Popularity Doesn’t Always Equal Usefulness (or Importance) of a Search Tool

Some numbers from Hitwise were released the other day about the traffic smaller web engines tools have been getting some press attention.

The actual numbers aren’t a big surprise. Far from it.

Collectively, five alternative search engines — Vivisimo.com, Clusty.com, a9.com, Alltheweb.com and Snap.com — claimed only one-tenth of a percent of total visits to search engines and directories during that week, Hitwise found.

AllTheWeb gets little attention these days. Yahoo currently uses it as a testbed for algorithm changes and its own web database and many of its powerful advanced search features went away several months ago.

Clusty and Snap had launched just a few weeks before the sample was taken. Perhaps an issue but it’s not worth dwelling on.

I was happy to see the Hitwise VP of Research say:

The market share of these search sites might be small, but it’s important to note that Google itself was in such a position not too many years ago…The challenge for smaller players that want to become mainstream search portals is to gain mindshare and ultimately deliver the most relevant search results.

First, he’s on target with these points. His comments about Google having a small market share just a few years ago will keep the developers developing. However,gaining mindshare might be just as big of a challenge these days. In this arena, Google is just so damn good.

Second, when it comes to general web engines like Google and Yahoo it’s important to have a variety of crawls and relevancy algorithms out there. Danny has referred to this as unique “voices.” Jux2 clearly illustrates that search engine overlap isn’t as great as many would think. Snap.com is using the Gigablast database. Ask Jeeves/Teoma have their own crawl and MSN is currently previewing their own database. When you add in Google and Yahoo that’s five large web indexes. The more the better!

Finally, from the searcher perspective, let’s don’t focus on the numbers. Because a general web engine or a vertical doesn’t receive the traffic (or attention) that Google or Yahoo get, doesn’t mean the resources (the ones with less traffic) aren’t worthy usage. The search tools mentioned in the survey and MANY others not only offer search capabilities that the two big guys don’t offer (clustering and metasearch from Clusty, dynamic search refinement from Snap.com) but can also allow the searcher to access a smaller, more “focused” portion of the web and potentially receive more precise results in a simple and prompt manner. As general web engines grow larger and with typical searcher habits not changing much, searchers will find focused, specialized, and niche tools even more useful.

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