fox and NBC. For an extra fee, you can also pay to be included in Excite results.

The program is a co-branded offering managed by Ah-Ha. If you’re already listed with Ah-Ha, there’s no need to sign up for the Dogpile program, unless you want to appear in Excite results.

It’s a straightforward process. You submit your site’s URLs to Dogpile, which crawls them and adds the pages to its search index within 72 hours. URLs are automatically recrawled and the index is refreshed every 48 hours.

The cost is reasonable when compared to other paid inclusion programs offered by Overture, Inktomi and so on. InfoSpace charges an annual fee of $49.95 per URL for inclusion in its search partner network, with an additional $24.98 for Excite search, or $74.93 for both.

The program offers price breaks for multiple URL inclusion. Listing 2-10 pages costs $99.95 per year; up to 50, $199.95, up to 100, $249.95 and up to 500, $399.95.

Additional services for the guaranteed inclusion program include results tracking, at $99.95 per year, which lets you track the number of customers who visit your Web site from your Guaranteed Search Inclusion listings. You also have the option to customize the titles and descriptions for your listings for $89.95 per year. Advanced reporting, which is simply tracking clicks for specific keywords, is available for $79.95 per year.

Since Dogpile already includes results from partners with paid inclusion programs, such as Overture and Inktomi, is there value in participating in the Dogpile program as well? That depends on your own situation. By being part of the InfoSpace network of partners, your site will potentially gain more visibility.

There’s also a potential benefit that’s a side-effect of Dogpile’s own relevance calculations. One factor in calculating relevance is the number of places a result occurs, with URLs appearing more frequently getting a certain degree of boosting.

This isn’t explicit boosting by InfoSpace of its paid inclusion content, but rather a natural way of taking advantage of one aspect of meta search relevance algorithms.

For more information, visit Dogpile’s Guaranteed Search Inclusion page.

In all, the new enhancements to Dogpile are welcome improvements to a useful search engine that recently admitted it had lost its way for a while. Kudos to the team at InfoSpace for offering a service that nicely balances the business needs of the company with providing a top-notch search experience for its users.

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