Google And Blekko Head-To-Head: Blekko Lives To Fight Another Day

What’s immediately clear from conducting a lot of searches on both Blekko and Google in a concentrated period of time is that the upstart has built a credible search engine that people can use today with a good success. (For a general overview see Blekko, The “Slashtag” Search Engine, Goes Live.) However in a head-to-head comparison I found that — today — Google is generally better in ways that matter to mainstream users.

There are also secondary features on Google that are highly useful and don’t appear on Blekko. For example, sitelinks and universal search have become staples of the search-user experience. And Google’s more “visually rich” presentation of certain categories of results (e.g., local) is often superior as well.

In cases where topical or time-based results are more important or relevant (“elections,” “world series”) Google also proved generally better. However the “/date” filter (slashtag) improved results dramatically on Blekko in those instances.

Time-based filtering can be done on Google of course though the link is a bit buried in the left nav. Google also factors recency into general relevance in many instances.

On with the show

Below I reproduce a few of the queries I looked at this morning and make some general comments about relevance and accuracy of the top listings in each case. At the end I offer some general thoughts about Blekko’s potential and why it’s likely to get better with time — like red wine.

Query: “Elections”

Comments: If I’m not interested in the 1999 film “Election” but interested in the forthcoming US midterm elections both engines do a poor job of serving that intent. Google does a slightly better job with the query “elections” than Blekko, offering links to news articles among the top results. Otherwise the information presented is quite broad and only marginally relevant to my intention.

In Blekko’s case the top result is a Canadian site, which would be fine — if I were in Canada. However, as mentioned, using the “/date” tag to filter results greatly improves the Blekko showing, which now includes lots of news content about the 2010 elections.

With Google I cheated a bit because Instant Search would have shaped my query with choices such as “elections 2010,” taking me quickly to more relevant results.

Query: “Best camera on cell phone”

Comments: Here Google wins easily. Blekko offers a number of forums and social media sites (ChaCha, Yahoo Answers) in the top positions. Clicking through you find there’s little substance or authoritative content among these first few links. Google has better results that link to a number of review sites (e.g., CNET) and blogs that offer in-depth information and lists of the best camera phones.

Query: “Glee” (the Fox TV show)

Comments: The top results on the two sites are largely comparable. However Google (via universal search) offers a greater range of content on the first page, and the sitelinks for the official Fox Glee site allow users to get more quickly to desired information and content.

Query: “Great dive bars in LA”

Comments: The top results are comparable. Google’s first result is a link to a Yelp list of dive bars in a LA and then to a book about the subject from Amazon. Blekko links to an LA Weekly article, which also features a list of LA dive bars. It doesn’t show the Yelp link on the first page, however. There are also some irrelevant or only marginally relevant links in the Blekko results, including an article focused on “best of” lists for Nashville, Tennessee and one comparing New York and LA but without any substantive discussion of bars.

Query: “Slanted Door”

Comments: Blekko’s results are good and the popular San Francisco restaurant’s website is the first link, followed by several review sites. However Google offers a wider range of information and shows contact information on the first page making the Google experience better in this case.

Query: “World Series”

Comment: Looking at just the results for the query “world series,” Google wins easily. It features last night’s results and next game schedule in the “one box” at the top. There are also links to news stories about the game at the top of the page. The top result on Blekko is to (Major League Baseball) but then results relate to the phrase “world series” but have little to do with baseball. Once again, if you filter by “/date,” Blekko’s results improve considerably and all the topical content about the baseball World Series suddenly appears.

Some thoughts about Blekko’s future

I could continue with 10 or 15 more examples that show Google to be generally better or slightly better depending on the query. There are some instances where Blekko is better because there’s more authoritative and less dubious content  — or as CEO Rich Skrenta called it “gray spam” (i.e., content farm content). I love the term and think it perfectly expresses the problem and coming challenge for Google as this content grows and proliferates.

What all these examples above illustrate is that, today, few people will be jumping ship from Google (or Yahoo/Bing) to Blekko. Some SEOs and “power users” may quickly adopt and use the new engine. But if Blekko is to become a serious choice for more conventional searchers its customization and social features, namely slashtags, will need to be thoughtfully presented and made broadly accessible. This is being done to a degree already with a few default slashtags.

As more people become involved in editing the corpus of search results and creating slashtags and related links, Blekko may be able to build more authoritative and interesting mini-indexes across a broad range of topics. Slashtags and their personal and social dimensions (ability to create, share and follow) are a very creative and clever innovation that takes us back to some degree to the early days of search and directories online when humans were more directly involved.

(The Bing-Facebook integration is another effort to inject humans as filters in mainstream search results.)

The challenge for Blekko, as mentioned, is exposing slashtags and educating users about how to interact with them. When presented with this question Skrenta expressed confidence to me, during a recent call, that Blekko would find a way to do so. Blekko may also find that over time it develops an “app store problem” –  a challenge enabling discovery of useful and interesting tags. But that would be a good problem for the site to have.

Rich Skrenta and his team are quite realistic about the challenges they face in building a general purpose search engine and are taking the long view here. They see this merely as the first step in a long journey up the mountain. In that context I’d have to say it’s a very good first step.

See also:

Related Topics: Blekko | Channel: Consumer | Google: Web Search | Top News


About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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  • Tim Cohn

    Q: What’s to stop Google from cherry picking blekko’s most popular features and baking them in overnight?

    A. Nothing.

  • matthiaswh

    Tim – that is true, and was the first thought I had when I learned about Blekko. Google could EASILY generate slash tags. They won’t at this point because there would be an uproar, unless they bought out Blekko. Where Google would probably fail (based on their history) and Blekko might succeed is the social aspect of it all.

    Greg – I don’t think this comparison is fair. I thought the same thing during my first few searches on Blekko a few months back. The relevance is nowhere near where Google is today. It’s actually very reminiscent of the state of search from years past.

    However, Google’s selling point is the excellence of its search algorithm leading to super relevant results. Not only is Blekko over a decade behind in developing their algorithms, but they haven’t made that the focus. To compare Blekko searches without slashtags to Google’s search is to ignore their main feature. Yeah, it takes a little bit extra effort to search “elections /news” or “world series /sports”. Blekko is banking that its users won’t mind a few more keystrokes (ironically, Google Instant was created to save a few keystrokes).

    The only way to draw a comparison of results is to incorporate slashtag usage. Granted, overall Blekko might still not come out the winner – some 10+ years of engineering search makes a big difference.

  • jessie r

    Blekko is definitely a cool new search engine. The slash tag feature is unique and gives it an edge that people will be interested in. However, I do not think it will ever reach the popularity of Google due to it’s complicated nature. I think Google’s greatest strengths is it’s simplicity; it’s so easy anyone can use it to it’s full potential. Blekko is not like that.

    Coming from someone who doesn’t have a lot of time on her hands, having to learn how to use a search engine does not appeal to me when I have Google available. Of course I took the time to learn about Blekko, but I’m in the industry. I don’t think the average person will want to do that.

    I’ve done some research and I think the best new search engine is Bweezy. Similar name, but very different from Blekko. Bweezy offers Google results, which I love. It also lets you open search results in the same window as the search, which eliminates the need to open a ton of tabs! I’d check it out if you’re into new search engines.

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