Popularity Engines Rev Up Your Search
METAGUIDE - Searching for a Better Way #1 - Popularity Engines
Direct Hit bills itself as a "popularity engine."
results are ranked according to a formula which supposedly measures
how many users click on a certain site for a given search term.
For example, the most popular site for the search term "strange
carrot" would come up first in the rankings. This is different from
the usual procedure on search engines like Excite, which rank sites
based not on popularity but rather on a keyword relevance score.
Direct Hit also seeks to take into account the length of time users
stay on the site after they click on it. Apparently, Direct Hit
follows you around!
I say "supposedly"
and "apparently" because, although the idea here is fascinating,
Direct Hit's technology doesn't seem to be entirely functional
at this stage. A lot of the "same old garbage" (outdated links
that have been ranking high on Inktomi-driven search engines for
ages) seems to come up under a lot of search terms, so one
tends to question if many of the sites in Direct Hit's current
rankings are genuinely popular.
to change in the future. The company was recently acquired by Ask
Jeeves for $507 million in stock. Direct Hit is becoming an
important player for webmasters to take account of, because several
major companies, such as Go2Net and ZDNet, have started to build
its popularity ranking into their services. As Direct Hit is used
more frequently, and as the company works to improve the technology, the
results should become more reliable.
engines have enormous potential to help us sort through Internet
clutter. For many users, they may act as a proxy for relevance.
Why? If users are lingering on a site which comes up in
a search engine result for a certain search term, it's safe to say
that they're finding it relevant, or at least compelling.
if Direct Hit refers them to a mediocre site, they may still
linger because they're not aware of what else is out there. Direct
Hit could potentially create self-perpetuating high rankings for
mediocre sites which just happened to rank on the first page
in the early days. A remedy would be to cross Direct Hit technology
with a selective human-edited directory, such as Looksmart, About.com,
Suite 101, or other "Best Of the Web" rankings. The company
claims to have something called a "directory engine". With further
development and more usage, the goal of crossing a sophisticated
popularity engine with specialized or human-edited directories is
But what of
other popularity rating services? After all, various companies offer
rankings of the most popular web sites, compiled through a variety
of methodologies. Some, like WebSideStory, collect detailed information
about surfing habits on behalf of webmasters. Their "Hitbox" product
and their "popularity engine" Yep.com
both have the potential to track site popularity in a
manner similar to Direct Hit, finding out which sites for given
search terms are most popular with users. The Hitbox is favored
by mostly smaller webmasters, so its data may be useful for finding
the best or most popular sites in certain categories which may nonetheless
be off the radar screens of the larger stats gathering services.
If you're in acquisition mode, finding the best-loved "little guys"
was never easier...provided your quarry has the Hitbox installed.
an industrial-strength version of Yep.com. Users of the Alexa toolbar
can look at vital site info, including the number of Alexa visits,
which may offer a rough guide to a site's popularity. Alexa, too,
is a popularity engine, and many users of the toolbar voluntarily
keep it switched on, possibly offering insight into surfing patterns.
one wonders if the larger site ranking services like Media Metrix,
PC Data Online, Nielsen Netratings, 100Hot.com, and so on, could
be expanded or somehow crossed with Direct Hit-style technology
to provide us with greater insight into which sites are
most compelling and popular with users searching for given search
terms. Or will they only sell this information to subscribers? We
do know that such consultants can offer a ton of data on surfing
habits; they track site stickiness and all the rest. But to link
such data to search terms would be a real feat.
not forget Google and its
secretive algorithm for measuring link popularity. Sites for given
search terms which are linked by other reputable sites (measured
by how many sites link to them, in a never-ending cycle of reputation
measurement) are given the highest rankings.
These are clearly
early days for the use of popularity ranking to assess the relevance
of particular web sites to particular search terms. If the
technology evolves far enough, we can look forward to the day when
the best advice for those seeking higher search engine rankings
will be: "build a wonderful site that people like."
featured in this article
Hit - http://www.directhit.com
Ask Jeeves - http://www.ask.com
WebSideStory - http://www.websidestory.com
Yep.com - http://www.yep.com
Alexa - http://www.alexa.com
Google - http://www.google.com
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