AltaVista is Dead. Long Live Yahoo! Bing

After being acquired by Yahoo!, AltaVista was shut down in early 2011. (Learn more here.) The URL now redirects to Yahoo! Search. We enjoyed tracking and analyzing this search engine when it was around, so we’re keeping our past analysis up for posterity. 

AltaVista was one of our favorite search engines, back in 1996.

Combining the “free for all” approach of Google with a smart search engine that constantly evolved, AltaVista retained its position near the top of our favorites list long after the birth of Google. On the old AltaVista, every page on your site would eventually be spidered, if you were patient.

AltaVista was the first search engine to ban software submissions entirely. You were required to manually submit to their database. It was a unique and very neat solution.

AltaVista also had a web directory. It was a copy of the LookSmart Directory, and getting your site listed there helped quite a bit.

AltaVista was also the first search engine for which inbound links really mattered. In the beginning, a webmaster’s goal was to get the AltaVista spider to crawl their site as often as possible. That enabled the webmaster to make changes to his or her site and see the impact in the search results. The way to get your site spidered more frequently was to get more inbound links to your site. So, “Link Popularity” in one form or another has been important since the early 90’s – long before Google.

AltaVista was also the first search engine to ever ban us for “spamming“. It was back in 1996, and we were obsessed rogue user agents. We created what we called a Spider Trap – a page that would only be discovered by a spider because the link was hidden. If the user agent was a spider we liked (a search engine spider), the page would simply count their visit and allow them to continue crawling. But if it was an unrecognized user agent, the page would only include a link back to itself, trapping the user agent in an unending loop. Well, we caught plenty of rogue spiders, but violated a key principle in the process. No hidden links, even if you have the best of intentions. The great thing is that back then you could just call and get help. We took down our Spider Trap and were reinstated quickly. And we’ve never been penalized by a search engine since.

Anyway, as AltaVista got a little older and started searching for new ways to generate revenue, it started doing things that we thought were unfortunate. They put paid search ads right above the organic search results and labeled the ads “Products and Services.” On those old monitors set at 800×600, the ads pushed the natural search results down below the fold. In June, 2002, the FTC weighed in with “recommendations” that the major search engines make it clear when they were selling ads, so AltaVista changed “Products and Services” to “Sponsored Matches.” Those ads were made up of DoubleClick and Overture ads. There were usually 4 ads in that space.

Directly below the “Sponsored Matches” section, in bold, you would see, “We found ##,### results:“.  What followed were the actual search results.  Except that the very first result was also a sponsored listing, part of a service called “AltaVista News,” in which companies paid AltaVista to list their articles in the search results.  After that first listing were the organic search results.

Another revenue generator for AltaVista was their Pay for Inclusion program. You may recall that there were some listings in the AltaVista search results that had logos and multiple section links below them.  One common set of links was, “Promotions – Services – About Us – Review – News”.  Those companies paid AltaVista to include their site in the index and to change the appearance of their listing.

Finally, on every page in AltaVista, in the right-hand column, you would see either one tall tower banner, or three smaller ads.  AltaVista sold that space to companies such as Ah-Ha and others.

Eventually, like Alltheweb, AltaVista was purchased by Overture, which was then purchased by Yahoo!. Now AltaVista results are slightly modified Yahoo results, which are slightly modified Bing results.

February 18, 2003 – Overture announced that it has come to an agreement for the purchase of AltaVista.
Read the release:

Monday, April 5, 2004
It’s official. AltaVista results are now pulled straight from Yahoo!