I use the Google toolbar and I love it. The main thing I use it for is to easily search our intranet – using the feature that lets you add buttons to access any search you want.
Today the toolbar upgraded itself – which is OK. But what I thought was very aggressive (and a little evil) was that after it upgraded it showed this pop up
The pop-up stayed in front of the browser so you had to click the OK to make it go away. If you did just click the OK without reading the panel then it would change your default search to Google. Now I imagine a lot of people would just click OK and have their default changed.
I think if anything is going to be changing your defaults then you should be actively specifying it. I would expect this from some dodgy toolbar company – but not Goggle. The Daily Search Cast today shed some light in this… IE7 is released today and it comes with a search box that will send searches to your default search engine. What’s more Microsoft is going to upgrade everyone’s browser next month. If you haven’t changed your default then it will be Microsoft. So Google and the other search engines are trying to get your default search set to them.
This is probably a sign of things to come. When you go to Ask they ask you if you would like to change your default to them. I changed my default to our internal search – which makes it even easier for me. I still have the Google toolbar so I can search the web easily.
This week we launched our Learning Navigation service. This is a natural extension to our Learning Search service. Learning Navigation makes it easier for your visitors to find what they’re looking for while they’re navigating your site because it brings the popular products to the top at all stages of the navigation.
We’ve designed the Learning Navigation with search engine optimization in mind:
These are all fairly simple techniques which for some reason a lot of sites don’t follow. For example look at this URL from home depot (an Endeca customer):
It’s frighteningly ugly and the page contains frames which makes it even more difficult for search engines. Home depot have had to create pages such as this so the search engines can index their content. This is a very bland page and should a person happen to find it when searching on Google I’m sure the conversion rate will be lower than it would be if this was their standard “Kids room” page (which is impossible to link to but here is an image). By making your navigation pages crawlable and search engine friendly you can eliminate the need to devise other schemes for getting your content indexed and the navigation pages themselves can rank well and serve as great landing pages.
This is a busy time of the year for us. We’re busy because our customers are busy preparing for their busy time – the holidays. It’s busy, busy busy. Last year we saw that on average, the number of site search queries in the holidays was over 2.5 times higher than it was in September. The traffic starts coming almost immediately after Thanksgiving.
So any changes retailers are doing to sites are being done now. We’re busy responding to customer requests to tweak their search and update the look and feel of their sites. We’ve also had a couple of customers change their platform in the last week. On top of that we have a large number of new customers coming on board. We’re adding additional servers to our clusters to handle the increased holiday load. The good thing about having done this for a few years now is that we know what to expect.
Some of our customers are in the middle of their peak season at the moment. In particular, those with Halloween merchandise. Their traffic starts to ramp up in early August and, not unexpectedly, drops dramatically on November 1.
There is growing interest in using Ajax with search.
Google is experimenting with it at Searchmash.com. Microsoft are using it on Windows Live Search and Amazon are using Ajax on A9. Eurekster are using Ajax to allow users to change the search results on Swikis and Snap are using it to display search suggestions.
Ajax technology allows the search engines to send and receive information in the background and display the new information without refreshing the page. This allows features such as infinite scrolling, where more results are fetched in the background and added to the existing results, either when you get close to the bottom or when you click to see the next page. You can also fetch more information about results when you mouse over them or click on a portion of them. For example Ask do this, mouse over the binoculars icon on their search results and they show a screen shot of the page.
We first looked at this type of technology back in 2000. Back then we were using Flash rather than Ajax (the project was called Gordon – we thought it would save every one of us), but the concept was the same. The Flash code would render the search results and make requests to the server for more information. This would enable features such as continuous scrolling and showing additional information when you moused over a search result or a search suggestion. We even had search results and suggestions flying in and out of the page as you did different searches.
We found that it was fairly easy to create these cool features but they added little, if anything to the search experience for the end user. There is quite a lot of risk in creating non-standard user interfaces. The main risk is that too many people won’t understand what’s happening and the search experience will be degraded. Microsoft’s Live search did have infinite scrolling when it was in beta but it is no longer there. I think the real opportunity here is not to create new user interfaces for the search results but rather to speed things up by not having to refresh the whole page and potentially by making subtle improvements to the existing user interface.
It will be interesting to see whether any Ajax powered features will become common place in site search. This is one area we will be keeping a close eye on.
I noticed a couple of our customers in the news this week. PC Universe won a web award. We power their search and one of our partners, Left Click Labs, has recently helped them redesign their site. Well done to Tom, Patrick and the team at PC Universe.