Fresh from multiple restructurings that have stripped Inktomi Corp down to its core competency, the company this week outlined how it wants to squeeze more cash from its web search business by making its results better and charging companies for inclusion in its index.
Inktomi this week unveiled Web Search 9, promising a bigger index filled with fresher and more relevant results. The company said the average age of pages in its Google-tying three-billion-page index is two weeks, and that in a blind taste test conducted in-house, Inktomi results were rated higher by a panel of users.
While measuring relevance is always going to be a subjective test, Inktomi’s method of providing better quality results is going to rely more on human editors in future, rather than pure software algorithms, which may give it the edge over the competition. Algorithms can’t solve every problem, said director of marketing and product strategy Kenneth Norton. The next improvements come from a better understanding of the end user.
New to Web Search 9 are three methods of summarizing pages in results. Some pages will be summarized with editorial descriptions provided by web directory provider LookSmart Ltd. Some will be generated from the page itself, giving the context of the query terms. In some cases, the page owner itself will be able to write the summary.
In addition, new algorithms have been written to prevent common word combinations that return misleading results. For example, Inktomi will not prominently return results for New York on a query for York, or for anti-freeze on a query for freeze.
As well as charging portals, notably MSN in the US, to use its search engine, Inktomi hopes to achieve the same kind of success experienced by Overture Services Inc and Google in the paid-performance search listings market, though Inktomi’s take on the idea is a little different.
Rather than guaranteeing advertisers a prominently placed text link, flagged as an ad, Inktomi guarantees just that the advertiser’s pages will be frequently crawled for indexing. Customers can pay a flat rate per URL, but customers with more than 1,000 URLs pay on a cost-per-click basis, so Inktomi can share the revenue with its partners.
One of the things we found out early on was if you paid a subscription fee for 1,000 URLs is was quite expensive, said Vishal Makhijani, Inktomi’s VP and general manager of web search, With the cost-per-click model for larger sites it can fit into their budget and compensate us as well.
Microsoft Corp’s MSN is now far and away Inktomi’s largest customer. Though the company does not, or has not yet, disclosed how much revenue comes from the contract, it is likely that a lot of its paid inclusion revenue comes from the exposure MSN gives it. But Inktomi does not seem overly afraid it will lose the deal to its rivals.
There are only two companies in the world that could handle that kind of traffic, and [MSN] has already publicly stated that Google is a competitor, said Norton, referring to comments made by MSN boss Yusuf Mehdi in September. We’re the only non-competitive OEM search provider, Makhijani added.
MSN is clearly a little more paranoid about buying services from competitive destination sites than Yahoo! Inc or America Online Inc, for instance, which both dropped Inktomi for Google over the past couple of years.