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5/19/2009
07:05 PM
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Yahoo Aims To Redefine What It Means To Search

The company hopes bolstering its semantic search capabilities will help it better compete with Google for ad dollars and happier customers.

To understand user intent better, Yahoo is developing its semantic search capabilities. Raghavan describes the process as building a Web of objects in the real world and understanding how they relate to each other. In other words, Yahoo is adding structure to its data to make inferences about user intent more accurate and to define relationships between search terms and things in the world.

Rather, its partners are doing that through initiatives like SearchMonkey. SearchMonkey allows developers to share structured data with Yahoo, enabling the display of search results enhanced with related information. Thus, a Yahoo SearchMonkey search result for a restaurant might include not only a link to the restaurant's site, but star ratings, reviews, map links, and related data, all in one search listing.

This is similar to what Google does with its OneBox search results enhancements, but Yahoo is relying on its partners to feed it with structured data.

The gambit appears to be working, too. Since October, the amount of RDFa structured data available through SearchMonkey has increased by 413%. Yahoo reports that 70 million SearchMonkey-enhanced search results are viewed by users every day, in 23 markets around the world. And these search results deliver more traffic to site owners, too. Some site owners say they've seen a 15% increase in click-through rates, according to Yahoo.

Yahoo's BOSS (Build your Own Search Service), the company's open search platform, has also been growing. Having recently been upgraded to allow developers to access SearchMonkey structured data, the BOSS API now handles three times as many queries as it did six months ago. With daily query volume in the 30 million to 35 million range, according to Raghavan, BOSS alone is just shy of the estimated 40 million queries handled by Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT)'s Windows Live Search.

Looking ahead, Yahoo is testing new search enhancements based on its improved ability to understand user intent. One of these, for example, draws on Yahoo's data about locations to suggest related queries. Larry Cornett, VP of consumer products for Yahoo Search, demonstrated how a future search for "Paris" might produce a rich set of pictures and links of other Parisian landmarks like the Musée du Louvre and the Eiffel Tower, data not normally brought up for that keyword.

Yahoo's focus on user intent could lead to happier users, if Yahoo Search can guess user intent accurately. It could also help Yahoo make more money from advertising.

"If we can divine the user's intent, that's obviously of great interest to advertisers," said Raghavan.


InformationWeek has published an independent analysis of what it takes to tackle enterprise search. Download the report here (registration required).

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