Seeing the bigger picture – Image Search Showdown

Late last week Exalead announced an upgrade to their Image search.


They’ve worked on a couple of things to speed up the process of downloading images from the web, and the new search looks very clean and tidy (albeit I’d argue the default number of stills returned per page is too few, in my humble).


Still, my experience with Exalead has always been pretty good, not least because they are one of the few search engines who take advanced searching seriously (offering word adjacency, word regularity, and phonetic spelling functions – see here).


This got me to thinking – I’ve not done a comparison between stills services online before, so what better time than the present…


So basically I’m going to take Google Image Search, Yahoo Images, and Exalead Images, and throw some search terms at them to see how they cope (note: for US readers, I’m pointing to UK domains here).

So let’s see the results…


Elliott Smith: in Google’s results, one thing strikes you instantly.  There are seven album covers; a few stills of artwork, and of the remaining stills, a further three aren’t of him.  So that’s 9 relevant images of the artist in question. Out of 20. Not a great ratio.


Although many of  these sources are social (blogs, social network sites and the like), they nonetheless point to products rather than the person – reflecting what some might argue is a general bias across Google resources more generally – sales-driven search results.


Yahoo’s results also has a couple of album covers (different ones this time, and no duplication).  In fact every one on the first page of these results is unique.  There’s a mix of sources, fanzines, music mags, even a few university pages, as well as socially sourced content.


Exalead’s results are perhaps the most impressive quality-wise (being subjective here).  There’s a much stronger focus on social sources (which, granted have their issues re clearance), and far less product results.


The only obvious drawback with Exalead’s image search, is there is no word correction if you make a typo. Bit of an oversight this.


Accrington Stanley: Google’s results are again heavily driven by products rather than the source in question.  There’s seven stills of match programs, and even two results from a football key-ring company (talk about flogging a dead horse).  Again, a minority of results are actually relevant, though those are either of youth teams, historic teams, or fans.  Where’s the team, players, manager etc.?


Yahoo’s results also have two match programs, but a much richer (if poorer technical quality) range of social results – taken by and for fans of the club.  This one’s a cracker – nothing of this quality amongst the Google results.


Exalead’s results are problematic.  One the one hand, they are the only of the three engines to produce a professional quality picture of the team (duplicated in the results), but on the other, it also returned a picture of a cricket team, and a still from that football key-ring site again.


So in short – Exalead had the best result, but the other results weren’t significantly better across the board – game abandoned.


Yorkshire: Yorkshire is a place.  Yorkshire is a state of mind.  Yorkshire is also a word which all three of these image searchers confuse with the small, yappy, rat-like creatures whose name they derive from God’s County.  Yeah, Google’s results have the odd map, but there are way more mutts.


Yahoo’s results are even worse (if that’s possible) with nary a solitary Yorkshire-based image in the entire first page.  Just rats, rats everywhere.


And so finally to Exalead’s results – which (a bit surreally) include pictures of two budgie-type creatures, in addition to the obligatory mutt.  And some maps.


Are Best in Show types winning the SEO war here?  


So to conclude, I’d say that despite (or perhaps because of) some mixed results, it’s a good idea to use all three when you’re running an image search.


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