History Of AOL Search

In preparation for those trying AOL tomorrow as part of our first Google-Free Friday, I thought it would be helpful to give some background on AOL in search. AOL has long offered search — and even owned several web crawling technologies — over the years. Don’t forget to read AOL: Tomorrow’s Google Free Friday Alternative for tips to what services to use from AOL in your searching!


  • June 1995: AOL buys WebCrawler, one of the major crawler-based search engines of its day.
  • November 1996: AOL announces deal to sell WebCrawler to Excite (which itself later gets sold to Infospace in 2001).
  • March 1997: The deal to sell WebCrawler closes. AOL also launches its own branded search engine, NetFind (formerly at http://www.aol.com/netfind/, for nostalgia folks). The service was simply the Excite search engine with an AOL look-and-feel.
  • January 1998: AOL purchases enterprise search company PLS, uses the technology in various ways internally but never continues as an enterprise search player.
  • November 1998: AOL announced a deal to purchase Netscape, which gave it the Netscape-owned Open Directory Project as part of the purchase. At the time, the Open Directory was the major human-powered search engine that rivaled Yahoo and powered results for many services. It has greatly diminished in stature since then, in no small part due to AOL’s neglect and lack of support for the system.
  • August 1999: AOL NetFind drops Excite as a partner and shifts over to being powered by Inktomi’s crawler, through a new deal.
  • October 1999: AOL does a major relaunch of its search engine and renames it AOL Search (originally at http://search.aol.com while the http://aolsearch.com address is never promoted despite a domain dispute over it that AOL won). The relaunch saw those searching getting served first matches found by AOL editors, then results drawn from the Open Directory, with Inktomi’s crawler-based results kicking in only if the first two tiers failed to have answers.


  • September 2000: AOL cut a deal with the then GoTo (later Overture, later Yahoo Search Marketing) to carry paid search listings.
  • October 2001: AOL no longer tiers results so that Open Directory results come first, then Inktomi results come second. As a result, more of Inktomi’s crawler-based content becomes visible for more queries. By January 2002, the Open Directory results disappear altogether, other than category links.
  • May 2002: Shock waves as Google wins AOL’s paid search listings from Overture and also announces that Inktomi will go in August. That happens, turning AOL largely into Google with an AOL look-and-feel, though it still offers some editorial enhancements.
  • October 2003: AOL renews its agreement with Google.
  • November 2003: AOL acquires the Singingfish multimedia search engine (which later closes) plus makes content from it visible through a new Audio/Video tab that’s part of a general relaunch for AOL Search.
  • September 2004: AOL launches inStore (later AOL Shopping), a shopping service that also offered at Pinpoint Shopping and that’s integrated into AOL Search. Shopping results come from Bizrate.


  • January 2005: AOL relaunches AOL Search, offering Snapshots, short units providing direct answers and information in its search results, that had been in testing since the previous November. A SmartBox to suggest search queries is unveiled. Local search results powered by FAST are promised (and later come as AOL Local, combining AOL Yellow Pages, CityGuide and MapQuest), and a desktop search tool powered by Copernic is announced.
  • March 2005: AOL releases Pinpoint Travel site, powered through a deal with Kayak.
  • December 2005: AOL and Google agree to renew their deal. Google later purchases 5 percent of AOL as part of the agreement.
  • January 2006: AOL acquires the Truveo video search site, which gathers content by crawling the web.
  • June 2006: Netscape is relaunched as a social news site.
  • July 2006: The AOL Podcasts Search area is launched, powered by Podscope, following an agreement reached in 2005.
  • August 2006: AOL researchers (two are fired later) release search query data that they believe will be anonymous, but it quickly turns out that by looking through the records, individual can be guessed at. A privacy storm erupts. One person is illustrated in a front page New York Times story. AOL also releases a new version AOL Video using both Singingfish and Truveo, plus offering content from partners.
  • October 2006: AOL relaunches AOL Search with a feature called FullView, designed to make content from vertical search listings (such as multimedia or local listings) appear alongside web search results.
  • April 2007: AOL launches its AOL Search Marketplace, a way for advertisers to buy search ads directly from AOL, rather than having to go through Google. Google ads also continue to be shown. AOL also continues to carry pay-per-call ads through a April 2005 deal with Ingenio. In May, it also buys Third Screen Media, a mobile ad company.
  • July 2007: AOL relaunches AOL Video, this time primarily using Truveo and content provided by partnerships. Singingfish is gone — indeed, the Singingfish site was closed in February 2007 and redirected to AOL Video. Truveo itself remains running, powering search not just at AOL but also with other partners, with a number of new ones named in June.

Related Topics: AOL: General | Channel: Strategy | Stats: History


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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  • http://www.seo-theory.com/wordpress/ Michael Martinez

    Isn’t using AOL on a “Googlefree” day comparable to drinking a Coke or Pepsi on a “sugarfree” day?

  • http://searchengineland.com Danny Sullivan

    If you read the prep note for today, AOL: Tomorrow’s Google Free Friday Alternative, it explains how even web search with AOL isn’t exactly the same as with Google, though very similar. But beyond web (and image) search, AOL is a very different creature.

  • http://www.seo-theory.com/wordpress/ Michael Martinez

    I’m very familiar with AOL’s search service, thank you. It’s still not “Google-free”, in my opinion, but then I’m just an observer. I have to use more than one search engine anyway. It’s an interesting experiment in SEO community initiatives.

  • Pete

    Its a nice overview, but you forgot to mention May 2007 when AOL stripped out the fullview content (launched in October) and redesigned the site to look just like google. Er google with more ads and lots of top-level promotion for AOL properties.

  • http://searchengineland.com Danny Sullivan

    Yes, Pete — I noted how Fullview had been sadly abandoned here: AOL: Tomorrow’s Google Free Friday Alternative. I guess since they never made an official mention of this, I didn’t have an exact date to hang it on. Appreciate the heads-up.

  • http://twitter.com/Metromenguide Metromen.Net

    Wow who uses AOL?

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