Q&A: Blekko execs explain their search engine strategy

Blekko's new search engine has received more than $20 million in investments. Blekko co-founder Rich Skrenta and Marketing VP Mark Markson exchanged e-mail with IDGNOW! Brazil about their plans and strategies -- and no, it's not another Google Killer. Rather, the engine would filter the 50 most relevant websites in each of 100,000 categories.

How do you define the "relevance" at Blekko? Relevance is returning on-topic results that closely pertain to the user's query from the best sources available. The magic behind the Blekko technology is a simple tool called a slashtag. Slashtags are curated sets of web sites organized around a particular topic. These cover topics as broad as health, money, and autos, and as narrow as gluten-free, neurotechnology, and the Grateful Dead. Slashtags are appended to search queries and limit search results to only the curated sets of sites.

How do you think Blekko slash tags are different from main search channels like Google news, shopping, blogs etc.? We've created hundreds of slashtags at Blekko, with everything from /accounting to /zen. But we also let our users create their own slashtags. During our beta we had over 3,000 user slashtags created. One user create a /glutenfree slashtag, to search for gluten-free recipes. Another user created a /colleges slashtag, which is a beautiful spam-free college search engine. By letting the public extend blekko's slashtags, we'll be able to cover hundreds of thousands of verticals, not just a few.

How does Blekko intend to make money, what is your business model? At the moment we're focused on getting the site launched and giving users a good experience. To the extent that we develop and audience, we'll monetize that through search advertising.

Do you aim to index content from sites (like formspring) which have so far been overlooked by other search engines? Our crawler tends to go into highly ranked sites more deeply than poorly ranked sites. We have a 3 billion page crawl, and so we need to choose the best content to include. This starts at crawl time - should we crawl this url or that url? There are a whole set of heuristics which drive what crawl budget an individual site gets.

Do you think Blekko will be able to change the concept of the deep, uncrawled Web? The Web keeps getting deeper and deeper - the challenge is how to return the good stuff and not sink! This is why we believe human curation needs to be brought back to search. Only by curating the best content in every vertical can the most relevant results be returned.

Will you be adding other services to the domain, such as e-mail servers? No.

What statistics do you have on Blekko usage by countries, queries and visitors' loyalty? Our beta population is approximately 8,000 users. Out of this group we are seeing a weekly revisit rate of 11.5%. We have users doing searches on Blekko 24/7. The fact that such a high fraction of people have come back and are still searching, even though they joined the beta 2 or 3 months ago has been very encouraging for us.

Blekko's search engine results page is very SEO instructive and you give away a lot of relevant info on the URL - will this feature remain when it goes online for good? Yes. In fact we are expanding the tools and data we are showing. We have added new views that show aggregated statistics per domain, not just per url. We also have a new site comparison tool.

You bring up a lot of relevant info for SEOs about the indexed sites. How do you think that providers, such as SEO Shops which offer this same type of info should enhance their offer in order to stay competitive? We're making this data available because we want to be open about our crawl and index. But we are not a SEO company, the level of service you would get from a company dedicated to SEO analytics is not going to be present in our product. We would like to work with SEO tools companies, there are probably APIs we could offer them which would add useful data for their users.

Will Blekko go mobile? What makes a site considered mobile friendly by Blekko? We are developing a mobile theme and are trying to improve the Web search experience when used from a mobile device. Sites don't need to do anything in particular on Blekko's behalf to optimize for the mobile experience.

How does Blekko see Black Hat SEO? Are there directions such as Google's webmaster tools? Blekko has a set of anti-spam filters which eliminate a bunch of spam at the crawl and index level in our search engine. Certain kinds of spam won't be visible in our /seo tools because they triggered a filter which kept them out of our index entirely.

Does Blekko punish sites which use this sort of techniques? If yes, what levels of punishment are used? We simply don't index sites which trigger certain filters. It's not really a punishment. :-)

Is there any legal agreement with Yahoo to exhibit its search results on Blekko's search engine results page? Blekko has signed up for third party APIs from many companies including Amazon, Twitter, Yahoo, etc. By appending the API as a slashtag to a search, Blekko gives users the ability to see results from just that particular site (ex. cameras /Amazon). With respect to Yahoo in particular, users can access search results by appending /yahoo to a query. Also, to the degree our own 3 billion page crawl does not provide at least a certain number of results for any query, we show /Yahoo results as backfill.

What's Blekko's bot name? How should webmasters prepare not to block its crawl?

Blekko's crawler is called ScoutJet. You can visit www.scoutjet.com to read about our crawl policy, robots.txt handling, and the IPs we crawl from

Will the engine be translated to other languages? We're focused on English at the moment. We would like to crawl, index and serve across other languages but don't have immediate plans to internationalize the site.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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