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Interview With Rich Skrenta, Blekko CEO

Posted by Kaisja Clark on Apr 17, 2012 11:19:13 AM

Rich Skrenta, Anti-Spam Search Engine Blekko Founder, Talks To Us About SEO

Not many things give the folks at Google pause. Conversely, when faced with the prospect of going up against web leviathan Google, most individuals would likely find the idea less than appealing.

Not Rich Skrenta.

You may have heard of him. He was featured in the New York Times, after he talked investors into a $25 million deal to invest in Blekko, a newer, alternative search engine that has some promising innovations in terms of purified web searches. You may know that Skrenta was one of the guys behind news aggregate Topix. Or, that Netscape forked over about a million dollars to acquire Skrento's web directory site, NewHoo, renaming it the Open Directory Project. Beloved for its open source content and people-driven format, its just one of many projects that Skrenta has had his hand in developing.

Skrenta, who for all intents and purposes is considered the father of the web virus, is a bit of a study in contrasts. (As a teen, Skrenta became one of the original prototypes for aspiring geeks everywhere when he created the Elk Cloner virus in '82 as a way to torment his buddies.) It's ironic that viruses, detestable little nuisances that they are, were essentially invented by the same man who spends his days dedicated to creating an online world that isn't drowning in spammy content.

This is where the fun part comes in. Skrenta is taking on Google and its big, fat automated search engine and making it pay attention. Although it is still a comparatively small alternative engine, Blekko is undeniably making waves. According to Search Engine Land's Matt McGee, Blekko's traffic is up a staggering 400 percent, and that's just since the first of the year. Not one to shy from the the big guys, Skrenta cited dissastifaction with Google as a main reason for the traffic jump, along with Blekko's emphasis on quality search results. Where Google relies heavily on deploying Googlebots to scan sites for its ratings, by contrast, Skrenta created the search engine Blekko, that uses an ingenious touch to scan web content: people. His all-human staff sifts through the content from about 500 different topics called "slashtags" and using their judgement, intentionally ranks sites with better information, authority and quality above all else.

The result, at least in those slashtag results, are web pages culled from the vastness of the web that are essentially spam-free. It gives the internet search process something that Google has lacked, a human touch, and by doing so Skrenta has created a search engine that puts information over monetization.

"Our goal when we started blekko was to add another editorial voice to web search. We think offering a different take on web search is a benefit to consumers and gives them an alternative when searching online," Skrenta said. "Blekko's model of opting searches in spammy or contested categories into high quality reference collections of human curated sites has been very effective."

"We're doing this in approximately 500 categories - categories such as health, travel and personal finance. For searches in these areas, blekko's can completely eliminate spam and return results from authoritative sources," he said.

Since he's been an integral player in the game for so long, he's proven himself to be as good at predicting new advances as is he is at reading code. Back in 2007, Skrenta was interviewed by Michael Gray, and in it he essentially predicted the rise of the increasingly local web focus. "I expect location-aware searching to make big progress over the next few years. Local advertisers have been slow to move to the web, but they reprepresent $100B of advertising dollars in the US alone. They can't reach big parts of their audience through the newspaper or local TV or coupon mailers anymore. They're going to have to go online to connect with 20-somethings locally. You see a couple of segments in the search engines now, like real estate agents, but I expect once the technology catches up to let us effectively do local searches to see a big advertiser movement here online. There are 500,000 advertisers in adwords now, but there are 12 million local US businesses. That's a lot of ad dollars that have yet to come online. We are not done with growth here by a long shot."

If the current site-ranking game is set to change, online businesses and marketing companies are scrambling to keep their sites, and their revenue stream at the top of the search pile. Skrento was kind enough to give us his recommendations for companies looking to keep their sites returning among what Blekko terms "highest quality of search results."

"Marketing/SEO firms will continue to add value to clients by advising firms on the best ways to promote their content online and assist discoverability through search," he said. "Blekko has a full algorithmic search engine under the hood, and many classic SEO best practices apply to blekko as they do to other search engines."

So, in essence, the game has become about content. Despite being two search engines with drastically differing models, the goals are for the highest web pages to rank that way, because they earned it. The best bet for any company that wants to make sure it's rankings land in the desired territory is to create web pages that use creativity, originality and good verifiable information. Web marketers need not fear the coming transition, however. As Skrento said, "Focusing on quality content is going to be a winning strategy regardless of which engine you want to target. But many of the classic factors will continue to be important to pay attention to."