homeabout kottke.orgarchives + tags

Elastic, not sticky

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 03, 2002

Google now has this bit of text on the bottom of each of their results pages now:

“Try your query on: AltaVista Excite Lycos Yahoo!”

Click on Excite (for example) and it takes you directly to an Excite search results page for whatever term you were searching for. What’s going on here? Google linking directly to competitors’ Web sites? Have they gone insane?

What Google is doing here is instructive for most companies offering online content or services. Google knows their search results are good and displayed in a useful way. You want to wander off to Excite? That’s ok because they know you’ll be back soon. Google doesn’t care about stickiness (which is a nearly unattainable goal unless you’re AOL or Yahoo!)…they know that you’re not going to spend all your online time at their site.

They care much more about making their site elastic: vistors aren’t stuck in the site, but when they leave, Google knows there’s a good chance they’re coming back. Loyalty without lock-in. Elastic sites work well because they embrace the “Webness” of the Web…they allow people to interact and communicate with each other as they prefer to do in the real world. Human relationships are elastic in nature. Like a clingy friend, nothing is worse than a needy Web site sucking all of your time away and not letting you spend any time on other sites.

Weblogs are a good example of the effectiveness of elasticity; they continually direct people away from themselves yet people have very strong connections with the weblogs that they read and often come back for more. I can’t possibly hold your attention here for more than a few minutes a day, but I’m fairly confident that if I am consistant in what I offer here in terms of quality and theme, you’ll be back within the next week.

Many companies can’t offer products or services with the quality or necessity of Google or the crack-like nature of weblogs, but they can stop worrying so much about fencing customers in like cattle and start dealing with them in human terms.

Reader comments

Mike DoanJul 03, 2002 at 3:07PM

Its similiar to Nordstrom directing you to another competing department store when they don’t have a product that you want. Great customer service brings people back to Nordstrom. Great search results will have the same results.

Martin ConaghanJul 03, 2002 at 3:17PM

I sent this in an email to you Jason, but you’re probably wading through millions of others, so I thought I’d post it here…

Earlier tthis week, I found a referrer search to my personal site, where someone had typed in a specific search term on Google and found a page among the archives of my weblog.

However, the particular blog entry they were hoping to find appears half-way down the archive page, and I can only imagine just how frustrated the person must have been not to be able to jump directly to the blog entry itself - instead, having to trawl through all the other entries on the page until they found the item they had clicked on Google to read.

My site-local Atomz search, has anchor tags inserted directly above each individual blog entry, so that when someone uses the Atomz search on my site, the link(s) returned take them directly to the specific blog entry, not just the top of the page.

I’d propose something for Google to look at introducing:

- when Google indexes an page from a weblog, it checks for an anchor tag nearest to the blog entry/item, and defines that as the link.

I’m sure Google could be modified to do this with pages that have “weblog”, “blogger” or “blog” in the meta name data.

DanJul 03, 2002 at 3:19PM

I may be wrong, but hasn’t google had that for a long time?

By the way, even if it it is a new addition, using now twice is a bit repetitive ;)

Google now has this bit of text on the bottom of each of their results pages now:

DanJul 03, 2002 at 3:21PM

D’oh. I used the word “it” twice while pointing out the repetitive use of now. Now I feel stupid now. (ironic use of now intentional) Why did you remove the preview button?

petermeJul 03, 2002 at 3:28PM

Those links have been on the bottom of Google results forever, even when it was at http://google.stanford.edu/

I had the sense that when Google was just a Stanford student project, that those links were meant to be truly helpful, because Google hadn’t indexed as much as its competitors. Over time, those links have evolved to serve as a smart piece of branding — in showing openness to link to competitors, and in awareness that it was unlikely that any competitor will provide better results.

BenJul 03, 2002 at 3:29PM

If you used the Google toolbar, what you type in the input box can also be found in the page you ended up on by clicking on a second button.

jkottkeJul 03, 2002 at 3:55PM

Those links have been on the bottom of Google results forever, even when it was at http://google.stanford.edu/

Damn, really? I knew that Yahoo! had something similar on the bottom of their search results page, but I didn’t remember seeing it on Google before.

nickJul 03, 2002 at 7:13PM

There’s something rather wry about this: I’d be interested in seeing the clickthrough rate of anything at the bottom of a Google page, at least, beneath the ‘Goooooooogle’ thing. In the assumption that you only really focus at the stuff above the fold, and what’s on the next page.

But I like ‘elastic’ as a concept, lots: it kind of provides an alternative to the static/dynamic stuff I’ve been railing against elsewhere ;)

Chad LundgrenJul 03, 2002 at 11:12PM

I’m in agreement with Nick, but more because of false page bottoms than page folds.
On a goal-oriented task like search, the fold matters less than when people are casually looking for something to click.

On usability tests I’ve ran, I’ve heard an audible clang when users hit the false bottom of a web page. Most users scroll to this bottom, either use the text footer, or scroll back up. Since then, I’ve advised clients to put legal disclaimers there.

