Thursday, July 31, 2008

Content? I’m Cuil With That…

There’s a new search engine in town, and it’s generating a lot of buzz, both good and bad. It can be found at (pronounced like: “cool”)

Up to now, almost all search engines had adopted, to some degree, the Google model. That was that the biggest chunk of your search engine effectiveness was determined by your link popularity. If a lot of other websites “showed you love” by linking to you, then your site ranked higher. You became “important”, and “popular”.

The assumption is that sites with a lot of inbound links are going to be better quality sites, and therefore, more deserving of a #1 ranking. Generally speaking, that works. If I’m out searching, and there’s a big list of possible sites that could match what I’m looking for, it would be helpful to see the best ones first, right?

Is there a problem with that? Of course! Several problems, actually.

First of all, we’ve all been to little, out-of-the-way restaurants where the food and the service are absolutely incredible, right? Popularity isn’t always the best gauge of quality. McDonalds is extremely popular, but not many people (outside of their own marketing department) would claim that their food is “the best ever”.

Second, a site might be popular, and important. It might even be a great quality site. But if it’s not what I’m looking for, I don’t care. If it’s not relevant, then what does it matter how many links it has or who’s recommending it?

Third, it does open lots of opportunities to “game” the system, by creating links on your own, or even going out and buying links. A popular activity is, for example, writing articles with links back to your website and dotting them all over the web. On the one hand, that’s a legitimate activity, and a good way to establish inbound links. But if, in order to promote one website, you’re writing 20-30 articles, then aren’t you really just adding to the glut of information on the web? Are you really adding value?

But then again, as an avid blogger, I don’t have much room to talk, eh?

So, along comes a search engine, with a new model. It’s claiming a number of differences when compared to the current big boys.

First of all, they claim to index many, many more sites. Google is actually getting selective of the sites it includes in its index. Cuil claims to have indexed more than three times the number of documents that Google has. That means more opportunities to be included, but it also means much more competition for the top slots.

Second, their ranking criteria are based on a complex formula of analyzing the content of the pages in their database. They don’t just look at keyword matches, but also the context of the match, the location, the surrounding words. They look at alternative meanings and interpretations. Their goal is really to find the most relevant site, the site you’re probably looking for, instead of the “best”, or the “most popular”. What that means then, is that as a webmaster, to rank well on, you’ll want your site’s content to be well crafted. You'll want lots of good information, peppered with good, relevant keywords.

Finally, they also say that, unlike Google, they don’t keep track of user statistics. There has been a lot of fuss lately over privacy among Googlers. “Cuil analyzes the Web, not its users,” they say. While I applaud this strategy from the perspective of freedom, I think they’ll have problems getting and staying competitive that way.

Will they have the impact they want on the search engine world? Who knows? I’m intrigued by their approach, and I’d love to see someone challenge the big boys. The bottom line, in my mind, is that it will take some time to dethrone Google, or even compete with Yahoo. If they can simply survive that long, they might do it.

Mark is the co-director of, the search marketing consulting arm of Clickincome ( Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.

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