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Excite vs. Google
by Greg R. Notess
June 29,2000

Excite vs. Google: Contradictory Directions

Given the recent announcement about Yahoo!'s upcoming switch from Inktomi to Google (as they switched from AltaVista to Inktomi in the summer of 1998), you might expect this analysis to cover Google and Inktomi. But Excite's reasons behind the changes with their Excite Precision Search launch seem in part inspired by Google and in part in direct contradiction to Google's recent moves. If nothing else, the contrast demonstrates the way in which the search engine industry is still young and trying to find its way.

On June 19, 2000 Excite unveiled its new Excite Precision Search. It emphasizes improved relevance (due to a greater reliance on a weighted link analysis), the "clean and simple" focus, and a less cluttered results page. Excite removed its directory search results, news search results, the language limit option, and the "More like this" link for each result. Several of these moves have been interpreted as making Excite more similar to Google.

Meanwhile, Google has added search results from the Open Directory, news headlines, a language limit, and a "Similar Pages" link for each result. The "Similar Pages" link uses GoogleScout technology to find more pages like that particular result. Google has also added advertisements on some of its results pages. Rather than the typical banner ad, Google is using text ads in a blue box which do load more quickly than graphic banner ads. In a sense, Google has become a bit more like Excite used to be.

Now certainly, Google's implementation of the additional content and features has been different than the crowded screen real estate that most portals use. By why has Excite dropped some of the same features that Google is adding? According to Abbot Chambers, Senior Director of Search and Directory Products at Excite, their studies showed that users primarily wanted the search engine results. All of the directory hits, news headlines, suggested searches, more like this, etc. were seen as distracting. So the directory and news hits have been moved to separate tabs that require an additional click. In addition, searchers were not making use of More Like This and Suggested Searches, so those are gone.

Meanwhile, over at Google, their market studies have apparently convinced them to add the directory and news content, the Similar Pages, and the language limit. Yet even as they give more, they also take away. Google has removed the number of results option from their main page and placed it only on their results page. To get more than ten hits at a time you now have to run a search and then change the number to 30 or 100 and re-run the search. Only the language limit box is available on the top page now. Over on the other side of the fence, Excite removed the language limit from their main page and placed it only on their advanced search page.

Why these contradictions? Are users really that different at Google than they are at Excite? While there are certainly some differences, both search engines are trying to be responsive to their users and deliver improved results. Their active development in these areas, even while contradictory at times, exhibits a willingness to change, improve, and refine their search engines. That is something for which we should all be thankful. In addition, it shows the kind of diversity in the marketplace that can give the searchers more options and ultimately access to more information. Which strategy will work best? Check back in a year and see which approach has survived. My guess is that both will make additional changes long before then.