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Yahoo Makes The Assist, Web 2.0-ifies Results

Just as the commotion died down over Microsoft’s Live Search update, Yahoo comes forward with some thunder of its own, unveiling its new Search Assist feature, an interface also focused more on user intent (the new buzz word in search, apparently), with a healthy dose of user-generated content thrown in for good measure.

Like with Live Search and Google’s Universal Search, Yahoo’s more robust approach to query refinement signals a new era in SEO/SEM; more options in the search results means more opportunities to be discovered.

The Assist

The update integrates audio, video, photos, shortcuts, consumer reviews, and local information directly into the search results, with special emphasis on Yahoo properties of course, like and Flickr, but also spreads the love to important video sites like YouTube (a rather graceful move, considering Google Video heavily prefers its own sources – or source – as though YouTube is all there is).

Yahoo calls the update its most comprehensive since dumping Google’s search technology in 2004, so Search Assist is a long time in the making. It begins simple and familiar enough: type a query into the search box and a dropdown menu appears, guessing what you might be looking for – not especially breathtaking considering Google’s Suggest feature has been doing this for some time now.

Nonetheless, type in “string,” as though continuing on to learn more about String Theory, and the box suggests a varied list of possibilities, including “string bikini” and “string cheese incident.” This is done “automagically,” says Yahoo veep Tim Mayer; be sure set aside some time today to boo him for abusing his neologistic privileges.

Continue along your original intention, either by clicking the auto-completed “string theory” or by typing, and the SERP will offer more related queries that, when clicked, will offer more refined results.

Matching User Intent

This is just a small example of getting at the intent of the searcher, a goal Yahoo says spawns from research showing consumers are suffering from “Web search fatigue”; ninety-nine percent of online adults searching and only 15 percent finding what they want on the first go round.

“We know that consumers want a complete answer, not a bunch of links, and the changes we’ve made are focused on getting people to the best answer — whether it be a Web link, photo, video or music clip — in one search,” said Vish Makhijani, general manager and senior vice president of Yahoo! Search.

In case you’re worried that the dropdown suggestions will match the annoyance level of Microsoft Word’s paper clip (it’s worse if you use the Japanese version, by the way, where it’s a squeaking dolphin instead), the box “only shows up when you need it or ask for it.”

And with Search Assist available, says Yahoo, users saw a 61 percent increase in task completion.

User-Generated Assistance

Also like Live Search, images and videos are interwoven into the results, the videos playable from the results page.

The integration of user-generated content in the results is an impressive and useful update that includes restaurant and hotel shortcuts, pulling in user reviews from Yahoo Network’s Local Search.

A search for “gino’s east pizza chicago,” (and if you haven’t had pizza from there, in its artery-seizing glory, you really have missed out on something beautiful) for example, brings up not only the restaurant’s five star reviews, but also a phone number, address, and map link.

Or, if you had to be in Louisville, Kentucky this weekend, a query for “louisville events” pulls from Yahoo-owned to categorize according to type of event, popularity of events, or timing of your trip. Click on the This Weekend link and you’ll discover there’s not much going on this time of year – try back the first weekend in May.

What It Means To You

That makes the third of the Big Three engines to update and fully incorporate Web 2.0 into the search results, indicating that user-generated content is now a permanent feature of Internet search. And that means also a new element to SEM: your brand, business, or message needs to appear in as many formats and as many places as possible, especially as search expands to a more holistic experience.

About the Author:
Jason Lee Miller is a WebProNews editor and writer covering business and technology.