Earlier this year, when I wrote about Yahoo! SearchMonkey, which enables developers to build search result enhancements based on semantic web data, I was skeptical that it would fulfill Yahoo!’s stated aims of encouraging wider use of semantic web standards. While I agreed with Yahoo! that site owners need a reason to adopt these standards, I didn’t know that SearchMonkey would be that reason. The enhanced listings weren’t turned on for searchers by default and searchers are notorious for never customizing their search experience. If searchers never see the listings, where’s the motivation?
Tonight, site owners may have found some of that motivation. Yahoo! has turned several SearchMonkey enhanced listings on by default. This shows their willingness to experiment with the search experience. It also encourages SearchMonkey developers by showing that Yahoo! supports and is continuing to evolve the program. And it also indicates that Yahoo! may continue making more enhancements the default, which should motivate site owners to look a bit closer at the semantic web.
Below, more details about what searchers are now seeing by default in Yahoo! results.
A number of SearchMonkey applications are currently available that searchers can enable to customize their search experience. Starting tonight, Yahoo! is turning on several of those applications (Yahoo! Local, Yelp, and LinkedIn) for all searchers by default. They say that they’ve chosen these applications because they were early partners and that searchers found them useful.
In order to be eligible to default status, applications have to be based on sites that have well-structured data through semantic markup or a data feed, be well-designed and broadly useful, and have positive user metrics. How does Yahoo! measure this? They say they “generally expose a small percentage of our users to a default-on experience and measure if and how it changes their usage.” For this initial set of default applications, they’ve seen a rise in click-through rates of up to 15%.
Searchers can still turn these applications off by clicking Customize > Manage Settings.
Share applications Yahoo! has also added “share with a friend” functionality that lets searchers share any enhancements (both the defaults and those they’ve added manually). They hope this will help spread applications virally.
Sample search results What will searchers see? A result from LinkedIn looks like this (although some results pick up additional information, such as photos):
A Yelp result looks as shown below, and this result in particular does indeed look more appealing than the results above it, and does show how an enhanced listing could increase click-through rates.
Site owners have historically had only indirect influence over result titles and descriptions. With SearchMonkey, particularly as useful applications are promoted to defaults, Yahoo! is allowing site owners to be more directly involved in improving the searcher experience.
Yahoo! says they’ll “continue to work with our SearchMonkey developers to increase the exposure of other high-quality applications to the search results page in the months to come.” SearchMonkey is also now enabled for Latin America.
Will this change make a big difference in the searcher experience? Maybe. But it is a sign that Yahoo! is willing to experiment and is inviting the community to experiment with them. And it’s that approach that just might lead to more impacting changes in search.
For more, see discussion on Techmeme.