The Other Half of the Search Equation

  • Posted October 12th, 2007 at 8:00 am by Yahoo! Search
  • Categories: Search

A search company’s mandate is clear: help people find exactly what they’re looking for as quickly as possible. For well over a decade, search companies have taken the approach of focusing almost all of their efforts on making their engines smarter, with better indexes, better ranking and faster servers.

While these are all hugely important efforts, making the engine smarter is only half of the equation. The other half of the search equation is making the query smarter — and this was our focus in the design and development of Yahoo! Search Assist.

Recent research conducted by Harris Interactive* indicates that consumers are suffering from “Web Search fatigue.” The study revealed that while the vast majority of the population uses a search engine to find information on the Internet, only 15 percent of people find what they’re looking for with their first search. Typically, people need to conduct three to four searches to find the right result.

While search engines can and will continue to improve, we think making queries smarter is also part of the solution. While there are a handful of seasoned users and professional searchers out there who employ Boolean operators, site restrict and other advanced techniques, no one (ourselves included) wants to have to think hard about which search terms to use. Our vision was to build a system that helps users confidently construct more sophisticated and targeted queries without slowing them down.

In this first release, we’ve broken the problem into two parts. Part One provides assistance as you type. This has massively reduced the number of misspelled queries being submitted and saves typing time for slower typists. It can also link you deeper into the results space, saving you a step on those quick in-and-out sessions.

Part Two helps you move your searches forward, backward or sideways so you get the results you actually want more quickly. So if you started with a query for ‘Thom Yorke,’ you might get a forward (refining) suggestion for ‘Eraser,’ his most recent album, or a backward (expanding) suggestion for ‘Radiohead,’ the band he’s a member of. You could also get a sideways (or related) suggestion such as ‘solo albums‘ which, when clicking on the term in the left-hand column of Search Assist, will lead you to other lead singers with solo albums like Gwen Stefani or Eddie Vedder.

Now that you know more about the vision behind Search Assist, don’t hesitate to share your thoughts. And if you’re already a Search Assist enthusiast, check out the tips posted by one of our developers for some handy but “hidden” shortcuts.

Larry Cornett and Tom Chi
Yahoo! Search

*Harris Interactive conducted the above online survey from July 12-16, 2007 with 3,588 adults ages 18+
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