Live From Yahoo SearchSpeak 2010

We’re here at Yahoo’s Sunnyvale, CA headquarters for an event the company is holding called “SearchSpeak” to talk about, you guessed it: their search product.

Speaking here are:

  • Shashi Seth, Senior Vice President of Search Products, Yahoo!
  • Prabhakar Raghavan, Senior Vice President of Yahoo! Labs and Yahoo! Search Strategy
  • Larry Cornett, Vice President, Consumer Products, Yahoo! Search
  • David Pann, Vice President of Search Advertising, Yahoo!

According to the pamphletes we’ve been handed, Yahoo will be focusing on a three main issues in search today:

  • “Find Things Faster”
  • “Explore What Matters”
  • “Get Things Done”

Find our live notes below (paraphrased):

Shashi Seth – Senior Vice President of Search Products – (joined about 3 weeks ago): I came for a few reasons, first I wanted to be a part of the team that changes search. Also the quality of talent and leadership. Today we’re going to talk about the talent we’ve assembled with the Yahoo Labs team. We’re also going to talk about the products we’ve built in the past but maybe haven’t shared. And finally search advertising.

I wanted to clear out some misconceptions. One is that with the Microsoft Yahoo deal, Yahoo may not be in the game of search. We are.


Still out, but we’re still going.

Yahoo has been in search, is in search, and will continue to be in the future. We’ll continue to drive innovation. It’s our stake in the ground. You’ll see some of this today.

Search has been largely the same for the past 10 years. It’s mostly the same for the user. With the Microsoft deal we can get the backend from them and innovate on top of it. It’s nice not having to focus on the backend. It frees us up. I think search is headed for innovation on the frontend side. And we started that journey about a year and a half to two years ago. But there still is a lot of work we need to do for this transition (assuming it’s approved).

In search volume, I admit we have seen some decline. But we’re still working on it. Yahoo has a strength in content and communication. We want search tightly integrated into both.

At the end of the day there are two paradigms that work for large amounts of content: You can browse or search. It’s in our DNA for search.

We’re also focused on Asia and mobile usages in that market. We have 80 million carrier and OEM partnerships. In some markets our mobile share is almost as large as our web share. That points to the future. Kids use cellphones more than laptops. The future is clearly on mobile devices. We’re investing a lot there.

Also focusing on our affiliate relationships. In Korea we’ve captured all of Google partnerships. In the other Asian countries too we’re very strong.

Prabhakar Raghavan, Senior Vice President of Yahoo! Labs: We’re moving from a web of documents to a web of things. What do I mean by this abstraction? It’s no longer about how big your index is. It’s not about 10 blue links. There needs to be a paradigm shift away from how many data centers can you have. It’s more about what people actually care about. Over 99% of our queries have a noun or a noun phrase in them. People are asking about things in the real world.

People don’t care about finding 5 million pages about Roger Federer, they want the one page with all the relevant information. If someone is looking for Black Eyed Peas, we want to show users a bubble with all the info they want – main site, most popular songs, etc. And we want to do this for all the bands, not just popular ones. And movies too, restaurants, etc. The web of things.

Microsoft is doing the crawling, we’re innovating how you display it.

So how is Yahoo going to lead this “web of things”? It’s like digitizing all your CDs – the hard part is building up a database of this information you’ve made. On the web the information about these recording is noisy. You just can’t manually edit metadata – you need killer machine learning and data mining.

But again – how do we pull it off? Because we have the best scientists to look into these areas. At every single data mining conference we won all the awards in 2009. We’ll put our guys up against anyone. Last week was the first 2010 conference, and we won again.

Shashi Seth is back to go over his slides we couldn’t see when the power was out. Post Microsoft/Yahoo deal it will be all about the algorithmic side and the advertising side. But there will be a whole layer we’re putting on top of this. He takes away all the Yahoo additions and it’s just the 10 blue links.

Now it’s video time – a video showing off Yahoo’s different additions to search.

Larry Cornett, Vice President, Consumer Products, Yahoo! Search: I’m going to share some innovative things we’ve been working on lately that will be coming soon. But first the past.

3 major UX things:

  • “Find Things Faster”
  • “Explore What Matters”
  • “Get Things Done”

The average person is really just trying to get things done when they use search. “Explore What Matters” is important to us. How do we make search product.

You’ve seen competitors copy us – like Yahoo Finance. I’m looking forward to seeing how they copy us next (dammmmnnn). Doing a query for a stock ticker symbol, the drop down shows the price in realtime because it understands things (objects). Same is true with search for a movie and the like.

We also have a way to show the latest news about items. News, Photos, Videos, and Twitter. We’ve looked at the tweets and filtered out the spam. This is all in one module at the top of the page.

