Its Time to Focus on Relevancy

  |  May 24, 2000   |  Comments

Users have complained about relevancy for years to no avail. If anything, major search engines have concentrated on lucrative e-commerce portal deals rather than improve their search functions. But that may be changing. AltaVista launched a new business unit in January to sell the company's search technology to B2B companies and e-commerce firms. Now it's focusing on user needs with Raging Search, a new high-quality index with fast, direct results, and a powerful new AltaVista directory integrating content from LookSmart and Netscape.

Users have complained about search engine relevancy for years without much action from the search engine industry. In fact, Danny Sullivan reports that the most recent NPD Search and Portal Site Study of user satisfaction shows search success rates dropping to 77 percent, an all time low since the survey began in 1997.

If anything, the major search engines have concentrated more on lucrative e-commerce portal deals than improving their search functions. Now that portal mania has settled, attention may shift to the search side of the business. For instance, AltaVista launched a new business unit in January to sell the company's search technology to B2B companies and e-commerce firms. Now they're focusing on user needs.

AltaVista engineers have developed a fantastic, high-quality index known as Raging Search; a pure web page search site that provides fast, direct results designed for "search enthusiasts." As more users become aware of the fast search advantage, you'll want to be sure to get registered in this database.

In my conversation with Rajiv Parikh, Director of Product Marketing for Search and Business Solutions, I learned a lot about search engine planning and the day-to-day challenges his PhD-heavy tech staff faced. AltaVista currently receives a whopping 200,000 page submissions per day! What's so upsetting is the fact that 95 percent of these submissions are spam.

During the design of project Noah, now known as Raging Search, AltaVista created an index that studied 1.2 billion URLs. Then it crawled 600 million of these pages to remove duplications and dead links. This left them with 350 million quality pages. Without the use of human editors, AltaVista was able to filter the junk to provide relevancy and quality.

What is a quality page? Although this is not an objective measurement, AltaVista provides an Advanced Search Tutorial for guiding you in creating a "quality page." The introduction begins with the difference between directories and search engines and continues with the details of advanced search features, along with a description of how the index was built.

The index that drives Raging Search is the same index driving AltaVista, as well as 40 other search partners worldwide using AltaVista International search services.

Raging Search looks at multi-variates; however, the two primary issues are: (1) link analysis of how many quality pages link to your site, and (2) the way the page is written, and how the terms relate to each other on the page. Experimentation and testing is ongoing, and once a particular test meets their approval, a new relevancy algorithm is born and implemented. According to Rajiv, this makes Raging Search the fastest, most relevant site for pure web page searches and an AltaVista showcase for technology innovations. I believe the Noah project was well-worth the toil and pain these technical people have had to endure over the past months. Great job!

To test the new site, AltaVista commissioned ZD Labs to run a test of a selected set of web search engines including Google, DirectHit, Fast, AltaVista, Northern Light and Yahoo. The AltaVista Web Search Report from this independent lab ranked AltaVista as the overall most relevant search site among five Internet search engines. This relevancy award demonstrates AltaVista's search strength, combining relevant information from the largest indexes on the web. AltaVista excelled in multiple word and complex multiple word queries. Over 78 percent of AltaVista queries fall within the multiple word queries, delivering the most relevant results possible to its users.

Rajiv also helped me understand some of the details regarding AltaVista's crawling habits. AltaVista crawls continuously, around the clock. It may choose where it wants to crawl based on internal criteria, and it updates monthly.

Getting Listed in Raging Search

The "Add URL" process for Raging Search is accomplished at's "Add URL" page. This process remains a very delicate operation, and due to the spam issues faced, it requires a proper follow-up to ensure your listing gets into their database.

After two to four weeks, go back and search using the URL technique. For example: If you are, type in a search for This will tell you if you are in the database. If not found, resubmit. The URL search command saves time and ensures an accurate determination of your presence in AltaVista.

Getting Listed in the New AltaVista Directory

AltaVista has formed alliances with Netscape and LookSmart to deliver what it terms "the web's largest, relevant and scalable directory." The new AltaVista directory integrates content from LookSmart and Netscape, making it perhaps the most comprehensive directory search destination on the web, with more than two-million pages.

As indicated before in this column, you need to hand-submit to directories, and it's very important to submit correctly the first time. Be careful to choose the most appropriate category because it's difficult to get a change in listing later. Hand-register through LookSmart and Netscape. It's FREE. Alta Vista updates this new directory every 30 to 40 days.

When I initially contacted AltaVista on Friday late afternoon via their "Contact Us" link, I was shocked to receive a call Monday morning from Heidi Patzer, AltaVista's public relations specialist. Heidi responded to my inquiry in less than 24 business hours! Now that's customer service!

No, I have no relatives at AltaVista (nor do I currently own any CMGI stock), but it has got me thinking...

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Paul J. Bruemmer

Paul J. Bruemmer is CEO of Web-Ignite Corporation, a search engine optimization (SEO) and positioning provider. Founded in 1995, Web-Ignite has helped promote over 15,000 Web sites and was recognized by ICONOCAST as one of the top 10 most reputable SEO firms. Services include optimization, submission, registration, positioning, monitoring, maintenance, paid-inclusion, and paid-placement management for fixed monthly fees. Recent client testimonials report search engine traffic increased from 150 to 500 percent.

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