Halloween this year brought, along with the usual candy hangover, the launch of a much anticipated (by some, anyway) new search engine called Blekko, which has been in the works for several years. To compete with market leader Google and even Bing, any new search engine really needs to stand out, and Blekko sports a new concept: slashtag searching.
The idea is that you can follow any search with a slashtag that acts as a filter to narrow the scope of your results. For example, say you want to search for information about stars—as in the astronomical bodies, not the shape or famous people. You could restrict your results by searching for "stars /science"—that's the theory anyway. Nicely, when you type in "stars /" you get autocomplete suggestions for potentially related slashtags:
The fact that "/seo" is an option suggests that Blekko is specifically targeting the search community with this product. What else is different about Blekko? A lot, at first glance:
- The results appear to be hand-edited
- There are 19-20 results per page
- You can order results by relevance or by date
- You can "follow" a slashtag by logging in
- You can create your own slashtags (also requires a login)
- Each result has a "links" link that sends you to a list of backlinks for that result
- The "SEO" link shows you information about that result including number and geographic distribution of inbound links
Again, it seems that Blekko set out to create an SEO tool as much as a search engine for the general public. And it's not as intuitive as Google or Bing, so non-techy people will probably shy away from it (or for that matter, never hear about it in the first place). CEO Rich Skrenta told the New York Times that "The goal is to clean up Web search and get all the spam out of it." Aren't SEOs the ones who are always complaining about spam in search results? (Spam is anything that ranks above you.) In addition, he says they're not trying to be a Google killer, which would require targeting everybody—they're "cool with being number three."
On Search Engine Land, Danny Sullivan illustrates how you can use the slashtag "/bees" to get only bee-related results for "honey" (and not, say, the 2003 movie or the song "Honey Honey"). I'm not sure this is a great example since you could apply the same filter in Google just by adding the word "bees" (or "food") to your search. The example Blekko gives on its home page is "global warming /liberal"—a little more interesting since liberal sources may not actually use the word liberal. This would require that hand editing.
Sullivan also says that "Blekko's ultimate strength" is "the ease [with] which specialty search engines can be made" (thanks to the custom slashtags and an API). But is this enough for it to find an audience? (For more details on how to use Blekko, check out Danny's July post "New Search Engine Lets You 'Spin' the Web" and Jessica Lee's "Blekko for Dummies" post.)
Vanessa Fox did a quick review of Blekko's SEO features. She notes that Blekko's "hostrank" score is a little nebulous: "Other than assuming that a higher number is better, I'm not sure what goes into the scoring or what the scale is." She says that Blekko's competitive link data is "of most interest to site owners," but calls the data confusing—for example "the count provided from clicking link doesn't match the count shown on the inbound links tab." And the detailed rank stats are "even more confusing," with documentation nowhere to be found. Fox also felt a bit "fatigued" by the way data was spread across multiple pages. Overall, the impression I got was that Blekko potentially offers some really interesting data, but it's not presented in the most usable way. It looks like they're going to have to up the intuitive factor if they want adoption even among SEO geeks.
Pierre Far of Ekstreme.com calls Blekko an "awesome new free SEO tool" and says that offering SEO tools as part of the search engine "is a genius marketing strategy" because "getting SEOs to talk about them and use them is a great way to get early traction." I agree that Blekko is looking for buy-in from site owners, but doesn't any new search engine get SEOs to talk?
In yet another post from Search Engine Land, Greg Sterling says that Blekko holds its own against Google, but that Google is "generally better in ways that matter to mainstream users." He notes that Google's universal search, for instance, has become a staple for most users.
Andy Beal also thinks Blekko faces an uphill battle. He says the search engine's biggest challenge is overcoming complexity: A, you need a tutorial to see how to use it, and B, people won't want to bother with slashtags once they learn how to use them. As he puts it, people "just want to enter their search query and go."
John C. Dvorak at PC Mag says it's "thebest out-of-the-chute new engine I've seen in the last 10 years," mostly noting the quality of results for his own vanity search. However, he doesn't have anything to say about Blekko's main distinguishing feature, the slashtags.
CNET's Rafe Needleman thinks the concept is clever and that it's got "great potential for researchers, librarians, journalists, or anyone who's willing to put some work [emphasis mine] into how their search engine functions in order to get better results." Again, it looks like Blekko is targeting specialists—not the average, lazy Internet user.
Henry Blodget of Business Insider says "Sorry, Blekko Is Doomed." He focuses on Blekko's potential appeal to "normal people," which is minimal: "Normal people haven't the faintest idea what 'slashtags' are or why they would ever want to use them. A Blekko proponent in our office says that people don't have to know what slashtags are to use Blekko, but the fact that the company's slogan is 'slash the web' is a bad sign. It would be like Google talking about Boolean logic."
According to Skrenta himself, there are a number of things you can do in Blekko that you can't do in Google. He tells TechCrunch about three:
- Searching for links to yourself by time
- Searching for sites in a Google Ad network through an AdSense ID
- Searching for coverage of a certain topic over a certain period of time by a certain media sector
In an interview with Aaron Wall, Skrenta says that "Search must serve an editorial function" and points out that spam is in the eye of the beholder: "That's why we let users develop their own /spam filters." This exhibits a lot of trust in the user to define their own environment. I was surprised, however, that Skrenta compared SEOs to pornographers and said that "aggressive SEO can go over the line." Is he targeting us or not?
Have you tried it out yet? What do you think? Personally, I can see using Blekko occasionally as an SEO tool and in rare use cases, but I won't be making it my default search engine. (By the way, what is it with search engines and stoopid names? "Blekko" sounds like slang for puking while drunk.)
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