Yesterday Danny Sullivan posted an interesting walkthrough on a new technology that Yahoo is currently testing called Yahoo Search Assist. Throughout the following I will give a quick rundown and explain why Search Assist may help sites found in the bottom 5 of the top 10 search results.
What Do I Mean by Search Assist? First Some Background
You may have noticed over the past couple years that whenever you search for an item in Google or Yahoo you were provided with word completion suggestions. For example, if you typed in ‘boat’ then the suggestions that appeared in a drop-down (which you can select from to complete your search) might be ‘boating’, ‘boat sales’, ‘boat magazine’, ‘boating tips’… or something like that. These suggestions came from the search engine’s analysis of the most common searches related to what you are typing in. This functionality is useful but Yahoo Search Assist promises a more intelligent search experience.
Yahoo Search Assist takes suggestions to a whole new level by providing related topics. For example, if a searcher were looking for a cement cleaner to get rid of oil stains on his driveway he might start by typing in “cement” at which point he pauses to consider the next word. Yahoo Search Assist will ‘notice’ his pause and begin suggesting related searches. It will first provide the standard word & phrase stems such as ‘cement mixer’, ‘cement manufacturer’ or even ‘cement cleanser’. But with Search Assist, Yahoo may also provide related terms or even brand names such as ‘Pur-Pwr’ or ‘Powder 230′ which are all products that are related to ‘cement’. In this case both of those brands happen to be cement cleansers which a person could immediately click on and see search results (such as links to vendors).
So how does this affect the user experience? According to Danny’s article Yahoo usability testing has shown that this enhanced search experience dramatically changed how searchers interacted with results; they spent more time and tended to search the whole page of results rather than simply the top few listings.
Search Assist Might Help Level the Playing Field
Once this technology is formally released I expect Yahoo will suddenly become a hotter commodity for marketers if the bottom 5 of the top 10 rankings suddenly see more traffic than other search properties; since sites like Wikipedia or monster corporations tend to take the top positions in competitive categories. I will believe it when I see it but if we take Yahoo’s usability studies as fact, this technology may vastly increase the visibility for sites rankings ‘below the fold’ (where you have to scroll down to see them).
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