Cuil – Gateway to Spam

So there’s a new player in the search engine space, founded by some really smart people from Google.  Named Cuil, pronounced “cool”, it differs from Goole’s algorithm:

As Cuil’s founders describe it, the search engine goes beyond today’s search techniques of link analysis and traffic ranking to analyze the context of each page and the concepts behind each query. It then organizes similar search results into groups and sorts them by category. Cuil displays results and offers organizing features, such as tabs to clarify subjects, images to identify topics, and search-refining suggestions.


Or, put simply:

Cuil is making a big push that it ranks pages by content, rather than popularity. The idea here is to poke at how Google is commonly viewed to just reward pages that have the most PageRank value.


Ranking by content?  Uh oh!  Remember “back in the day”, when content was the main factor in ranking websites?  What did we end up with?  That’s right, lots of spammy search results.  SE rankings were determined by the number of times search terms were repeated in the page content, and it was easy to repeat your way to the top results.  Content ranking was pretty much the death of Lycos and Alta Vista–the signal to noise ratio was way too low.

Just to test this brave new world of content ranking, I ran a test myself.  Wifey owns The Bloomery Florist in Butler, PA, so I did searches on Google and Cuil for “florist butler pa”.


The top of Google’s results list the local results, with listings and maps of florists actually in Butler, PA.  The first five search results include three listings for The Bloomery, and two other shops in town.  Not bad, considering there are only four florists in town and one doesn’t have a website.  If you’re looking to send flowers to Butler, Google is going to point you in the right direction.

It isn’t until the eighth result when spammy fake-florist sites start to show up.  You’ve seen them on Dateline and other places, the ones who pretend to be a florist in a local community, charge you a high service fee, and then send the order via FTD or Teleflora to a real local florist.  They’re a complete ripoff, but like P.T. Barnum said, “There’s a sucker born every minute”.  Florist Detective has more information about fake local florists at


The main way the fake florists work their way into the search results is with keyword repetition, usually in some gibberish at the bottom of the page.  And, Cuil got suckered.  All but one of the results on Cuil’s first page are fake florists, pretending to be in Butler.  Part of the spammy text from the first result is below (you have to scroll way down on the page to find this text):

Everybody in Butler needs Butler, PA Pennsylvania Flower Delivery from the best Butler flower shop.
Our Butler floral shop and our Butler flowers are first in quality.
Send Butler, PA Pennsylvania florist greetings to any city or state with a Butler local florist.
We offer Butler florist shop delivery everywhere. Order Butler flower bouquets with a Butler local florist.
Whenever you want a Butler centerpiece call our Butler flower shop.
Butler florist shops will bring your Butler sympathy arrangements wherever you need them.
Try our Butler, PA gift baskets for holiday giving or any time including any specified gift items.
Butler Thanksgiving flowers, and Butler Christmas flowers sent near or far.

See the result at  Wesley Berry is actually located in Michigan, not Butler, PA.  When you place an order with them, you’re talking to someone at a call center (or will be handled by no one if you place online), and you’re charged a high service fee.  The call center has no idea what’s in the local coolers, or what’s available.  Not exactly what you’re looking for if you want to send flowers to Butler, PA.

Danny Sullivan also ran some tests himself, and you can see the results at  His conclusion was also that relevancy alone isn’t enough to overcome Google’s algorithm.

Long story short, let the searcher beware with Cuil for the time being.  I think there’s some promise here, but they need a better algorithm than just keyword repetition.  There are some really smart people behind Cuil, and a good deal of money, too, so it’s one to watch.  For now, use Google to find your local florists, and double check with Florist Detective if you’re unsure.

<update 2008-08-02>

This isn’t something made up, but an actual consumer warning.  Cuil is leading consumers into an unsatisfactory experience.  Wesley Berry has an Unsatisfactory rating at the BBB, and has a long list of complaints at Complaints Board.