Sunday, January 30, 2011

What, exactly, do you consider a SEARCH ENGINE?

The question above is just me being curious.

Consider this list:

Amazon
Facebook
EBay
ShopZilla
Info.com
YellowPages.com
Bizrate
Target.com
Comcast.net

Would you say the above are all "search engines"?

Do you want them in your search engines reports, or kept out?

Do you want to be paying for text ads on them as part of your paid search program, or not?

All of them have a search function. They may display results from their own site, or paid search ads, or organic results from the internet at large. Or all three.
Some of them are explicitly counted as "search engines" by SiteCatalyst, WebTrends or Google Analytics. Some of them are not counted as search engines but you and I probably would consider them as such.

In short, the search engines reports of our web analytics tools are messy because "search engine" just isn't easily definable these days.
Please think back to your thought process as you scanned my little list. Would you say you have mental rules about what is and what isn't a search engine? What are your rules?
Better yet, would you say you have mental buckets for these sites that aren't just yes/no for being a search engine? I, personally find it useful to chop up all these referring sites into a few groups. The following are the biggest groups:
  • Really-truly search engines, where people go to search the whole internet. I think we'd all agree that Google is one.
  • Shopping search engines, which also have value as price/feature comparison engines. ShopZilla and Nextag qualify for this.
  • Primarily within-site search engines that happen to show related paid content. Target.com is definitely in this category ... the paid results may lead you to buy something at another store, but Target seems willing to take that risk. Same for Amazon. They've probably done the cost-benefit math.
  • Same thing as the above, but you have to submit an xml file to get listed. Froogle comes to mind, may it rest in peace.
  • Sites with a whole other purpose, of which search is a tiny part. (Have you ever noticed that if you do a search on Facebook, below all the FB-related hits is a set of organic results powered by Bing?)
Getting analytics tools to give me results according to my subcategories is not easy. As far as they're concerned, a domain is a search engine, or it is not.
But I would claim that my subcategories give me more information about my audience, and my input into my marketing activities, than the simple search-engine unichotomy.

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