AOL: Tomorrow’s Google Free Friday Alternative

Tomorrow is the first of the Google Free Fridays that Search Engine Land is promoting in July. As our previous This July: Try Google-Free Fridays! post explains, the point is to encourage people to open their eyes to some of the other major search engines, whether it to be to discover something great and new or to reassure yourself that Google’s the right choice. Tomorrow’s choice: AOL. Rather than search with Google (or Yahoo, Microsoft or Ask for that matter), try out an AOL search service. It offers a variety of them. To get you started, there’s a rundown on some of what AOL offers in terms of search below. Want more background? See my newly posted History Of AOL Search page.

I’ve done some light comparison to Google to provide a bit more background, but don’t read this as a super-strong blow-by-blow of strengths and weaknesses between the two. It’s really mean more for background. Instead, tomorrow is your chance to get a feel of how AOL compares by using a search service there that corresponds to one you might regularly use at Google.

Web Search

Just use the search box from the AOL home page or from AOL Search, the dedicated AOL search area. That lets you search the entire web and get results back that are powered by Google. So AOL = Google, right?

Well, not quite. Traditionally, when someone was getting search results from a provider, they might not get to hit the entire database. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to test this at AOL. For example, I should be able to search for and see if AOL has as many pages as Google reports for Search Engine Land. AOL doesn’t. Google has over 3,500 pages, while AOL lists only 10. I know AOL has more than that, however, because I can find individual pages it doesn’t list showing up (such as here). So there’s a bug. If I try for someone else (Amazon), the next problem is that AOL doesn’t report counts. So AOL might have the same number of pages as Google — or might not.

Still, it probably has lots — enough to make it well worth considering for a web search. The next key thing is that AOL can control the ranking algorithm to some degree. Consider a search for cars at Google versus AOL. At AOL, Wikipedia makes it into number 10 while at Google, it’s knocked out by a UK site. That’s because I’m in the UK, so Google decides it will take matters into its own hands and shove some UK results down my throat, even if I didn’t ask for them. Often, that might improve results. But not always — and it’s just one of the ways that AOL and Google might be subtly different.

Finally, go back to that search for cars, and you’ll notice that AOL has a little module or area at the top of the results with drop-down boxes. These let you do a search against its AOL Cars area. Google doesn’t provide these (though on other searches, Google has similar functionality).

AOL also has modules that show up for a range of searches designed to provide direct answers and information. Search for ipod, and you’ll see shopping results called out at the top. Search for starbucks newport beach, and you get a map with locations of Starbucks in the area.

This page explains more about these modules. Until recently, these were called FullView and much more noticeable. They debuted with great fanfare last October, then were profiled by AOL in January on its search blog and last got a mention at the end of March. Now they’ve gone, with a post in May talking about the new-style modules but not saying a word about FullView.  That’s too bad — FullView was similar to the Ask3D interface that has gained praise. The existing modules are similar to Google Universal Search units that appear, but without that catchy name (and a sense that these units will continue to be supported), AOL loses a distinguishing feature.

Image Search

Use the Image link above the AOL search box to look for images or go to this page with it already selected. AOL’s image search is powered by Google, but as with web search, you might find slight differences because the exact same image database might not be hit and there might be ranking differences. Still, AOL will be pretty similar to Google.

Video Search

Now we finally get to where AOL is radically different than Google. Google Video is morphing into meta video search engine, where it looks beyond the confines of Google Video and YouTube. AOL Video Search uses its Truveo service to crawl the web for matches, plus AOL has a variety of partners feeding it content. In a search for fireworks at AOL, I liked how there was plenty of news content coming up covering fireworks from the recent 4th Of July celebrations. I also liked the big tabs that made it easy to toggle from "Best Match" to "Most Viewed" or "Highest Rated" and "Most Recent." Sure, Google Video has these ranking choices as well (Relevance, Rating, Popularity & Date), but the tabs provide easier and more noticeable access that the Google Video drop-down box. The range of video content on AOL also seemed for this particular search much broader. Aside from search, AOL also offers an extensive AOL Video area, and you can learn more about both from these help pages (Overview; AOL Video; AOL Video Search — ignore the mentions of the now defunct Singingfish service; bad on AOL for being behind in not removing these).

News Search

AOL recently revamped its AOL News site, and I was pleased to discover that I’m apparently not alone with the Xbox flashing three lights problem, since a story about that was front and center on the home page. So how about more? A search on Xbox is disappointing. AOL gives me mostly AP stories while Google gives me a range from a variety of sources. I do like at AOL how you can narrow to Business, Sports and Entertainment news. But that’s mainly because of the fewer sources being checked (the help page names a few of them here).

Local Search

Again, differences from Google. At AOL Local, Maps come from AOL’s own Mapquest service, and like Google, you can get a satellite view or a blended "hybrid view" if you want it.

Other Searches

I’ve covered the main searches that AOL itself features, but it also provides many others. Here are just some of them:

This page lists some of the other ones out there.

Happy searching with AOL tomorrow!

Related Topics: AOL: General | Channel: Other


About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • JLH

    Yet 4 out of 5 of Friday’s stories are about Google. Perhaps on Google-Free-Friday you write about something other than Google? Just an idea.

  • odls

    Yes, it`s confirmed. There IS life outside of Google. Nice to see one of the others being focused on for a change.

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