Blekko is a new Search Engine which has been in development for a few years now and recently opened for private beta testing. It has been attracting attention in the search world for its unique features and as a potential ‘Google Killer’ (I hate that term). This review and guide to Blekko will explain the features, search result quality and usability with respect to the fact it is still in development, though search results should be highly similar to the finished product. What features maybe added in the future have to be discarded, though this review itself will highlight recommendations and downfalls.
About Blekko’s Features
Slashtags are a big feature for a new user to adopt to use the search engine effectively. They are being heavily promoted as the USP of Blekko and have been well received by members of Twitter. Though useful and great for web power users and the well web initiated, the average Google user wouldn’t embrace this idea. There is lots of involvement in sourcing the right userlists with authority, or indeed remembering that those hidden slashtags exist.
The /date and /relevancy slashtags are the most obvious ones as they are written write under the search box on the results page. This could be a good method to teach people to use slashtag syntax rather than relying on clicking, in this case to sort results. Other slashtags featured on the page are for search type, there are /images, /video, /shop etc. These are identical to categories on traditional search engines, but again the emphasis is to include the search type in the query to save a click.
Slashtag Lists of like minded web sites grouped together provide results from a particular bias or a users recommendation of authoritative sites. Blekko’s own example is of [global warming] from /conservative, /liberal and /green sites and it’s true the results do have that bias. But for me the strongest use of this feature is following slashtags of authoritative figures who recommend sites on a certain topic. Example I am following developer Rich Skrenta’s slashtags on search engine optimisation and search engine talk because I know that the sites he recommends have worthwhile, respected information. There are hundreds of basic slashtags available built in but to follow user created lists you have to follow them and add there username before the slashtag, which is long winded.
Blekko’s best feature by far is the Spam button. If, like me, you are sick and tired of poor results turning up of sites you would never visit or where you know the content will be poor (about.com, ehow etc.), simply click ‘Spam’ and you will never see results for that domain again (unless by using /spam.) The downside being I marked plenty of SEO heavy sites such as comparison sites as spam on a query and then later wished I had them back again later. A ‘hide’ or ‘temporary useless’ button would be useful too.
I am trying to write for the average searcher in this review so won’t touch too heavy on this subject, but Blekko are being extremely transparent about what data they have on each site and how it gets ranked. This could spell changes at Google in the way they open up data, potentially affect sponsored listings and the entire economy of search marketing and online marketing. I believe Blekko are publishing this data partially to attract users from the search world and to attract publicity.
Though any user can look at the statistical analysis of a website it is unlikely the average searcher would, unless they want reassurance that an online shop is legit or not. It remains still a tool mainly for SEO professionals and Web Marketeers.
The preferences aren’t that useful at the moment, they consist mainly of options to display the attached data for each search result.
Quality Of Results
Whatever the unique features a search engine may have, if its primary function doesn’t work too well it is irrelevant how many bells and whistles it may have. So here are a few example web searches to test the functionality of Blekko Search.
This is a simple test search for simple search purposes. Though Blekko’s top results are pretty much the same as Google, from 5 downwards Blekko certainly prefers the .edus, .govs and .orgs. These links are to Einstein’s works and theories whereas Google’s second tier results tend to be more generic information about Einstein, quotes and biographies. Though both serve up good results for finding soft information about Einstein (date of birth, occupation etc). If I wanted a starting point for doing deep research into Einstein, Blekko would be better by far.
[plumber mytown] – Local Search
Local search has really taken off in the past few years as people start to ditch local print media for online search and recommendations. A local search for a plumber in my town yields 3 top results of local plumbers from Blekko, yet after those some awful results turn up about the Great Yorkshire Show, a Genealogy site and SEO experts. Google on the other hand displays its map with a directory of plumbers, which is the useful part of the search you would use. The web links however are mainly of directories and the kind of unhelpful sites that Blekko cuts out. I’d say Google’s map feature saves it from a draw for this type of search. I must say I am pleased to see Blekko being strong for UK results to at this early stage.
Brands vs KW Rich Domains
I always preferred Google over Yahoo because the latter always seemed to return keyword rich domains first whereas big G would take brands into more consideration. Searching directly for a brand on either search engine is generally very good, Blekko can hold its own. But searching for a site where a keyword/domain match isn’t important is Blekko’s downfall. Take [football scores], Google favours BBC, Sky Sports and can correctly interpret football as the game with a ball and feet. This is exactly where I want to go. Blekko lists keyword rich domains such as football-scores-live.com and live-football-scores.co.uk. The first (and several other results such as ESPN) interpret football as the US name for Handegg. And though the .co.uk results for the soccer strand do work, there is an eerie omission of authority sports news gatherers such as the BBC and SkySports.
The Question [how to build a dry stonewall]
Here is an odd question that just popped into my head, but questions are a rising part of our search habits. For relevancy Google wins in this department again for listing tutorial sites, and sites well SEO’d up for that exact phrase. Blekko’s third result is a Huffington Post article on religion which is really out of place. But! Google seems to list the kind of Content Farm that Blekko wants to omit. (eHow, Essortment.com, Explainthatstuff.com). Though Blekko lists some irrelevant results with some links to real authority stonewall building sites, Google actually answers the question to the extent that a web searcher would be happy with. Are these ‘Content Farms’ as bad as Blekko make out? Personally I will have to test this kind of search further with queries that are actually relevant to me.
Products [canon 1d]
Google wins here again for me as it returns a picture of the item, some rough price guides with mainly reviews of the product. Blekko links me to the product page on Canon’s USA first, the Wikipedia entry and then Amazon.com’s sales page. I’m sure as Blekko grows into a dedicated UK search engine it would self correct though I notice the reviews Blekko offers seem to be from personal blogs and by photographers whereas Google offers reviews from review sites such as dpreview and Youtube. Is this another case of Content Farm vs Authority?
I was going to write a long winded pros and cons section about Blekko but it seems a little pointless at this stage. I will just reitterate that Blekko is better and much more useful for the web power user who understand what sort of websites exist, what SEO is and how to ignore affiliate marketing. The average to occasional web user should probably just stick to Google.
If anybody wants to try out Blekko I have invites waiting to dispatch. Just drop us a comment with an email address I can send to, or follow me on Twitter so I can DM it you.