Thursday, May 29, 2008

Web Finalist is available for downloading.

We have an update of Web Finalist - our real-time search tool that scans predefined collections of web pages for specific information.

This update fixes a nasty bug that would cause Web Finalist freeze when scanning particular web pages. It happened very very seldom.

The bug has something to do with Internet Explorer 6. When you try to search those pages in IE, it also freezes. Even Google toolbar is affected by this bug.

Finally, we have found a workaround. Now you can download the new version which should be more stable than the previous version.


Wednesday, April 09, 2008

News from AvasTon.

There is an update from AvasTon: Google engine module (v5.4) for FirstStop WebSearch. If you want more than 10 results for your Google searches, you should consider updating engines (menu "File/Update Engines")

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Engine update: Yahoo,, HotBot, Netscape, DogPile, Gigablast

The following search sources in FirstStop WebSearch have been updated today.
  • Yahoo
  • HotBot
  • Netscape
  • DogPile
  • Gigablast
Don't forget to check for updates from time to time (menu "File/Update Engines").


Monday, October 29, 2007

MSN's misleading user interface

Rebecca from SEOMoz recently shared her user experience with MSN web search. She found it very confusing and puzzling how MSN changes counts when you reach the last page of search results (although you might not even expect it to be the last page because of the estimates you saw on the previous pages).
We, at FirstStop WebSearch, have been working with search engines for the last seven years, and, among the major search engines, MSN/ has always been the most inconsistent in terms of the user experience relating to the last page of search results.
Not long ago they had an effective limit of only 250 results per query. But they would never hide links to pages #26, 27, etc. You could even go as far as page #1000, but those pages would only show a random number (usually two or three) of results which you had already seen on pages 1 through 25. Really strange and perplexing behavior.
Now that they have increased the limit to 1,000 search results per search, you won't see those weird semi-filled pages with search results from previous pages, but the new user interface is still very misleading.
It looks like they try to keep providing web searchers with optimistic estimates until they hit the limit.

Optimistic estimate on the last page of search results

The last legitimate page of search results (#100) displays their real estimate of total search results for your query, with links to the "next" pages (despite the fact that those pages don't exist).

Next links on the last page of search results

As you can see, when you are on page #100, MSN still displays navigation links to pages #101, #102, #103, and #104 as if they could display more results. But we all know it is not true. And at Microsoft they know it even better.

No more optimistic estimates.

If you click "Next" (or "101", "102, etc), you'll see page #100 again, but the optimistic estimates are no longer there. Without any explanation, MSN changes the estimate from 58,500,000 to 1,000 results. And the "Next" links are removed. Confusing, isn't it?

No more Next links.

OK. The phrase, "Page 100 of 1,000 results", leaves room for various interpretations. It can be read as: "You are viewing page #100 of the top 1,000 results for your search." So, technically, the phrase is correct. But other pages of MSN search results (which we deal with much more often than with page #100), have trained us to read this phrase as "You are viewing page #100 of the total 1,000 results we have for your search."
What we have here is unsatisfied expectations and a bad user experience.
I understand why MSN/Live displays a maximum of 1,000 search results, and I don't mind it. All major search engines have this limit. What I don't understand is why Microsoft prefers to lie to us and provides us with misleading navigation and status information.
Why do they display links to the "next" page when we are already on page #100 and they know there are no more pages they can display? Why not just be honest and add some warning at the bottom of the last page that they don't provide search results beyond 1,000?
P.S. The good thing is that MSN knows that their search engine is not perfect. And they want to improve it. On some pages, right below the navigation links, you can see their call for feedback: "Are you satisfied with Live Search? Tell us about it". So if you find their user interface misleading, be sure to drop them a line.

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Monday, October 08, 2007

Engine update: About, All the Web, Lycos, Scrub The Web, Yahoo.

The following search sources in FirstStop WebSearch have been updated today.
  • About
  • All The Web
  • Lycos
  • Scrub The Web
  • Yahoo

Don't forget to check for updates from time to time (menu "File/Update Engines").


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Engine update: Yahoo, Lycos, Voila.

The following search sources in FirstStop WebSearch have been updated today.

  • Yahoo! (should be faster now)
  • Lycos
  • Voila

LookSmart's web search doesn't seem to work. For every search it returns: "We're sorry. We did not find results for your search." (example: Dallas). Sad.

Don't forget to check for updates from time to time (menu "File/Update Engines").


Tuesday, August 07, 2007

SEOMoz' Long List of Link Searches --- The FirstStop Way

This post will demonstrate some of FirstStop WebSearch’s advanced features in a real world example based on a blog post Long List of Link Searches from SEOMoz where Rand Fishkin writes about the competitive intelligence aspects in SEO (Search Engine Optimization), particularly in link building.

As I read this article, I realized that FirstStop WebSearch fits well with the techniques he describes, so I decided to test-drive them.

Rand picked a website ( and one of their primary keyword phrases "snowboard equipment". Then he illustrated how to perform searches that will result in high quality link acquisition targets.

His #1 rule is:

You should perform all of these searches at each of the major engines (Google, Yahoo!, MSN & Ask - yes, even Ask, as they often link to some very valuable and achievable link sources).

Good. In FirstStop I can search these four engines simultaneously (actually I can search many more engines all at once, but let's stick to these four in our test-drive).

Next step:

Basically, we're seeking every possible permutation of the term/phrase - links from any of the top ranking sites (#1-100, depending on competitiveness) will provide high value. As you go down the list, you can also use these modified terms/phrases to get extra results from the other sources.

snowboard equipment
"snowboard equipment"
snow board equipment
"snow board equipment"
"snow board"
"snow boards"

OK. This seems to be a good task for the FirstStop WebSearch batch search feature.

