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BACK TO BASICS: SES Wrap Up: Vertical Search

BACK TO BASICS: SES Wrap Up: Vertical Search

by: Susan Esparza, March 2005

Feeds and News search

Mark Fletcher of Bloglines was the first up. He broke the service down into four categories: Search, Subscribe, Publish and Share. Bloglines search looks through 600,000 feeds for updates on an hourly basis. Bloglines will save searches and allow what Mark called "searching into the future". Essentially it allows you to have a feed on your search, getting an update every time something new comes up.

Subscribing allows you to organize feeds into folders, track updates and track the number of subscribers. Bloglines will suggest more feeds based on the user's interests, which is a great tool for finding new blogs and sources that might otherwise be missed.

All Bloglines users have their own blogs which they can publish their thoughts and feed them out through the Bloglines software. Among other things, this allows users to share favorite blogs/articles, etc. Sharing is essential to the nature of feeds as it increases the word of mouth.

Jim Pitko of Moreover gave a brief introduction to his company and services.

Moreover was founded in 1998. It is not an end user aggregation service like Bloglines, instead Moreover serves as a behind the scenes supplier for news services. Moreover provides royalty free aggregation.

Scott Rafer of Feedster was up next. Feedster tracks 5.3 million feeds in hundreds of categories. Knowing the volume of the feeds and the readership makes the audience for those feeds closely tracked and target-able.

Like Bloglines, Feedster allows users to subscribe to a search. Users can also can get a calendar of feeds. Select by the day, week or month to see what feeds were updated in a given time period. Rafer also introduced the concept of advertising with RSS feeds, either on page or in the feed itself.

Chris Tolles of Topix.net says the web is really two webs: the Reference Web vs. the Incremental Web.

The Reference Web is static and determines relevance from link analysis. The Incremental web is chronologically ordered and doesn't rely so much on links. Topix attempts to combine both to deliver the most relevant news.

Topix capitalizes on the use of algorithms in news search to deliver the most up to date and expert information upon a search. Topix monitors HTML based web sites as well as the RSS driven content that other news engines rely on.

Jeremy Zawodny from Yahoo and a blogger himself had this to say:

RSS drives traffic. Bloggers love RSS and bloggers link to things they like. Link pop increases perceived relevance which increases ranking in the reference web. One of the other panelists pointed out that Yahoo news is the most used news site, above CNN and Google News.

Press Releases through Search Engines

Greg Jarboe defined the purpose of the panel early on: you can and should optimize press releases. He emphasized what we already know-Yahoo and Google rely on algorithms to index their news. You have to learn to pitch to that algo.

The advantage of news search is simple, people find you when they are looking for you. Email can become intrusive if the reader doesn't want to be bothered about a certain topic right at that moment. With search, they find the information they want when they want to know about it. You're improving conversions because they're already looking for you when they find you.

Journalists use the internet for research and Jarboe cited a report that indicated about 73% of them are looking for press releases. In some cases, news will reprint press releases verbatim so having something to say is worth the effort.

The rules for press releases are the same as optimizing a website. The first step is to pick good keywords. The case study that Jarboe used focused on the initial decision of the company to use a highly active keyword. Unfortunately, while the keyword was related it was not the proper market. Use of a synonym made the press release more targeted and ultimately improved conversions.

He also made sure to point out that the purpose of a press release is not to increase rankings; it is to drive traffic. So long as you're still showing up you're still news.

Nan Dawkins of RedBoots Consulting stepped up to the podium and set out two points right away. RSS is critical to success and the motto of the Internet is 'adapt or die.'

Most people assume RSS means blogs but that is a narrow definition. RSS is useful for measuring the growth of a story. The more information you feed out the more coverage you get. Make it easy for people to add feeds. Don't expect the average user to know what to do with a page of code; give them step by step instructions and make it as simple as possible. You must also promote your feed, not just let it lie fallow and hope that someone picks it up. There are many ping servers that you can use to let people know when you've updated.

Most importantly, make sure you have something to say. Don't update with garbage. If you're going to send something out, it must be worthwhile and informative content.

Meet the Local Search Engines

Wednesday's session was moderated by Rebecca Lieb of ClickZ. Representatives from five local search engines were present: Paul Levine of Yahoo, Ryan Massie from AskJeeves, Dariusz Paczuski with AOL, Google's Marissa Mayer and Barnaby Dorfman from Amazon/A9.

Local search has been growing in leaps and bounds and the web continues its trend toward personalization. Integration of a broad range of features, smarter parsing of queries and the ability to "read the users' minds" are common goals for all the local engines that presented.

First on the podium was Paul Levine of Yahoo. He gave Yahoo's mission as being the first place consumers go to find, use, share and expand all local content. For that reason, they strive to have many options by which those goals can be accomplished. The model is not confined simply to business and service entries. Local listing includes all areas including weather and traffic reports. Clickable technology, such as the ability to send a number directly to mobile device from the webpage, is a priority. Local listings are open to merchant submitted content and submission to the local index is free.

From the oldest to the youngest, Dariusz Paczuski spoke for the one-week-old AOL Local Search. He quickly pointed out that via Digital Cities and AOL City Guide, AOL has actually been in the local search arena for about 10 years and has been providing maps and movie listings with MapQuest and MovieFone for the last five years. AOL Local combines all the previous services to offer to a wider audience. Before now, AOL was focused on its "walled garden" which provided them with a great many opportunities to target content.

Paczuski brought an interesting set of statistics with him. Approximately 20% of all searches are local. About 7% are explicitly local, providing a state, city name or zip code while 6% are implicitly local, seeking things that are usually local in nature (restaurants, plumbers) and another 6% are potentially local, queries that could be seeking a local store or the actual .com address.

AOL Local uses Google for sponsored links and Ingenio for Pay per Call technology. They do not have separate paid and free indexes.

Another new player in the local game is A9, Amazon's search engine. Barnaby Dorfman presented. Their yellow pages search was launched 27 January 2005 making it only a few weeks older than AOL. Like the other local engines, information can be user submitted. Amazon seeks to have a full profile of every business in their pages. A9's Yellow Pages is imbedded in the familiar Amazon template and has the very interesting Block View feature, allowing a user to actually view the location of the business before leaving home.

After A9 was AskJeeves. Ryan Massie from AskJeeves Local also brought some statistics to the session. According to their analysis 10-15% of queries contain a local modifier. They create a distinction in the queries, saying that there are two challenges to local search. First is defining user intent. A user searching for restaurant in New York wants a different kind of results than a user seeking weather in San Francisco. One requires a list of resources, the other calls for factual information. The second challenge is creating an index for local purposes. In local search, volume is less important than freshness and comprehensiveness. A large outdated index is less useful than a small up-to-the-minute one.

Ask Jeeves uses City Search content for their organic local queries and Google Adwords for local queries from the main page. From their local page, City Search content and ads are served.

Marissa Mayer presented last for Google. Google's Local search saw more searches than Froogle during the month of December without being linked from the homepage. In response, Local is now a link on the front page.

She used her quest for a cupcake to outline Google Local's feature list. Google Local has two fields: what and where. Results are integrated with Google Maps and they're working on adding Keyhole technology as well. Maps search box is modal.

In the Q and A, Bruce Clay's new local edition of the Search Engine Relationship Chart® was mentioned. Copies were given out at the BC booth and are available in .pdf on the Bruce Clay site.