Search Engines: What’s the Difference?

TORONTO — In a no-holds-barred session on the final day of the Search Engine Strategies conference, representatives of the three major search technologies — Yahoo, Google and Ask Jeeves — duked it out to show which crawler-based site offers the best search technology.

Despite their differences, all three said they have the same mission and essentially the same message to those seeking to improve their search engine rankings: give us relevant content and we’ll give you the most relevant results.

Yahoo Search Director of Product Management Tim Mayer began his part of the session with a presentation outlining the new Yahoo! search platform (YST). Though many of the features were announced in February it was clear that the majority of session attendees were unaware of the width and breadth of the enhanced Yahoo offering.

“For the launch we aimed to provide a superior experience to the users of Yahoo than they had been getting previous to the switch to YST,” Mayer said, noting that the size of the search engine had grown dramatically due to the new technology and that the listings will continue to sift through the YST spidering/crawling efforts.

“We think we should be able to find all of your content just by following links,” Mayer said.

Just in case Yahoo! doesn’t crawl a site on its own, it has now re-instated the Add URL free function that allows users to submit a site for inclusion in the index. Mayer said the Yahoo index will also continue to grow via the Yahoo Deep Web Initiative that aims to index public domain information from public libraries and various government agencies.

According to Mayer, the critical factors in how YST indexes a site are based on four criteria: ranking, comprehensiveness, freshness and presentation. Among the large array of new features that Mayer presented are RSS feeds, flight tracker results, sports scores, smart view and integrated search within Yahoo Messenger platform.

“If you look at a lot of the features we’re launching, we’ve got the answers and the technology to provide users exactly what they’re looking for,” Mayer said. “Yahoo is in a unique position as we have over 100 million registered users so we already have a lot of user data, we know a lot about our users and we can use that to increase the relevance of our search result.”

Though clearly the search engine race has of late has been dominated by Google and Yahoo, Ask Jeeves, which is powered by TEOMA technology, wants to be perceived as the engine that provides the most relevant results.

“I don’t want to be outdone by Yahoo so I’ll have to come up with something good. The gloves are off,” Micahel Palka, director of search at Ask Jeeves told the capacity audience. “TEOMA yields more relevant results and that’s what search is all about.”

According to Nielsen/NetRatings, TEOMA search technology powers 25 percent of all web searches. Palka said what’s unique about TEOMA is its ranking system called Subject Specific Popularity. The system is based on social networking theory and the notion that communities are formed around certain subjects.

“Looking at those communities and seeing how they’re built — identifying experts in those communities — that’s really going to provide expert validation and give the user the most relevant information as opposed to information that may be linked to today’s most popular sites,” Palka said.

Current industry leader Google measures and indexes pages based on Page Rank. Jen Fitzpatrick, director of engineering at Google, explained that Page Rank is a rating of how important a page is relative to the rest of the Web.

Google also combines Page Rank with text analysis to come up with the most relevant result for a particular site. There are over 100 different factors that Google’s algorithm considers when doing text analysis to consider appropriate relevance to a particular search.

“The most important thing that you can do for the perspective of search engines, or at least Google, is to really look at building sites that have appropriate relevant content for your users. If you’re focusing on that, that’s well over half the battle,” Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald added, “The central issues is how do you direct users to the best possible page that has the content they’re looking for.”

The Search Engine Strategies show is produced by Jupitermedia, parent company of this Web site.

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