Since the four search engines have similar phrase syntax, we can use the Simple Batch wizard (menu Batch/Simple Batch).

Simple Batch dialog box
Simple Batch dialog box

Just copy all the search terms into the text box. Change the search limits to 100 results per search engine (as Rand suggests). You can leave the default 500 results per search intact since any value more than 400 will work for four engines with 100 results maximum. Now click "OK".

Batch Editor dialog box
Batch Editor dialog box

You will see eight searches prepared in the Batch Editor. Although it is not necessary, you might want to change the directory where the search results will be saved.

Now I'm ready to start the search. Just click the "Start" button.

FirstStop WebSearch will automatically perform all searches and compile the search results. Once the batch search is complete, you will see a report. Here is my report:

  1. "snow board equipment" 292 results
  3. "snow board" 353 results
  5. "snow boards" 335 results
  6. "snowboard equipment" 312 results
  8. snow board equipment 376 results
  10. snowboard 324 results
  12. snowboard equipment 306 results
  14. snowboards 272 results

FirstStop automatically removes duplicate links ( and, and are not considered as duplicates though), so the numbers in the report indicate only unique links. Now you can see why you should use more than one search engine; for the selected engines, about 75% of top 100 search results are unique.

Now let's get back to our search results and see what we can do with them using FirstStop WebSearch.

First of all, you can see all the recent searches saved in the "History" pane.

Search history pane
Search history pane

Double-click any of them to see the corresponding search results. You can click on the column headers to sort the results. For example, let's sort by "Hits" to see how many of the search results overlap. Results with "4" in the "Hits" column are full duplicates (they exist in top 100 search results of each search engine). Here are the numbers of full duplicates:

  • snowboards - 13
  • snowboard equipment - 3
  • snowboard - 2
  • snow board equipment - 0
  • "snowboard equipment" - 5
  • "snow boards" - 2
  • "snow board" - 3
  • "snow board equipment" - 9

Surprising, isn't it?

In the "Engines" column, you will find other SEO-specific information - the names of the search engine(s) where a link was found. In parenthesis, next to each search engine name, you will see the position of the link in the corresponding engine's search results.

Let's go further. On the left side of FirstStop you will see the Discovery Tree. It's a really useful tool for our task.

Discovery Tree with different branches expanded
Discovery Tree with different branches expanded

Let's start with the "Search Sources" section. Here you can see the engine names and the number of search results FirstStop has retrieved from them. You can click an engine name and, in the search results list on the right, you will see only search results originating from that engine. Click "All Search Sources" to see all search results.

In the "Domains" section you will see the search results broken down by TLD (top level domains) and corresponding countries. You can expand the top level domains to see the web sites in those domains and the number of links to those web sites. Just click any site or TLD to restrict the search results to the selected site or domain.

The remaining section of the Discovery Tree breaks down the search results by words and phrases most frequently found in the search results. An SEO specialist can use this section to identify new variations of search terms and have a snapshot of keywords used on the competitive websites (we are talking about the competitive intelligence aspects of SEO, aren't we?).

The searches I just performed, Rand calls "obvious". Then he suggests that we proceed with the engines' advanced query parameters, such as:

allintitle:snowboard equipment
allinanchor:snowboard equipment
allinurl:snowboard equipment
allintext:snowboard equipment

You can use those parameters in the "Simple Search" mode, because, in this mode, FirstStop passes the search strings to search engines intact.

Search results for allinurl:snowboard equipment
Search results for allinurl:snowboard equipment

To use the engines' advanced parameters in the Batch Search, make sure to select one search engine at a time, because each engine has its own set of advanced parameters.

Then Rand suggests using Alternative Search Sources:

The main indices are great ways to define value, but adding in some alternate sources for link searches can help to diversify. The engines might not always consider these sources as important (which is why I'd stick to only the highest profile sites/pages in these results), but they can often be great sources for traffic.

OK. As you know, FirstStop has many pre-installed search sources and almost any other search source can be added into FirstStop WebSearch.

The rest of Rand’s suggested searches (Directory Search Terms, Blog & Forum Searches, Submit-Type Searches) are just variations of the batch searches. Just compile your list of search terms and copy them into the "Simple Batch" dialog box.

As you can see, FirstStop fits well with the techniques Rand describes in his blog post. But why use FirstStop WebSearch instead of your web browser? There are quite a few good reasons to do this.

  • FirstStop provides a single interface for searching multiple search sources.
  • FirstStop automatically saves all searches.
  • FirstStop has handy filtering and sorting tools.
  • But the main reason is FirstStop saves a lot of time.

Just estimate the volume of searches. Even without the searches from the "Alternative Search Sources" section, there are 72 suggested Google searches in the blog post. That means 288 searches on all four major search engines.

If you don't know how much time that could take, use our online productivity calculator. For this task, enter the following values: 28800 results (288 searches, 100 results per search) and 100 results per page (as Rand suggested). The calculator estimates more than 12 hours of search if you do it in your web browser. You can even reduce the "Results Store Time" in the advanced option to only five seconds (you still need to save the search results, don't you?), but the task still takes more than seven hours to complete.

Seven hours of hard repetitive work before you can even start to work with the search results. On the other hand, you can have FirstStop do all this work for you in much less time.

Feel free to ask questions and request similar demonstrations of other FirstStop features. You can leave your comments here or use a contact form on our site.

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