This false bottom doesn’t affect elasticity. Insecure sites wouldn’t link to their competitors anywhere.

stephJul 03, 2002 at 11:17PM

I agree that Google is basically the Nordstrom of search engines. I’ve never been let down and sometimes find myself surfing the content of their page, not just using them as a search engine. Have you ever looked at Google Zeitgeist? It fascinates me.

tomJul 04, 2002 at 1:17AM

Didn’t several search engines have those, a long time ago? I remember using them all the time from yahoo, and I could swear altavista used to do it too, back before it was a portal, or perhaps it was excite. Now that I use google more I haven’t even thought of using a “try your search on” link.

JedJul 04, 2002 at 3:52AM

I believe, but could be mistaken, that in the past companies actually paid to be listed as one of the other search tools on Yahoo.

Kiruba.comJul 04, 2002 at 4:04AM

True. I’ve noticed that weblogs where the owner gives links to many others and drive traffic to other interesting destinations invariably becomes popular and gets mentioned more often. Elasticity is a nice term used.

alexJul 04, 2002 at 6:29AM

stickiness & elasticity. Your comments on these are most informative.

Jacob ShwirtzJul 04, 2002 at 7:32AM

Have you ever tried to convince a client, or even just a friend who is on the “business side” of a company’s web project that they should have external links on their site? I am amazed by how many “corporate sites” still reject the idea of the added benefit provided to the user by external links. Get with the times, people!

tamimJul 04, 2002 at 2:12PM

Google, like Yahoo!, has had the “search in other engines” for ages. I suspect that since both were PhD projects at Stanford, it might have been a Stanford specific thing. At least for Yahoo! there weren’t as many, if any, search engines and adding them might have been more internet-communal benefit thing than a business decission.

The sticky-v-elastic is a pretty brilliant concept.

Anyhow, I don’t think this “X says” before each comment followed by a “by X at date-time” flows well. One of these mentions of “poster X” has to go.

Jesse RudermanJul 04, 2002 at 4:58PM

Altavista, Excite, Lycos, and Yahoo are not Google’s competitors. Alltheweb, Teoma, Inktomi, and Openfind are. If Google were trying to be as useful as possible, it would at least link to Alltheweb rather than Lycos and leave out Yahoo. I would actually use those links if they were to links good, non-rebranded search engines. As it is, the links make Google look hypocritical.

Also note that you don’t see “try your search on Overture, Sprinks, Looksmart, and Kanoodle” below Google’s sponsored links.

Robert LochJul 04, 2002 at 10:03PM

Jesse you better let them know that. Altavista would sell its grandmother for Google never to have been born.

Yahoo is convince that Google is becoming a serious competitor and for that reason is widely tipped not to renew its search contract with them.

The reality is that anyone that competes for ad revenue online is a competitor of Google. That is what media is all about. Google isn’t any longer a one dimensional search company, it has spreading rapidly into other terrain.

NealJul 05, 2002 at 10:49AM

I don’t know what you’re talking about Jason, because those links have been there since Google launched.

Sam LeyJul 07, 2002 at 10:30PM

One thing you might be missing is the fact that Yahoo, Excite, AltaVista and Lycos ARE Google. Each of those search engines is powered by Google, excepting any ‘directory’ services they have, like Yahoo’s directory. If you search for something at Google, then search for the same thing at Yahoo, you will get identical results. Not just similar, but word for word identical. Google isn’t linking to competitors, they are linking to their alternate faces.
However, forgetting that little detail, I really like your thoughts on elastic pages! I agree that too many business’s are totally missing the concept of the web. If I wanted a dumb interaction-less brochure, I’d call their 800 number and have them mail me one. A website is NOT just an electronic brochure, and its dumb business practice to treat it like one. Its incredible after years of the web, that some business’s still aren’t getting the point.


Sam LeyJul 07, 2002 at 10:50PM

Hmm, my last comment may not be perfectly correct, now that I think about it.

I think only Yahoo’s results are Google powered, the others may not be. Seems lycos gets some of their results from alltheweb.

Anyone know for sure?


jkottkeJul 09, 2002 at 7:53AM

Lycos, Altavista, and Excite most certainly do not get their results from Google.

Andrew SleighJul 12, 2002 at 6:43AM

Hear, hear! This always annoyed me. The obsession with content and ‘sticky’ content in particular always seemed somewhat off the mark. (Unless your site is designed to feed eyeballs to advertisers, and hey, does anyone beleive inthat any more…?)

It would be interesting to see new ways of dealing with the movement of people around the network, whether it’s attracting them, tracking them or sending them on….

More at: http://members.evolt.org/foop/blog/archives/000112.shtml#000112

Joel KorbJul 12, 2002 at 10:10AM

I don’t know if it’s still like this, but it used to be that google would give you those links if your search returned results, but not when it didn’t. Of course, it’s the latter case in which you’d really like to use the links. I always figured they didn’t want to make themselves look bad by showing you another engine can find something they can’t.

Larry HoskenApr 13, 2003 at 12:30AM

All this talk of competitor-links and disclaimers below the fold makes me wonder if there is some way to combine them. Something like “Foo Inc cannot be held responsible for information on externally linked sites, especially those of our lying, cheating competors _Bar_Co_ and _Baz_Ltd_”

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.

We Work Remotely