Yahoo debuts search features

Yahoo Inc. (YHOO), the No. 2 search engine company, added new features to its search function Monday that it hopes will help it catch up to market leader Google Inc. (GOOG).

The features include an assistant program that suggests related search terms, such as “1861” or “Abraham Lincoln” if the initial search term was “Civil War.” The assistant is designed to reduce the number of searches people need to make before they find the answer they need, Yahoo Senior Director of Product Marketing Raj Gossain said.

“For certain types of searches that people do … the biggest challenge that they have is that they don’t know what to put into that search box,” Gossain said.

The feature also suggests topics when a user’s typing actions in the search box appears hesitant, Gossain said. It is an improvement overall because it allows users to refine their search before they are finished typing, according to Charlene Li, an analyst with Forrester Research.

The other new features appear after users hit the return button. Yahoo has integrated videos, photos from Yahoo-owned photo-sharing site Flickr, hotel reservations, music video and song clips and event listings from subsidiary upcoming.org into the results seen after people make searches in particular areas, such as music and travel. The event listings come from upcoming.org.

Some of those features are necessary for search firms to be competitive, Gartner Industry Advisory Research analyst Michael McGuire said. But anything that can ease navigation or improve localized results will be important, he said. The latter helps drive sales for advertisers, which impacts advertising revenue.

“Showing breadth of results is great, but what matters in the end is conversion: Did I buy anything from this?” McGuire said.

The new features should also benefit users by making it easier to get what they want faster, Gossain said. The company will be closely watching the results over the next several months to see if the features bring more users to Yahoo, as well as satisfy existing users.

Li warned that consumer loyalty means that the popularity of search engines changes slowly. Part of the test will be whether users of Yahoo’s other features can be persuaded to try its search.

“It took Google more than four years to displace Yahoo as a search engine,” she said. “It’s search-by-search.”

kwilliamson@examiner.com

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