Yahoo Search, over the past 5 years or so, has been trying hard to step out of Google’s shadow, a shadow that Yahoo cast upon itself when they made Google their search technology provider in 2000. Since, we’ve seen the acquisitions of Inktomi, Altavista & Fast’s AlltheWeb, and how they’ve morphed into Yahoo Search Technology; the company’s search engine.
Enter Yahoo acquisitions of Flickr, Delicious and Upcoming.org into the mix, along with Yahoo’s own social Yahoo Video and Yahoo Answers channels, and the company has always seemed to have the potential to reinvent or dramatically change search results.
Today Yahoo Search has finally launched what industry analysts and search engine enthusiasts have been waiting for, a search engine which reflects the moves Yahoo has been making over the past few years and attempts to tie everything together.
In the launch of the project which Yahoo has internally dubbed “Falcon” however, does not only change the way search results are served to the user, but also the way the user searches.
Yahoo today is rolling out a series of changes to their search technology which on the usability side addresses the need for educating the searcher and helping them perform the search query which will lead them to relevant results. And on the findability side of search Yahoo is now offering embedded video, Flickr integration and other universal or holistic search result features which Yahoo’s Tim Mayer tells me is the most significant change Yahoo has made to their search business since dropping their Google powered results three years ago.
Yahoo Search Assist
The new Yahoo Search has all kinds of multimedia bells and whistles, but the biggest differentiator Yahoo has introduced with its relaunching of the search experience is Yahoo Search Assist, which like its name, helps users perform the correct searches to find the information which they are looking for.
Yahoo has been studying search behavior and feels that users do not think that they are good web searcher. With Yahoo Search Assist, the search technology actually identifies when users need search suggestions by measuring user typing speed and identifying hesitations in searching.
Yahoo Search Assist then helps Yahoo searchers drill down and reclassify their search experience, delivering what Yahoo feels is the intent of the user, different concepts and targeted genres are shown which are related to the niche that user is looking for ( example : commercial vs. educational).
Unlike traditional search term suggestions, Search Assist recommends not only keyterms, but concepts which revolve around the theme of the term. The Yahoo Homepage features a smaller version of Search Assist while the internal search results pages have full functionality. Search Assist can be open or closed via a drop down box, and deactivated by Yahoo users if they wish.
From Yahoo :
As you type, Search Assist automatically offers search terms and phrases in real time. After you’ve searched, it suggests additional search terms to try as well as new topics to consider.
It saves time. By offering great suggestions, often exactly what you had in mind, it reduces the need to complete your search or enter repetitive searches.
It’s smart. By making suggestions as you type, it eliminates one of the hardest parts of searching — coming up with the right query.
It gives you ideas. By suggesting additional search terms and topics related to what you type, it triggers ideas you hadn’t thought of to help you zero in on what you’re looking for or further explore a topic.
Yahoo Video Expandable Windows
Similar to the changes which Google made to its Universal Search, Yahoo has integrated videos into its Yahoo Search result which are accompanied with an expandable window player so users can watch the videos within the Yahoo Search Results.
Currently, Yahoo is featuring videos in its results from Yahoo Video, YouTube and MetaCafe. Yahoo encourages all video producers to upload their videos via Yahoo Video Upload or via Yahoo Media RSS.
Yahoo says it plans to expand its selection of video sources in Yahoo Search and to expect more video search integration into Yahoo results. Yahoo Video has been around for a long time and Altavista was a frontrunner in video search technology, so why the long wait to see videos served within Yahoo Search results? Such easy integration and future video search features, Yahoo says, is because Yahoo Video is now under the Yahoo Search wing after Yahoo realignment, and not with the entertainment division.
Flickr Image Integration
Besides the inclusion of expandable video to the Yahoo Search results, Yahoo has also added relevant Flickr and Yahoo Images photos as thumbnails in the search results pages… not over the results as a shortcut but actually in the results.
For an example, a search for ‘cherry blossom’ on Yahoo will serve three photos from Flickr which are tagged with the term ‘cherryblossom’ and ranked by Flickr. It appears that Yahoo is truncating the two term search query into a one term tag, and then serving the images from Flickr which include relevant tags, descriptions, and other meta data incorporated via Flickr. The images served within Yahoo results also link over to the Flickr photostreams by each user, the photos themselves and Flickr tag search results.
