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Which Search Engines Will Survive?

By Dan Thies
Posted Thursday, October 21, 2004

With the recent bankruptcy of Excite@Home, and Altavista's admission that their search engine database hasn't been updated since July, it's clear that another round of consolidation is coming upon the search engine industry.

The important question for marketers isn't necessarily which portals will survive, but which search engines will drive their search results.

Excite and Altavista clearly attract enough traffic to ensure that *someone* will keep those domain names active as search portals, but that doesn't mean that there will be an independent Altavista or Excite database behind those results.

Is Lycos A Textbook Case?
The story of the Lycos search engine is instructive - Lycos.com is still there, but the actual search results are provided by FAST/AllTheWeb. We simply don't know who will be providing the results for Altavista and Excite in a year

So the big question remains: which players can afford to stay in the game, and how does that affect our search engine positioning plans? Time will tell - I can only offer you informed speculation on the fate of the industry's major players.

Who's In?
Google, Inktomi, FAST/AllTheWeb, and DirectHit. All of these have significant traffic, either directly or through their partners, and enough value in their databases to stay in business, at least for a while. DirectHit is different, since they don't attempt to crawl and index the web, but they have strong partners, including MSN.

Who's Out?
Altavista, Excite, and Lycos were big players at one time, but we know the story now. Altavista and Excite are close to death, and Lycos has already dropped their database. Northern Light may maintain an independent database, but their traffic is minimal.

Who's Too Small To Matter?
Northern Light, Wisenut, etc. - there are still a few minor search engines out there, and at least some have sound business fundamentals that will keep them from disappearing. In the big picture, though, they simply don't command much traffic.

What Does It Mean?
For starters, there will likely be only three significant search engine databases - a year ago there were at least seven. Interestingly, all three use "themes" to categorize and rank websites.

As a result, a solid search engine positioning strategy should focus on providing the three things that the three major indexes and DirectHit reward: consistent theme; significant content; and high-quality linking relationships.

A consistent theme means careful keyword selection and use - not trying to make every page stand alone, but instead weaving them together in a logical fashion.

Good content not only reinforces the theme, it also provides a reason for visitors to stay on the site longer, which improves DirectHit ratings.

Finally, the quantity of incoming and outgoing links will matter less over time, while the context and quality of those links will continue to become more important, ensuring that the major directories will have plenty of customers for a long time.

I wish you success...

About the Author
Dan Thies has been helping his clients (and friends) promote their websites since 1996. His latest book, "Search Engine Fast Start," is available at (http://www.cannedbooks.com)