Canadian startup takes on search engine giants

A Canadian startup entered the search engine industry Monday with a portal and set of services designed to provide more selective results than what users find on Yahoo! or Google., based out of Toronto, employs about 15 people so far along with a number of external researchers and subject matter experts who will evaluate Web sites submitted through an application process. Those that meet the pre-defined criteria — including content, design, navigation and utility — will be given a seal of approval that is integrated with EliteWeb’s proprietary algorithm, TrueTrak. Webmasters will be given back-end access to the directory to customize keywords and update descriptions about their sites. Besides an assortment of news, weather and online communities, EliteWeb is also offering several subscription-based software tools to help small and medium businesses compete with enterprise organizations, including scheduling, recruitment, e-mail marketing and Web site development. founder and president Robert Burko, 23, said the privately funded portal began six years ago when the dot-com phenomenon led to a plethora of sites that complicated the searching process. He said his team surveyed hundreds of small and medium businesses to gauge their frustrations with search engines and tailored EliteWeb accordingly. 

He said the expert evaluations by the firm’s research team will ensure quality sites aren’t ignored in favour of sites whose owners employ search engine optimizers to tweak their ranking.

“It’s no longer going to be what did the robot see or what did the spider pick up,” he said. “Everything is done by hand . . . a lot of the public doesn’t understand there’s a whole industry of finding ways to get to the top (of search engine results). We’re not going to fall prey to that industry.” 

Some researchers will be employees, while others will be subject matter experts who have expressed an interest in participating, Burko said.

“We don’t just bring on a researcher and ask them what they want to do,” he said. “If you’re going to be reviewing the sports category, we need to make sure you’re the sports guru of sports gurus.”

Gary Stein, an analyst with Jupiter Research in San Francisco who follows the search engine industry, said there are no statistics on the number of new entrants to the market, but most of them fall into one of two categories. There are vertical search engines devoted to content about the construction industry, for example, or those such as Rollyo that allow users to create personalized lists of search results which they can then share with other people.

“The interesting wrinkle here is when you have some sort of filter on the search result,” he said, comparing to the eBay model of peer-reviewed content. “If that result is determined by a person or a local reviewer, that’s something people might be interested in exploring.”

Burko said that Google demonstrated the next stage of search when it developed its adware technology.

“Generating results that are matched up with relevant ads was really the way the Internet had to go,” he said, adding that EliteWeb builds on the idea by focusing the results to the best-in-class content or sites. “The value is being able to target it.” will be offering a free application for its rankings that will be processed in five to seven days, and a paid “priority queue” which will process applications in 12 to 48 hours.

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