blekko - the little search engine that might

I found out about blekko, a new search engine in limited beta, at SMX East a couple of weeks ago. In addition to picking up a bit of wearable schwag from them, I also took home a login account, though I have just recently had a chance to start experimenting with it. My initial reaction was to be not so excited. "Who needs another search engine?" Even after listening to the guys in the blekko expo booth as well as hearing their representative participate in a search discussion panel along with representatives from bing and Google, I wasn't motivated to immediately start playing with their new service.

The problem they face is that there does not seem to be a large volume of those dissatisified with the state of search. On the contrary, consolidation of search has occurred with the remaining large players, Google and bing, still working on innovative features. Ok, "instant" may not be revolutionary, or even helpful in some case, and I don't use bing enough to know if they are doing anything innovative, but I still have not recently suffered from the inability to find utility from the SERPs that I see.

All of that said, they are worth checking out for some novel features - some of which I would suspect that Google or Microsoft could implement rather quickly, and others that I doubt we'll ever see from a major player. So let's look at those:

Slashtags

So blekko's claim to fame is primarily their unique (?) slashtag concept. Slashtags are search modifiers that provide useful filters. They use the form "search phrase /slashtag". There are roughly* three types of preexisting slashtags:

Built-in slashtags that filter within the Blekko index These slashtags enable content filtering like /noporn to eliminate adult content. There are tags to limit the search results by source like results from blogs, from news sites, and from forums.

  • /people
  • /news
  • /forums
  • /rank
  • /date
  • /noporn
  • ... more

Content box slashtags that act like a widget These slashtags are useful for looking up calendar dates, getting word definition, maps, stock pricing, traffic conditions, and weather. Google does offer some of this. However the blekko approach enables you to specifically fetch what you want instead of just guessing.

  • /calenda
  • r
  • /define
  • /map
  • /stock
  • /traffic
  • /weather
  • ... more

Slash tags that utilize third party APIs for streamlined searching These tags enable dedicated searching of sites like Amazon, flickr, youtube and twitter. They also allow for comparison search results between bing and yahoo; though with the new Microsoft-Yahoo relationship, only Bing would be needed. There is also a /shop slashtag for fetching price comparisons.

  • /amazon
  • /bing
  • /flickr
  • /shop
  • /twitter
  • /yahoo
  • /youtube
  • ... more

*I said "roughly" as the separation between these categories is sort of fuzzy. It does help illustrate the idea of what the tags can do for you even if it isn't perfect.

Slashtags could definitely be helpful as long as the quality of the blekko results are comparable or better than competitors. Search quality is, after all, the core of the value in a search engine's offerings. Without it, everything else is a gimmick.

Though, of the gimmicks worth having, from a search optimizer's perspective at least, the next feature is remarkably nice:

SEO Information

Google and bing are necessarily coy with how they determine search ranking for any given search phrase. They constantly battle against hordes of purveyors of all sorts of masculine enhancements as well as all sorts of novelties - and, actually, everything else. Anything that offers, or credibly pretends to offer insight into the search algorithms is going to be exploited and used to death. So search engines have to reveal enough to webmasters to promote search quality, but not so much as to allow abuse. blekko, however, is arguing for transparency. With it each search result, one has quick links to:
  • linking information by location (state and country)
  • specific inbound links
  • anchor text metrics
  • duplicate content reports
  • page source information
  • more ...
This is information not just on your own pages, but for any content pages that find themselves in the blekko SERPs. This threatens to be a tremendous tool for competitive analysis and tweaking - particularly if one utilizes slashtags for /bing or /google (the system lets you know when you use an invalid slashtag, but I have yet to perform an empirical test to verify that the results of /bing or /google correspond with actually observable bing and google searches.)

Wrapping up with thoughts on blekko

There is definitely a lot more worth exploring in detail, and probably screen captures woudl be nice, but I have to quickly wrap this up with the thought of revisiting. blekko does have a lot of potential both as an advanced search engine with highly configurable search capabilities and as a tool with great optimization insight. I am pessimistic about its ability to break into the mainstream, however. I think the average user just doesn't think enough about search to move away from Google or bing (or whatever happens to be the default search engine on their browser).

I hope that they have a business model that agrees with that and have figured out how to make money in smaller niches. It would be nice if they were around long enough to really mature and expand their niftier features.

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