Search Assist: A Look Back and Ahead

  • Posted October 29th, 2008 at 7:13 am by Yahoo! Search
  • Categories: Search

Last October we launched Search Assist, taking a significant step toward making searching smarter on Yahoo! Search. Over the past year we’ve made strides in improving our search assistance technology with one goal in mind: to intelligently guide users to the answers they seek.

In a recent survey1, we learned that 83 percent of searchers want and value assistance with their searches; and 85 percent aren’t finding what they’re looking for in their first search. As we look back on the year since launching Search Assist, we thought we’d share some of the developments and enhancements that have helped make it one of our most used and useful features.

July 2007Search Suggestions Launch on
We kick things off with search suggestions on to give users a quicker way to get to their answers – delivering suggestions as they type.

October 2007Search Assist Launches:
Kicking things up a notch, for the first time users can get query suggestions and related concepts directly from the search results page as well as on Search Assist’s smart triggering technology detects when customers have difficulty formulating a query and displays suggestions or related concepts only when they’re helpful.

March 08Search Assist goes global:
Search Assist is extended to users in 15 markets and 7 languages, including: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, Spain, UK, and Vietnam.

May 08Inquisitor joins the Yahoo! Search family:
We acquire Inquisitor to further deepen our strength in assistance technology with this slick Safari browser plug-in.

August 08Search Assist on Mobile
Search Assist extends to mobile devices (Nokia) via the Yahoo! oneSearch shortcut.

October 08Inquisitor Extends to Firefox and Internet Explorer
In addition to Safari, we roll out Inquisitor across Firefox and Internet Explorer browsers.

On top of the visible enhancements listed above, behind the scenes we’ve added billions of suggestions to Search Assist, improved our understanding of the world’s languages and worked to make the technology more comprehensive. Here are a few examples of what it all adds up to for our users:

  1. Overall user engagement:
  2. User engagement on Search Assist has increased by 60x post launch – thanks to improvements in suggestion quality, increased coverage and better interaction design. Simply put, Search Assist has become part of the way that users search at Yahoo!.

  3. Query formulation:
  4. Our data shows that users find Search Assist convenient and reassuring. Search Assist will check spelling of difficult terms, so instead of typing in a word like “Schwarzenegger,” which is likely impossible for any non-Austrian to spell, all you have to do is enter “Arnold” and Search Assist completes it for you.


  5. Reformulation and Exploration:
  6. Usage of the “related concepts” section for Search Assist peaks when users need new ideas. We’ve seen a 3x jump in engagement for this feature, and we’re the first and still the only search engine offering it. The beauty of this technology is that it reveals facts or connections that a user may not be aware of. For example, if you’re looking for information about climate change, Search Assist lets you know that climate change is related to greenhouse gases.

    Climate change

Looking ahead, we’ll continue to focus on improving the sophistication and usefulness of our assistance technology. Feel free to drop us your feedback and comments below.

Tom Chi
Senior Director of Product Management, Yahoo! Search

1. Survey conducted by Decipher, Inc. in October 2008

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