Yahoo! Search Direct

Mar 24th
posted in

What is Search Direct?

Yahoo! announced search direct, a new beta product launched in the United States which is similar to Google Instant, but extends a bit further.

It works by extending the search interface to include a layer before the results come up. The layer typically includes a left column of related keywords & a right box that can be anything from:

  • 3 top websites for that query
  • a weather forecast
  • stock information
  • the profile of a celebrity
  • other unique data sets

Here is an example of how the search box flies out

Here is an overview video from Yahoo!

Arbitrage or Helpful?

It is easy to laugh at Ask.com when thinking about the spammy end of the "answers engines" (or even Yahoo! Answers for that matter), but this search direct could range from highly useful to pretty weak depending on what Yahoo! decides to do with it. It's impact on various markets can range from trivial to significant.

What Powers Search Direct?

The ranking algorithm for Yahoo! Search Direct is different than their core results, being powered off a smaller index with its own algorithm, with a rapid refresh rate. Greg Sterling asked Yahoo!'s Shashi Seth about what drove the algorithm:

Seth told me that right now the links and content being shown in the right part of the box are the URLs that are the “most clicked” throughout the Yahoo network. He also implied that it might get more nuanced over time. And he added that rankings can change moment to moment because it’s dynamic.

That click bias has a natural preference toward promoting Yahoo! properties (since Yahoo! users like Yahoo! stuff) and promoting those who are featured on the Yahoo! network through editorial partnerships.

Greater Integration of Self Promotion

One of the benefits of Yahoo! outsourcing search is that they can now claim that they are not a search engine, which gets them around a ton of conflict issues, and allows them to aggressively self-promote without the type of scrutiny Google has come under for hard-coding their search results. Currently Yahoo! Search Direct is not yet running ads, but it is full of self-promotion. It is not a great sign for the longevity of Yahoo! Search that when you start typing almost every letter of the alphabet leads to a downstream Yahoo! product. In the past, search engines which have over-monetized have seen marketshare erode to Google. Hopefully this stuff pushes people to Bing though!

In key verticals where Yahoo! is well established the entire preview box is consumed by content from their vertical databases. See, for example, a search for LeBron James

If you are ESPN it becomes much harder to get traffic from Yahoo! Search directly given that sort of layout. If the model proves profitable enough Yahoo! can close off a lot of verticals. The key for web publishers is that Yahoo! has traditionally been horrible at integration, so the odds of them doing this in a way that monetizes more aggressively without harming Yahoo!'s search marketshare are pretty low. Having wrote that, last year Yahoo! bought Associated Content and has been pushing hard at growing their news, sports & finance verticals. If they are able to instantly tap a large share of the search market & can throw up a featured promotion for some of their key content then that will lead to lots of usage data (Microsoft has already mentioned using clickstream data to create a search signal) & social signals (like Facebook likes) that can bleed into improving the ranking of Yahoo! content in other search engines.

Custom Ad Units

The showing of a mini-search box not only gives them the potential for further self-promotion, but it also allows them to run more custom ad units that are in full focus of the end user. When you display a full search result you are offering a list of options, but premium placement ads in the preview box can allow for tighter integration of video, audio, or other custom ad units within search.

Yahoo! has already put sponsored mortgage rates table in their search results. Now if they want to do something like that they can have it own the whole of the interface, sorta like Google has done with their local results. It will also allow Yahoo! to test video results in the search results, something Google is getting into as well.

Yahoo! has also taken branded search ads one step further, with a wrap around on certain keyword queries, like eBay.

Shortcomings

Where Yahoo! Search Direct falls short, especially when compared against Google Instant is it's force of pushing a single vertical for keywords that can have many meanings. Take, for example, a search on cars. If you don't want the DVD, you are still forced to view information about the cartoon movie because a Yahoo! vertical has a match.

Another thing Yahoo! seems to be doing is force feeding a local option as the last suggested keyword, even where it is totally irrelevant. In the long run I think this would harm Yahoo! local as a true destination, but it can drive short term volume. Of course this only just launched, so it will likely become more relevant as they track how users interact with it. Currently someone is likely registering a Yahoo! local profile with Viagra in it somewhere. :D

Published: March 24, 2011

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