Most of the pieces have been sneaking out over the past month or so. But today Yahoo is formally announcing a range of search upgrades, more Shortcuts, integration of video and photos directly in search results, and Search Assist. Search Assist, which Danny previously wrote about at length, is the centerpiece of the announcement. Search Assist is currently available in the U.S. and will soon be rolled out in the U.K.
Search Assist offers suggestions, query refinements, and numerous related topics when users hesitate as they enter keywords and the engine senses that help might be needed. Search Assist functions not unlike search suggestions or query refinements that are available from Ask, Microsoft Live Search, and Google. However, the presentation of information is more compelling and more complete “on the front end,” meaning before the query is formulated.
Here’s an example for “Cabo San Lucas”:
Search Assist can remain open and provide suggestions as users type queries or be turned off and retracted. However, it will open again if users display hesitation.
In addition to Search Assist, Yahoo has announced the availability of more categories of Shortcuts (content modules at the top of results) across a range of vertical categories: events, music, movies, travel, sports, health, shopping, businesses, and restaurants. These modules present structured content, including multimedia files, reviews, photos, and relevant links, depending on the category and the query.
New Shortcuts have been rolling out almost weekly for the past several weeks. The following are some representative examples:
In addition, Yahoo is introducing video, audio files, and Flickr images into the body of search results. Here’s a screen capture for “Baseball Video”:
While Shortcuts are placed consistently at the top of search results, video thumbnails may appear farther down the page, as with Google Universal Search.
On the back end, Yahoo says that it has made search performance 50 percent faster and increased the size of its index to be “the most comprehensive offering on the Web.” However, many of the changes, which have been rolling out over the past several weeks and months, are very similar in their appearance to those made more recently by Microsoft on Live Search — or vice versa.
Google and Ask previously launched search feature upgrades and improvements that are directionally quite similar (i.e., Universal Search, Ask 3D) to what Yahoo and Microsoft have more recently done. However, I’m sure each engine would take pains to point out where their improvements are better or different. But to the layperson the changes happening across engines may bear a striking resemblance to one another at a high level: more structured content and multimedia (including video) in results in each case.
All these changes are generally positive and beneficial to consumers. And this is not to diminish what Yahoo has done in any way. But all the engines appear to be moving in generally the same direction. Perhaps the “differentiator” is Search Assist, which does offer a compelling new addition to the Yahoo Search experience and seeks to understand query intent and deliver users to a better result more rapidly.
Separately, on Monday, Yahoo announced a far-reaching deal with Spanish telecom company Telefonica. Under the terms of the deal, Telefonica’s mobile subsidiaries in 15 European (including Ireland and the U.K.) and Latin American countries will offer Yahoo oneSearch. Yahoo will also provide mobile search advertising in those markets. The deal doesn’t extend to all Telefonica subsidiaries; Google has deals with the operator in a couple of markets, as does JumpTap in Spain.