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Search Engines Defined

When used effectively and combined with other marketing activities, search engines can be quite powerful. So to begin, let's take a look at search engines in general and how they work. There are four different types.

1) Search Engine

This type of directory uses an application-powered retrieval and indexing system (called "spider," since it "crawls" entire sites to index each page it finds). But the word "engine" signifies that the search-and-retrieval process is automated. Inktomi (at http://www.inktomi.com//) once used to be the web's largest -- powering Hotbot, Yahoo and Canada.com -- but is now overshadowed by the web's newest Goliath: Google (for more, see http://www.searchenginewatch.com/reports/sizes.html). In fact, Yahoo, which used to use the Inktomi engine as its backbone, has recently converted to Google as a result (see http://www.pcworld.com/pcwtoday/article/0,1510,17444,00.html).

(For a comprehensive listing of general and country-specific search engines, visit http://www.searchengines.com/.)

2) Directory Engine

All search engines are directories. But not all directories are search engines. What is often referred to as a "directory" is one reviewed and catalogued by human editors (like Yahoo, NBCi, LookSmart and dmoz.org). Human-compiled directories are often mistakenly confused with the traditional search engine. Dmoz.org, the largest (in terms of number of editors), fuels Netscape, AOL and HotBot.

(For a listing of search engines and directories, including specialized ones, see http://www.searchengineguide.com//.)

3) Portal Engine

The word "portal" implies a search engine that combines other types of applications for more sophisticated uses, such as discussion boards like http://www.delphi.com/, shopping and comparison tools like http://www.amazon.com/, advanced search tools like http://www.ask.com/ or http://www.askme.com/, or ranking tools like http://www.goto.com/. (Because of Goto's success, many new pay-for-ranking engines are popularizing the web, like http://www.findwhat.com/, http://www.7search.com/, http://www.simplesearch.com/ and http://www.rocketlinks.com/.)

(For a complete listing of all the pay-per-click search engines, visit http://www.payperclicksearchengines.com/.)

4) Meta Engine

A "meta" search engine is one that has no individual engine powering it but uses others for displaying its results. Very often, these results come from a combination of engines in order to provide search results from multiple directories simultaneously. Also, beyond applications (or "spiders") that crawl several engines at once, some of these use additional applications to compare and rank results based on the level of relevancy given by the larger search engines. Some of the most notable are http://www.37.com/, http://www.ezcrawl.com/, http://www.metacrawl.com/, http://www.metacrawler.com/, http://www.megaspider.com/ and http://www.superseek.com/.

(For a complete listing of all the meta search engines on the Internet, visit http://www.metasearchengines.com/.)

Search engines may be tools for creating traffic but they are the trickiest. For example, 85% of people using search engines leave after the firs t3 search result pages given. Unless a site is located in the top 10 to 30 listings, search engines will never be helpful: Again, the more generic the keyword, the more competition (and hard work) you will have. Try this: Search for the word "sports" on AltaVista.com. How many results did it offer? If you look at the bottom, in tiny text, you'll see that it's 48,723,443. That's nearly 50 million results!

So the secret to obtaining optimal search engine ranking is through better, more audience-targeted keywords ... No more, no less. (Note that I used the word "optimal" here and not "top." Always keep in mind that webpage optimization is hard, persistent work ­- there is no rock-solid way of doing it that works all the time. Search engines change sporadically and constantly, not only with regard to rankings but also in terms of ranking criteria, index methodology and maintenance.)

But for now, realize that keyword-rich content, with better, more targeted keywords, will generate an abundant source of quality traffic to your site. For more information on search engines, see http://www.searchenginewatch.com/. An excellent article on search engine positioning, including "The Seven Habits of Effective Website Ranking," can be read at:

http://www.infoworld.com/articles/mt/xml/00/06/12/000612mtsearch.xml

In conclusion, realize that the Pareto Principle applies to search engines too (also called the "80:20 Rule"). Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist and sociologist (circa 1848-1923) studied the distribution of wealth in a variety of countries. He discovered a common phenomenon: About 80% of the wealth in most countries was controlled by a predictable and consistent minority (about 20% of the people). Since then, his rule has been applied to other fields -- such as in management (i.e., 80% of the results are produced by 20% of the workforce).

This rule can be applied to all things. In other words, the minority of input produces the majority of results. But in terms of search engines, it means that 20% of your efforts will yield 80% of your results. And it also means that 80% of your traffic will stem from only a minority of all search engines. Therefore, keep in mind that only a small handful of search engine tactics, as well as a small handful of search engines , are worth your consideration.