Blekko has found its mantra: the war on spam. The search startup, now six months old, is trying to challenge Bing and Google with a strategy that puts human curation and editorial judgment at the center of search and banishes spam altogether. CEO Rich Skrenta has been relentless in asserting that Google is filled with commercial spam and low-quality results (pre- and post-Panda).
Enter Zorro and 100,000 Slashtags
Skrenta continued that theme yesterday on the phone with Danny Sullivan and me in discussing Blekko’s “Zorro” update, which goes live today. Described as a major release, Zorro includes a new search index and automatic integration of the company’s trademark “slashtags” into top categories. Slashtags allow users to create customized results for any given query or category.
Skrenta and Marketing VP Michael Markson told us that human editors and “expert communities” have created more than 100,00 slashtags on Blekko to date. These represent hand-picked authoritative or high-quality sources in key categories, including the following:
Slashtags Now Automatically in SERPs
Most people who use Blekko don’t take advantage of the slashtag creation capability, but Skrenta and company have been trying make them available to Blekko users at large. The Zorro update means that slashtag-related results will now automatically appear at or near the top of a wide range of SERPs.
According to Skrenta these categories are now essentially spam-free because humans have identified high quality sites and Blekko has marginalized or entirely blocked spam and low-quality content (e.g., eHow) from results. There are minor changes as well, such as the inclusion of site and publisher logos next to results to enable users to quickly identify desired or credible sources.
There are roughly 900,000 users on Blekko doing 50 million queries monthly according to Skrenta. Half of Blekko’s traffic is from outside the US.
Play “Three Engine Monte”
The user base was characterized by Skrenta and Markson as primarily early adopters. But Blekko is clearly hoping to grow its user base beyond this initial population and that the Zorro-related changes will accelerate growth and help further differentiate from Google and Bing. While Blekko’s numbers are still very small the site is doing well if compared to recent search startups such as Powerset or Cuil, which no longer exist.
To more explicitly enable users to compare and see the differences in search results, Blekko has launched a tool that shows results for any give query across Blekko, Bing and Google — with or without the identity of the engine exposed. Here’s an example result (before and after) for “cheap Mexico vacations”:
Using this tool is interesting because it exposes instances where Blekko offers superior results, but also cases in which that’s not true. Blekko will also show results on Google and Bing that it has “banned.” For example the query “chicken pox symptoms,” features two Blekko-banned sites in Bing results.
What Success Looks Like for Blekko
While many people reading this blog post will probably spend some time playing with the “three engine monte” tool, most ordinary search users will not. However Blekko has grown through PR and word of mouth to date and Skrenta hopes to keep up the momentum with this release.
Danny asked Skrenta what would signify success for Blekko. Skrenta replied, “With several million queries we’d be in a good place. It’s probably 5X or 10X over where we are.” But Skrenta also reminded us that even a tiny fraction of the search market can be enormously profitable. “If we had 1 percent of search we’d be a billion dollar business.”