Ann Arbor Business to Business
Small Business and the Internet

Where is Everything?

August 1999

By Mike Gould

As comic Steven Wright summed it up: "You can't have everything, where would you put it?"

On the Web, that's where. But once it's there, how do you find it? You can click on the "Search" button on your browser, which will access one of several search engines (online programs dedicated to finding stuff - Yahoo, Alta Vista, Lycos, Hotbot, etc.) on the web, but is everything listed in any given engine? Well, no.

Web Directories not keeping up
Recent articles in the popular press have noted that the major directories and search engines are way behind in listing recent additions to the WWW. Figures bandied about by the scientific journal Nature reveal that the best of the lot (Northern Light - http://www.northernlight.com/) indexes only about 16% of the searchable web. This is not too surprising, what with the number of new websites doubling every 9 minutes or so. (I'm kidding, but not by much.) The researcher in the Nature study estimated the number of current pages available at 800 million in February, up from 320 million 15 months previously. He also calculated that it takes 6 months for a new page to be available in an average search engine's listings.

Where is Everybody?
This is why the fancy new web site you just paid big bucks for still isn't appearing at Yahoo. Not only are you not in the top 10 listings for your category, you aren't there at all. Here's the scenario: You have paid your web person to list you in the major directories; he or she then visited all the majors (or hired a company to do it) and filled out the forms for being listed. You get a polite email from the directory thanking you for signing up and promising a listing Real Soon Now (a technical term for "As Soon As We Get Around To It"). And then you wait, twiddling your virtual thumbs, as you anticipate a flood of web customers visiting your CoolThingies_R_Us.com site, eager to buy lots of CoolThingies. And they don't come. Has the online market for CoolThingies dried up? Nope, customers just don't know who or where you are.

Making Money the Old Fashioned Way (On the Web)
What to do? Frequent readers of this column (both of you) will remember previous articles talking about how Web sales should be integrated into the rest of your marketing. You put your web address (URL) on all your other ads (print media, TV, radio, whatever) so that everyone who sees anything about your company also knows how to reach you on the WWW.

This can be extended to the WWW itself; it isn't just the search engines that need to know about you. You also need to be listed in trade organizations, local Chambers of Commerce, and maybe even with the vendors you buy your stock from. See if the CoolThingies manufacturer has a site listing local retailers; if so, make sure you are listed there. Maybe the manufacturer's site was registered 6 months ago and is now featured in the Alta Vista search results; a CoolThingie customer finds them, finds you, and gives you their money. Life is good.

Search tips - Boolah Boolah Boolean
Take some time to read the instructions at your favorite search engine; more TechTalk: RTFM (Read the, um, Funny Manual). When looking for "funny wombats" you want to be looking for phrases containing both "funny" and "wombats", otherwise, you get every listing for "funny", followed by every listing for "wombats". (More TechnoTrivia: this is known as a Boolean search criteria: "And" vs. "Or" - you want "And".) Some engines assume "Or" ("Find me all the listings that contain funny or all the listings that contain wombats"), leading to endless lists of folks like Steven Wright instead of Willy the Wombat. Some engines want you to put multiword searches in quotes ("Funny Wombats") in order to do the "And" thing. RTFM.

Sherlock
In last month's episode I encouraged everyone to rush out and get a Macintosh computer to protect you from the next Wintel Hell Virus; here's another reason: the new Mac operating system (8.5 and above) contains the Sherlock search engine. Sherlock queries all the other search engines, and returns the results as an easy-to-browse listing, RANKING THE RESULTS. Yes, somehow Sherlock knows what you are looking for and makes a best possible guess as to which sites contain the data you are looking for. Magic and fun.

A Possible New Solution This segues neatly into an article in the June 1999 issue of Scientific American magazine, which describes a possible fix. Available online
(http://www.sciam.com/1999/0699issue/0699raghavan.html), the article describes an experimental search engine called Clever, under development at IBM. Clever will index the web based on a citation model; searching on a given topic will find sites that are referred to from other sites, ranking them by the number of citations. The mass of new sites will still pose a problem for keeping up, but at least search results will more closely match what you are really looking for. (Sort of like what Sherlock does now).

For a more comprehensive look at search engines, aim your browser at:

http://www.searchenginewatch.com/

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