Google Isn't Always The Best Search Choice

By Rob Pegoraro
Thursday, August 9, 2007

Google has turned into a household verb, but that doesn't make it the last word in Web search.

On one level, it can't be: Web searching isn't even 15 years old, and there's no reason to think that somebody couldn't do it better than Google.

On another level, it shouldn't be: The technology used to figure out what pages people want to see also helps companies calculate what products people might want to buy, and therefore what ads to display for them. Do you really want one company controlling that show?

Nobody's going to win any market share from Google -- about 50 percent of the U.S. market for Web search, twice that of No. 2 Yahoo, according to ComScore's latest data -- on pity alone. Other companies will have to win customers by offering something better, and probably less advertising than Google pushes at you.

A test of three other major Web search sites -- Yahoo, Microsoft's Live Search and IAC's -- showed that they can, but it's not easy.

The best opportunity for the competition is probably blog searching. Google runs one of the biggest blog services around, Blogger, but using it to find relevant postings can quickly get you lost among "blogspam," or fake sites set up only to advertise unrelated products or services. This gets especially bad if you use Google's "sort by date" option to find newer posts.

Ask's blog search often did better. For example, a search for blogs talking about the possibility of the Metro rail system tunneling through Tysons Corner yielded about the same number of results at both Google and Ask, but Google's list of recent items was dominated by ad-filled phony sites.

Another blog-search site, Technorati, also provided more relevant links than Google. Yahoo and Live don't provide blog-only search.

Another Google weakness could be in video and photo results, some of which were far off the mark compared with the findings of other sites.

On the design side, some of Google's competitors also offer novel and interesting ways to get to the data you want.

Ask, which redid its site this summer, is the most creative. It uses a clean, clever two-column layout that keeps your search query and related links visible on the left at all times, instead of having them scroll out of view. It also provides thumbnail previews of many sites it indexes, accessible by clicking on a binoculars icon.

The best feature at Microsoft's Live search, also recently redesigned, is its "search macros." The customizable queries limit a search to a set of sites that use particular terms. One of them, for example, looks for recipes posted at five popular cooking sites.

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