However, Thefind is not as clean as we were led to believe.
In conversations over the past two weeks, the Mountain View company told VentureBeat that its rising traffic (the company says it will soon hit a million unique visitors) stems from an appreciation of the supposed clean results. Turns out, Thefind is buying some of its traffic with ads on Google. Some of its competitors pointed this out, once we’d published our story. When confronted, chief executive Siva Kumar said he is buying traffic to introduce users to new offerings. There’s nothing sinister about this, because all sites do it. It’s just that Thefind’s story of growth is less compelling that we’d realized. Kumar now says more than 500,000 unique visitors came to the site organically, which is still growth, but not as strong as we thought.
Moreover, Thefind blurs the line between ads and natural results even more than other sites. In the example of a search for “dress shirts” we mentioned in our first story, the two top results were sponsored ads, not natural results — and there was nothing clearly demarcating them. (Indeed, that’s why they stood out so much; they were ads for women’s clothing, which is odd, given that the search was for “dress shirts). Shopping.com, by comparison, shows the ads with a different shade of color in the background. We asked Kumar about this, and he agreed that this was misleading, and apparently has since changed this (we no longer see the women’s clothing).
Finally, many top results come from feeds from merchants with an affiliate program, suggesting Thefind is getting paid for some of its results on a click-per-action basis. Kumar responds as follows:
…We need to have feeds for some of the categories that are fast changing in nature (electronics is a case where prices change daily). As a new site on the market we cannot get direct feeds from the merchants themselves that easily • we have to first prove ourselves first. Therefore if we wanted comprehensiveness and accuracy we need to get these feeds through the only available channel to small companies for these feeds • affiliate network suppliers. Hence some of these items do have the affiliate codes on them. We are actively in the process of contacting the merchants directly now that we have the traffic and we will be able to replace these affiliate feeds with the merchant data.
Again, there is nothing wrong with this. Other shopping comparison sites, such as Become.com, started out this way, too — moving from affiliate programs to normal feeds. It’s just that we originally suggested that Thefind was based purely on its own crawl of the Web and relevance. That’s not true.