Flickr is a strong offering and probably the most widely recognized Web 2.0 brand on the Internet. Yahoo integrating Flickr images into the results will help to further grow the Flickr brand and its acceptance as a photo storage and sharing network by Yahoo’s core users.
One thing that is missing in the Flickr results is the expandable window that we saw in the Yahoo video results. I’d like to see Yahoo integrate Flickr functionality into the search results, not just supply links to Flickr images.
How? Since Flickr uses Yahoo ID’s now, Yahoo should give its users the chance to share images, tag images, and browse through images in an expandable window without having to click over to Flickr and leave the Yahoo results. Anything more and the user will have to leave the results, but for simply sifting through images or tagging, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to do it all in just one click?
Yahoo Search Assist enhances the way its users will search and video integration & Flickr images add some spice to the search results, but Yahoo is still focusing on how their Yahoo Shortcuts are transforming the search experience, and seem to be expanding Shortcuts.
Restaurants and Hotel Shortcuts
The most influential and useful Yahoo Shortcuts seem to revolve around the travel and hospitality industries in terms of Hotels and Restaurants. These Shortcuts emphasize the user generated content, the true power of the Yahoo Network’s Local Search, in user reviews and ratings.
As a note to search marketers and business owners, these reviews and ratings can also be influenced by motivating your patrons, employees and friends to review your business on Yahoo Local (Read More : Local Search : User Recommendations Make Your Business Money).
Yahoo Music Shortcuts
Yahoo has also integrated multimedia in their Yahoo Music Shortcuts when users search for music artist names such as “Wilco” or “John Lennon.”
The Yahoo Music Shortcuts offer the ability to watch music videos via a special Yahoo Shortcut pop-up window and the ability to listen to music tracks (or track previews) via Yahoo Audio Search. Captured in the video below :
Although the coolness factor of the Yahoo Shortcuts sets them over the top, Yahoo seems to be missing some basic terms. For example, when searching for “John Lennon” an excellent Yahoo Shortcut is served with videos and music, the same with “George Harrison.” A search for Beatles or “The Beatles” however, serves no Yahoo Shortcut.
Likewise, a search for Santana shows a Yahoo Shortcut, but nothing for “Carlos Santana.”
(NOTE : Ask.com does a pretty good job of sorting out music searches with its Smart Answers)
Upcoming.org Yahoo Events
Search for events in Yahoo, with terms such as “San Francisco Events” or “Tampa Events” and Yahoo now serves a Yahoo Shortcut with local events broken down into music, arts, education, sports and other happenings as classified by Upcoming.org, the social event planning community owned by Yahoo (and recently rebranded as Upcoming Yahoo).
Can Yahoo Now Rival Google?
Is the new Yahoo Search a Google killer? More than likely not. The new Yahoo Search may win some converts over from Google or help with a bit of marketshare, but ideally the new Yahoo Search Assist will result in assisting the happiness factor of Yahoo users and searchers who are not used to finding what they are looking for via conventional searching methods.
An overall improved user experience will lead to greater acceptance of Yahoo, its Shortcuts (which help keep loyal Yahoo users acitve in the Yahoo Channels they point to) and advertising via Yahoo Search Marketing. Yahoo is also opening the window of further integration of internal search shortcuts, like the expandable video windows and Flickr content, which is something Google has done well but Yahoo may be able to excel with given its traditional Yahoo Shortcuts success.
The most important change, besides the launch of Search Assist, is the continued integration of the social media experience into Yahoo Search, something they pioneered in terms of mainstream search with their MyWeb initiative and Yahoo Answers integration, which will hopefully lead to more Delicious integration, bookmarking and sharing Yahoo Search results among the Yahoo Network and social community.
Will Yahoo Search Assist succeed in helping streamline the search experience? The judgment will be in soon as the world (or US users) weigh in on the new Yahoo Search. Please feel free to share your thoughts on Yahoo in the comments below.