Case Study - SeekOn.com
Disclosure: The author of this report is an officer of the company that produces SeekOn.
March 27, 2006
Search Engine Honesty
SeekOn (http://www.seekon.com/ ) is a web site provided for residents and visitors in about 15,000 towns and cities in the U.S, Canada, and the Caribbean. Separate areas are provided for each town. Although SeekOn has areas for large cities, the main emphasis is providing “local” information and services for smaller towns and localities. In each town area, the site provides listings of local web sites as well as locality information such as hotel accommodations, local weather, local news, movie listings, traffic information, maps, message board, etc. A small general subject directory and a small general subject forum were also provided.
SeekOn first began operation in May 1999 and eventually became quite popular especially with residents of very small towns who frequently reported that there was no other comparable facility available.
In the original design, web site owners could submit their URL to a SeekOn page by filling out a simple form. SeekOn’s robot would then visit the site and obtain the title and description from the site’s title and description tags. Various spam filters were applied to listings before posting. SeekOn’s robot would periodically revisit listed sites to update the listing information and remove dead links while rechecking for spam. Listings appeared within one week of submission. Site listings from the Open Directory Project (ODP) were used to supplement the directly submitted listings for the town areas. This design produced a product that was intermediate between an edited directory (high quality, slow response), and a search engine (lower quality, rapid and more comprehensive response, fresher data).
SeekOn is a registered trademark of Azinet LLC and seekon.com is owned and operated by Azinet LLC. A directory site seekon.info (domain created September 2004) has no relationship to seekon.com or Azinet LLC. Another directory site, seekon.net of Great Britain also has no relation to seekon.com or Azinet LLC.
In mid-2005, after six years of operation, Google blocked access by their users to the entire SeekOn site.
Substantial revisions were performed to make the site more search engine friendly including intentionally de-listing portions of the site that did not have persistent value (news, weather). Other changes were made to improve spam blocking. The site was submitted for “reinclusion” with no result. A registered letter to Google produced no response, not even a form letter or postcard.
In January 2006, another major revision was performed to entirely remove directly submitted un-reviewed site listings. It was thought that Google might view this capability as a “link farm” that could interfere with their link popularity algorithm. In addition, the quality of listings was suffering as a result of increased spam attacks directed specifically at SeekOn. “Clickable” links were also removed from user messages posted on locality message boards and forums. SeekOn was submitted for reinclusion, again no response. As of March, 2006 seekon.com was completely censored by Google with no explanation despite repeated requests. SeekOn now accepts listing request submissions from users that are then reviewed by SeekOn reviewers prior to being listed on SeekOn. SeekOn primarily reviews submissions to determine if the site is appropriate for the requested SeekOn page and if the site title and description are well written, and generally does not edit the submitted title or site description. A majority of listing requests is declined. This change dramatically improved the quality of SeekOn listings.
SeekOn uses a small portion of the ODP data. Proprietary algorithms are used to reorder the ODP data on SeekOn pages. ODP lists sites in alphabetic order. Alphabetic order is useful if you already know the name of the site. Of course if you know the name, a search engine is more effective than a directory. SeekOn therefore lists sites on a particular page in order of “merit” as determined in a manner similar to a search engine ranking process.
In addition, proprietary algorithms are used to re-page the ODP listings into a format that is more appropriate for local users. The structure of the ODP directory tends to be excessively “menuized” such that there are typically only a few site listings on a page. It is not unusual to drill down and down to progressively more specific levels in the directory only to find that there are no site listings on the final page. SeekOn uses proprietary algorithms to combine similar listings on a single page if doing so would result in a more efficient listing structure. Empty pages are not used.
The ODP site listing data is combined with other data (weather, traffic, maps, accommodations, movie listings, etc.), which also creates substantial “added value” for users in the supported localities in that a large amount of data of local interest is available on a single page. For the general subject directory, a very small amount of ODP data has been hand-selected to specifically provide information of particular interest to small town residents. This data adds to directly submitted site listings reviewed by SeekOn reviewers.
In July 2007, Google reincluded SeekOn in its index, however a large degree of site-unique bias remains and SeekOn pages have a Google PageRank of zero. See The Kinderstart Case and the Report on Search Engine Editorial Policies for more on site-unique bias.
Access to SeekOn has also been suppressed by Yahoo Search. Reinclusion requests and a registered letter to Yahoo were ineffective.
Google has been unusually adamant in refusing to disclose why SeekOn has been deleted or suppressed.
It appears likely that access to SeekOn is being suppressed merely because SeekOn uses some Open Directory data even though SeekOn only uses a limited subset of the ODP information and provides substantial added value in addition to its own reviewed site listings. A separate case study indicates that Google has censored access to 37 percent of all the sites in a representative sample of sites using ODP data. Google has their own copy of Open Directory and is therefore in competition with other users of Open Directory data. Google's copy of ODP is very inferior to the original or SeekOn's content because Google updates their copy very infrequently (approximately annually). In 2005 Google apparently completely discontinued updating their clone. It is also possible that SeekOn has been censored merely because it is a large site from a small business.
Yahoo also suppresses access to small-business sites using any Open Directory data. Yahoo, like Google, operates its own directory and therefore may also be suppressing access to other directories or sites containing directory information for competitive reasons. (Yahoo's guidelines specifically assert the right to delete a site for any reason and Yahoo Search is generally more openly editorial than Google.) See companion case study: Search Engine Censoring of Open Directory Data.
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