Yahoo Search Just Got Smarter

Yahoo is adding some major features to its search engine today. For instance, images from Flickr and playable videos are now embedded in the main results page. A search for a major rock band like U2 brings up information from the artist’s Website, along with a list of songs that can be played as 30-second audio streams (courtesy of Yahoo Music).

Do a search for a restaurant or hotel, and results from Yahoo Local come out on top, with links to maps, ratings, and reviews. Type in “bourne ultimatum,” and the top result is a widget from Yahoo Movies with a trailer you can click on, audience reviews, and show times nearest you. Search for “Vancouver,” and the top result is a widget from Yahoo Travel, with links to a guide, hotels, restaurants, flights, and maps. Type in “digital camera,” and you get shortcut results from Yahoo Shopping.

Customized results also come up for searches dealing with health, sports, and events—all without you having to specify what type of search you are trying to do. Instead, Yahoo attempts to figure out your intent based on the search terms and the topics associated with them (Google espouses a similar Universal Search approach, as does Microsoft).

But the most important feature is an Ajax assistant pane that drops down when it detects you hesitating while typing in a search term. It gives you suggestions to complete the keywords, as well as related concepts that you might want to try. So if you type in “energy savings,” it suggests click-able links to related terms such as “energy star,” energy efficiency,” and “thermostats.” And this one is close to home for me. Type in “office sublets” and it suggests “small office sublets in new york city,” since Yahoo knows my zip code.

Yahoo has really nailed guided search with this release—as long as what you are looking for can be found somewhere else within Yahoo. That’s my one pet peeve about Yahoo’s new search upgrade.  All of these shortcuts are helpful, but they are not all objective. Most of them (the search widgets, not the keyword assistant) point back to Yahoo.