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Best of the Web Blogs : Talking Blog Search with Greg Hartnett

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Best of the Web Blogs : Talking Blog Search with Greg Hartnett

For a reasonable amount of time, Best of the Web (BOTW.org) has been among the few in setting the standard of quality web directories; giving emphasis to the value of its categorization of web sites and building upon its foundation of selectivity.

Last year, Best of the Web expanded beyond a normal web site directory and launched Best of the Web Blogs, a blog directory and search engine which is composed of an index of editor reviewed and approved blogs.

Best of the Web Blogs : Talking Blog Search with Greg Hartnett

With some of the major blog search engines on the market struggling to keep spam blogs (splogs) out of their indexes, BOTW has used the old fashioned model of Editor Manpower to make sure blogs listed in the BOTW Blogs index follow strict guidelines.

The end product is relevant and 99.9% spam free blog search results which give Technorati, Sphere and Google Blog Search a run for their money. After meeting Best of the Web’s President and Founder Greg Hartnett at SES San Jose this summer, we set up a time to chat about Best of the Web Blogs:

Search Engine Journal : Greg, BOTW is well respected around the search and Internet world as a regarded directory of web sites. But your blog directory / search is a unique and different offering than just merely a directory.

Please share with our readers the type of search functionality BOTW Blogs has implemented to expand the search and categorical navigation experience.

Greg Hartnett : The freshness factor of blogs requires a different type of search functionality than that provided by the typical search engine. As blogs are updated frequently, and the information is timely, we need to provide a product that gives users access to the latest content. Additionally, the content on many blogs varies and is sorted by categories or tags – whatever you want to call the classification. These unique parameters lend themselves to multiple search functionalities, and we offer users the ability to find information in a variety of ways.

For instance, if a user wanted to find out what was happening in the blogosphere concerning Conservative pundit Michelle Malkin, you would find posts containing the term “Michelle Malkin” by querying the Posts. Or you could find posts with that tag by querying the Tags. Additionally, if you want to find blogs solely concerned with Michelle Malkin, you’d query the Blogs. There are lots of ways to dice up the information – we try to cover them all.

SEJ : Is there such a thing as Spam Free blog search?

Greg : No, there isn’t. The first problem is that “spam” means something different to so many people, that getting everybody to agree that the same results are or are not “spammy” is a near impossible task. Moreover, in an ever-changing medium, it is impossible to ensure that 100% of your results are completely relevant to what the searcher is looking for. It’s a virtuous, though regrettably unattainable, goal.

However, we feel that our approach of reviewing sites for inclusion helps to minimize “spammy” results to an almost imperceptible level.

SEJ : Why put so much effort into Blog Search?

Greg : I think that blogging marks an important step in the dissemination of information. Never before in the history of publishing has the individual had the power to reach so many people with such little expenditure. Just twenty years ago, the idea of the Citizen Journalist was implausible – now it’s reality. With little to no cost, Joe Internet can share his ideas – whatever they may be – and open them up for discussion, with hundreds, thousands, or potentially millions of people. That’s pretty exciting stuff. I’m just grateful to be able to play a part in the development of the medium.

SEJ : I see that BOTW Blogs is looking for editors, can you please share with us the benefits of becoming a BOTW Blog editor and why is this not a paid position?

Greg : We are always looking for good people. In fact, we just picked up a very good person – Roger Montti of Martinibuster fame. We always have spots on the roster for stars.

With the Web Directory, we decided to go exclusively with a staff of paid editors. It’s easier to manage a staff of a few dozen editors than it is a couple/few hundred volunteers. And quite frankly, we couldn’t rely on the generosity of others to consistently move the project forward. With the Blog Directory, we decided to try opening it up to volunteer editors. There are, of course, paid staff that work on the Blog Directory as well, and they are responsible for the growth of the project.

In terms of the benefits of being a volunteer editor, I would ask, why does anybody volunteer for anything? The motivation for each would be limited only by the number of editors: philanthropic, curiosity, self interest, control, professional credentials. I don’t know necessarily why each person volunteers, but as long as they contribute in a positive manner, I’m grateful.

SEJ : What criteria do blogs have to meet in order to be listed in BOTW Blogs?

Greg : We do have our terms and minimum listing criteria, but ultimately, the only mandatory yardstick is quality. Editors try to follow our guidelines as filters to more efficiently sort through blogs that are not relevant or contain less than stellar content, but in the end it all comes down to the quality of the content on the blog.

