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Search Engines

Their popularity, their secrets, their flaws.

This story appears in the July 1998 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Since search engine sites are often the starting point of Web surfing sessions, it's no surprise that, in a recent ranking by Internet-usage measurement company Media Metrix, seven of the top 25 sites accessed by businesses were search engines. Aware of their high visibility, search engine sites seeking to increase advertising revenues have evolved into the online equivalent of a corner store, offering a range of personalized content and Web-based services.

A site with this one-stop shopping appeal is Webcrawler, created in 1994. Redwood City, California-based global media company Excite Inc. bought Webcrawler from AOL in 1996 and overhauled it, giving users the ability to create a personalized "My Page" that displays information relevant to their needs, whether it's headline news or the day's horoscopes. The site also presents a daily theme program section, "Today on Webcrawler," as well as a "Daily ToolBox" that provides Web-based services such as free e-mail.

Brett Bullington, executive vice president of Excite, believes that Webcrawler's content elicits a strong, enduring loyalty from customers. "The personalized aspect of the page means we can find out what kind of information and services our users want through their repeated visits, and present it to them in a compelling way when they return," says Bullington. "And because we also have practical content like free e-mail and programs that change from day to day, consumers start to develop a habit of coming back to the site to see what's new." Apparently users are doing just that: Webcrawler now averages more than 6 million hits per day.