What`s Behind Blekko`s Spike in Popularity?

Blekko, the little hash tag search engine that could, will likely see four times the traffic at the end of this month that it saw at the start of January. While still a drop in the bucket compared to Google, that’s amazing growth for one short quarter. So what are the secrets of its success?

By Blekko’s own analytics, the number of unique IPs it saw went from 1.58 million  in December to 5.33 million as of the beginning of this week. Looking at their chart, the biggest spikes seem to have happened between December and January, when the search engine nearly doubled its traffic, and between March and April, when it went from 3.71 million unique visitors to 5.33 million unique visitors so far this month. Matt McGee notes that this represents a 337 percent rise in visitors just in this year – and April isn’t over yet.

The year-over-year numbers are similarly impressive. McGee compared March 2011 to March of this year, and found a 645 percent spike in Blekko’s traffic. The search engine’s blog shows charts from Compete and Hitwise that demonstrate the same trend. McGee checked in with comScore just to see if all of the major web ranking companies agree. “Although the numbers are different, the trend is pretty much exactly the same – a dramatic rise in traffic beginning in January, 2012,” he observed.

So what’s the secret? Well, it doesn’t hurt that Blekko received a $30 million investment from Russian search company Yandex back in September 2011. Blekko parlayed that money into improving its infrastructure. Search Engine Land quoted Blekko CEO Rich Skrenta at the time as saying that “We have doubled the server count (to 1500 servers), as well as doubling the RAM and SSD on every box. This allows us to have a larger index, as well as giving us more query serving capacity.”

The investment also gave the little search engine resources to put into improving its algorithm. Indeed, the January spike in traffic neatly coincides with an announcement Blekko made shortly before Christmas concerning a major upgrade. Users would benefit from the addition of 500 regular slashtags, a large index and improved long-tail results. They’d also get to compare search results from Blekko, Bing, and Google just by using the /monte slashtag. You can read Blekko’s blog post for the details.

Skrenta also notes dissatisfaction with Google as one of the reasons for his search engine’s increasing popularity. But it may be more like dissatisfaction with both major search engines. Brafton News noted that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said, back in October at the Web 2.0 Summit, that search users should give Bing a try, since Google and Bing search results are the same about 70 percent of the time. This implies that users who want a different search experience will need to seek out other, smaller search engines, such as Blekko and DuckDuckGo.

I’ve reviewed Blekko and noted that its approach is very different from the major search engines. The slashtags may be slightly less intuitive than what you’re used to from Google. Despite this minor learning curve for new users, Blekko’s slashtags do offer the kind of precision and control for your results that’s hard to achieve with other search engines.

Another factor contributing to Blekko’s growing popularity may be the death of Yahoo Site Explorer. This valuable free tool for SEOs closed up shop in November of 2011. Blekko, however, offers its own assortment of SEO tools, as detailed by Vanessa Fox. Skrenta notes that SEOs have been “all over” these tools. If you’re still in mourning for YSE – or even if you’re not – you might consider trying these free tools to see if they work with the way you like to do things.

Skrenta also pointed to distribution partnerships as a reason for his search engine’s increasing popularity. Just under a month ago, for instance, Nicole Perlroth wrote a Blekko blog post that unveiled a deal with Lavasoft. This deal made Blekko the default search engine for users of Lavasoft’s security software, and allowed it to “use Lavasoft’s software to signal whether a site in its search results is trustworthy or not, using a red or green symbol,” according to Perlroth. It works well with Blekko’s efforts to position itself as “the spam-free search engine,” too, which is its motto.

Finally, Blekko representatives have been showing up at lots of trade shows and conferences, increasing its visibility and perhaps encouraging it to stick in users’ minds when they’re ready to search. McGee noted Blekko’s presence at “shows like SXSW, Blogworld Expo and our own SMX West conference to many librarian-focused events like the American Library Association Midwinter Meeting and the Internet Librarian Association.”

Behind all of these points, however, remains one fact: for a small but growing number of people, Blekko () offers a viable alternative for at least some of their Internet searches. If you’ve been unhappy with Bing and Google, or wonder if there are alternatives that might do the job better, perhaps it’s time to consider giving Blekko a try.

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