Yahoo Adds Search Option to Make Haystack Smaller

As it battles Microsoft to try to gain some of the Web search market share gobbled by Google, Yahoo has upgraded its search technology with a feature that makes suggestions while users type.

Called “Search Assist,” the new feature arrives several days after Microsoft similarly unveiled improvements to its Live Search.

Search Assist “makes Web search effortless” by helping reduce the number of searches in each search session, Yahoo asserts. The goal of Search Assist is to get searchers the desired information on their first attempt.

May I Help You?

Yahoo’s search is now the only one that “goes beyond basic search ‘suggestions’ and gives consumers real-time query suggestions as well as related topics and concepts, which is especially valuable when a person is searching on an unfamiliar topic,” the company said, adding that its searches will now include audio, video and photos.

The Search Assist panel, which can be turned off, drops down and offers the query suggestions when a user might need help. For example, a slight pause while typing “Boston terriers” in the search window activates the Search Assist and it suggests “Boston terriers for sale,” “pictures of Boston terriers,” “red Boston terriers,” “Boston terriers puppies” and “breeding Boston terriers.”

The panel has scrolling arrows that reveal more suggestions when clicked.

Battle of the Also-Rans

Yahoo’s search engine improvement announcement comes only days after Microsoft said it revamped its search technology and quadrupled the number of sites Live Search scans for information. Live Search also tries to understand what users are looking for despite spelling and other errors.

Coming on strong, at least in advertising that it is better, is Ask.com, another search engine that claims to better understand what searchers are after and has the technology to offer them more than just text results.

At Yahoo, actual humans still organize Web sites into categories, but the search engine has been using automatic site-crawling technology since 2002.

From 2002 to 2004, now-nemesis Google powered Yahoo’s search engine as Yahoo devoted its resources more toward being a portal than a search engine. Since 2004, Yahoo has used its own technology for search.

Three Strikes and You’re Tired

People are suffering from what Yahoo called “Web search fatigue,” according to new research by Harris Interactive.

While 99 percent of online adults use a search engine to find information on the Internet, just 15 percent find what they’re looking for with their first search, and most need to conduct three to four searches, according to Yahoo.

The company said users will now see another new feature, called “Yahoo Search Shortcuts.” Designed to be time-savers for popular categories, these results will be “the most useful information found on the Web and contributed by other online users,” explained Yahoo.

The quandary Yahoo faces is that most everything it does these days to improve its search product can be seen as an effort to get up to speed with its competitors.

Momma and the Mountain

When told the new Yahoo Search Assist will now offer photos and videos, Forrester analyst James McQuivey wasn’t too impressed, although he said Yahoo’s effort makes sense.

“This is another way in which Yahoo is catching up,” he told TechNewsWorld. “All of those other sites had those capabilities where you could search video or photos.”

People could have easily found photos or videos of the topics they are searching by simply typing “photos” or “videos” into their searches or by conducting the searches using categorized results, such as Google Images. However, McQuivey said, search companies including Yahoo are coming to realize that people want search results spoon-fed.

“Even requiring somebody to click on the buttons that said ‘video’ or ‘photo’ is too much effort,” lamented McQuivey. “They are realizing that Momma won’t come to the mountain. You’ve got to bring the mountain to Momma and put as much as you can into the initial search results.”

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