You know, when I muse on times of the year for search engines to overhaul and reinvent themselves, October does not spring to mind. I wasn’t going to complain too much about that, always being happy to look at a search engine. Gotta tell you, though, after spending some time with the new Yahoo Search I’m kinda disappointed.
What you’ve probably been hearing the most about is Yahoo! Search Assist. At the new Yahoo.com, you start typing in a query and a little box will drop down with search suggestions. For example, if you search for Elvis you’ll get suggestions like Elvis Presley, Elvis Costello, etc. If you keep typing to Elvis Presley you’ll get suggestions like Elvis Presley biography, Elvis Presley lyrics, Elvis Presley songs, etc.
Okay, fine. I started my search with the plain Elvis Presley. I got 71 million results, ten Web pages, and TWELVE text ads. Good grief. The results pages, with the sponsor banners at the top and bottom and text ads on the right, made me feel claustrophobic. I backed out and did another search, this time for just Elvis.
I got 68 million results, twelve ads, and — wait a minute. Why am I getting less results for Elvis than I am for Elvis Presley? It should be the other way around, shouldn’t it? Oh no — you don’t think Yahoo has gone back to DEFAULT OR FOR SEARCH QUERIES? Thankfully, it was not the case — my standard default-determination search (asparagus tinwhistle snowblower Kojak) indicates that the AND search is firmly in place.
Thank goodness. Tons of ads, default OR search … I was starting to have AltaVista flashbacks….
… on the other hand, Yahoo did NOT take my Elvis Presley query and turn it into Elvish Parsley. Instead, along with the suggestions up front as I did the search, Yahoo also had a few additional search engines. A large panel of suggestions and related concepts unrolled with a click. How about supplying that right up front?
The results themselves were pretty good, with an official Elvis site up front and lots of useful links. I was very surprised not to see any of the multimedia integration that Yahoo had mentioned with the new launch announcement, however. (I could force multimedia in my search results by adding photos or videos to my results, though that didn’t always work.)
I did get to see Yahoo’s Shortcut technology when I did a search for Chicago. At the top of the search results I got pointers to a slide show, a list of things to do, and quick links to information like Hotels and Restaurants. Nice use of a shortcut. On the other hand, when I did a search for Abraham Lincoln, I did not get a shortcut to any quick information, which was kind of surprising.
You know, I found when I was looking at Yahoo’s search results — especially the shortcuts — I find myself comparing it not to Google, but to Ask.com. And Ask, with its ability to pack a LOT of information from a lot of different sources on a search results page, comes out very favorably. (Having seven ads on a search results page instead of twelve probably helps.)
Yahoo’s search suggestions are good, and I like the way the shortcuts are laid out. But Ask is already showing what integrated results on a laid out page can really do, and I’m surprised Yahoo’s not going in that direction. Of course, one of the reasons Yahoo can’t is because of all the ads on the left side of the page. How can Ask get that many ads in and still pull in related content?
I’m no designer but it looks like Ask feels a lot freer to let the results page run long, and stack ads at the beginning and end (which is fine with me, as long as ads are clearly delineated — and they are.) If Yahoo tried that too, and had a right column into which related content or multimedia could be put, that would add a lot to the results.
There is one question in my mind. While upgrading its search engine Yahoo’s going toe-to-toe with Google, Microsoft, and Ask. But what if its directory was upgraded? The last real directory is the Open Directory Project. Why not give more attention to the core directory product?