SEJ : Do you run into any blogs which may be exceptions?

Greg : As a rule of thumb, we try not to make exceptions. The only criterion that ever really comes into play is the “six month rule”. In an effort to ensure that bloggers are serious about their blog (usually a good sign of quality), we require blogs to have a minimum of six months worth of posts before being listed. There have been instances where blogs less than six months old have been added, but those listings are the exception rather than the norm.

SEJ : How well is the 60 day free trial advertising program working for your advertisers? Can you please explain a bit about this sponsorship opportunity.

Greg : We have had tremendous success with the 60 day free trial program. Thus far, it has proved to be a great introduction for advertisers to get their feet wet with our sponsorship program. Category sponsors get premier placement in the category of their choice. Additional benefits include greater control over your advertising message and a limited number of advertising spots. While directory listings are placed in the most relevant category, sponsors have more flexibility. Though sponsors still undergo editorial review to ensure relevancy and quality, more flexibility is given in category selection.

For instance, a listing for a coffee blog would be placed in Recreation/Food/Drink/Coffee/ with a title and description determined by the editor. The same blog could be a sponsor of Recreation/Food/Drink/ or even Recreation/Food/ with a title and description of their own crafting. And sponsorships are available to any webmaster – not just bloggers.

SEJ : Some blog for passion, some for revenue, and some for both. What is your own experience with blogging and what is your driving force?

Greg : I used to write a lot more than I currently do – I now limit myself to blogging on our company blog, and my personal blog. I have the best of both worlds really – I get to blog for the company about work related information, and express my own thoughts on my personal blog. As my personal philosophies have been known to ruffle some feathers, I now try to maintain a policy of keeping the two separate and distinct.

Though the objective with the two blogs contrast, the inspiration holds true for each. The purpose of the company blog is to keep communication open between Best of the Web, it’s users, advertisers, and members. It’s just another extension of our commitment to the user. While benevolent in theory, fundamentally it serves to strengthen our brand, foster better communication and help grow the bottom line. My personal blog, on the other hand, is completely non-commercial in nature and serves as a forum for me to express myself – an opportunity I use to keep in touch with family, talk about world issues, technology, or whatever else I feel is important.

I continue doing it for rather selfish reasons – blogging has enriched my life. It’s given me the opportunity to communicate with new people – to share ideas and opinions with others from around the world. It’s expanded my horizons, strengthened my vocabulary, sharpened my writing, and acted as a conduit for the introduction of new business acquaintances and friends. My inspiration lies in my belief that blogging makes my company a better place to work, and makes me a better person.

SEJ : I’ve noticed some mature blog categories on BOTW Blogs which would attract some serious spammers. How often does BOTW review blogs which are in its index to make sure they have not lost their quality or have been sold to Spam-monsters?

Greg : Editors are constantly surfing through categories, checking to ensure the quality of the listings. We don’t really run into much of an issue with the bait-and-switch blogs – an active editor base and the “six month rule” for inclusion both help to identify and deal with any problem listings.

SEJ : Are you currently working with any partners or syndicating your blog search index?

Greg : We have a few business development deals in the works, but nothing that has reached the point of public disclosure. While we currently do not syndicate any of our content, we are always looking for opportunities to expand our distribution through partnerships or strategic acquisitions.

SEJ : Any plans to launch an aggregator or any other blogging tools?

Greg : Well, we’re still in the process of fine-tuning our existing blog offering, and as such have no immediate plans for rolling out new blog related products. We did, however, just introduce the Express Review option on the Blog Directory. For bloggers who want a quicker review of their blog, we now offer the option of an Express Review for a nominal fee.

SEJ : What are BOTW Blogs traffic and usage numbers like? How many people are using your blog search technology?

Greg : Not nearly as many as we anticipate will be using it in the near future. Currently, we are averaging a couple/few thousand users accessing the Blog search on a daily basis. We recently beefed up our hardware, adding additional servers and more storage, so we’re ready for the traffic. It will come as the medium continues to grow. In the meantime, we’ll continue building out the directory and tweaking the search functionality. Just another day at Best of the Web…

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Loren Baker

Loren Baker is the Founder of SEJ, an Advisor at Alpha Brand Media and runs Foundation Digital, a digital marketing ... [Read full bio]

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