Searching by clicking – I don’t have to touch the keyboard again.” U2 example. Pictures, albums, videos, etc. I’m searching, but I’m exploring too. Search is more about discovery and exploration. Less about keywords and links.

Launching today we have a new Winter Olympics optimization. We have a new shortcut. And it works on mobile too.

Now the future – here’s what coming in the next few months.

  • Organizing the web for TV shows. Quick access to see clips from your favorite show.
  • Organizing the web for News. A new time-based view to show the most recent news.
  • Organizing the web for Celebrities. Tom Cruise example. Pictures, tweets, etc.

  • More search powered things across all of Yahoo. Like Yahoo Mail.
  • We look at your email and give you a way to explore more about what’s being talked about.
  • Enhancing Vertical Search in  Yahoo News.
  • Yahoo Buzz just celebrated its two year anniversary (a jab at the just-launched Google Buzz).
  • Pushing the boundries of mobile search. A lot are simply taking the PC experience and pushing it into a mobile device. We are thinking about how to build this from the ground up. Like an Etch-a-Sketch…


Shown on the iPhone. You can pull up a city, and drag your finger to sketch around where you are looking for places (this is cool). The example here is restaurants.

Imagine that paradigm being applied to any search.

Future Yahoo Search

This is a little farther out. Imagine searching for New York City and not seeing anything that looks like traditional search. Imagine NYC as a “thing” and you get all kinds of information.

David Pann, Vice President of Search Advertising, Yahoo!: These innovations are all going to help get advertising in front of consumers. Let’s step back to 2009 with the economy. We saw unprecedented changes. Consumers changed searching patterns. It became about getting out of trouble.

Advertisers moved to optimizing ROI at the keyword level (rather than a bunch of keywords together). We’re focused on three key areas for them. Better value, transparency and control, and innovation. We’re making pricing enhancements. We now have network distribution, you can pay for different sources of traffic across the network (different pay rates for affiliates versus Yahoo Search, for example).

We also want to save our advertisers time. We know most advertisers spend time making campaigns for Google. So we made an import campaign tool.

We also have a new Yahoo Search Marketing desktop tool. It’s testing now, will be available in March. This is designed to scale for huge advertisers. The feedback we’ve gotten is that it saves time – and these guys increase their spend with us.

We’re also now doing search re-targeting based on what a user has searched on previously. If I search for laptops, go somewhere else, I still may see a laptop ad.

Many times we may not have an ad to show you – so we’ll show you “you ads” to show you things you’re probably interested in.

In the beginning of 2009 we started put rich ads in search. It’s multimedia in search, like video or sub-links. Click through rates go north of 25% with this from what we’ve seen. We also now have sponsored ads in search assist.

——————-Q&A Time——————

  • Shashi Seth, Senior Vice President of Search Products, Yahoo!
  • Prabhakar Raghavan, Senior Vice President of Yahoo! Labs and Yahoo! Search Strategy
  • Larry Cornett, Vice President, Consumer Products, Yahoo! Search
  • David Pann, Vice President of Search Advertising, Yahoo!

Q: Most people have an ingrained search habit – how do you get consumers to change that habit?

SS: Search is still the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the consumer experience. Users can and do switch from one search engine to another. We’re betting the farm on building a more stick experience.

LC: You have to reach the consumers where they live. Yahoo Mail, Yahoo Finance, etc. These are destinations on the web. You have to rethink what is search – is it just keywords? Or is it finding what you need? That’s what we think. See search in a new light and they will change their minds.

PR: If it’s about 10 blue links, then yes, that’s hard. But it’s about more than that with us. It’s not about getting people to do more searches, it should be about getting them to do less because it’s more useful info the first time. It’s about Search Satisfaction.

Q: This seems like a me-too kind of event. Microsoft or Google would launch a major product. What are you going to do to fix the perception problem?

SS: The reason for this event was a few things. To talk about the Microsoft/Yahoo deal – let people know that we are in the game. We are going to compete against Google and Bing still. We have 600 million users who love our content and properties. In terms of what other companies do – sure they do major products, but for us this is a dialogue with you.

We are going to be innovative – more than Google and Bing. We haven’t been sitting around doing nothing. We just haven’t been talking about it. Going forward, we’re going to talk more.

Q: How do these innovations translate into revenue?

DP: Advertisers want better ways to get in front of consumers. We want to grow search volume (of course, this goes against what Yahoo just said).

Q: But didn’t you just say the search volume is going down?

DP: Well search is evolving with these rich ads – advertisers pay a premium for this experience. It may not even look like an ad unit. It may look like content.

PR: Revenue is a product of 2 things: How happy users are and they come back. And how much money you are making off of all of them. But how do you measure the ways that consumers are engaging with our products? We think this is evolving.

Q: Yahoo at one time had the leading local property – and Maps was huge – seems like you’ve neglected them. Now with the rise of mobile, what are you going to do?

SS: Yes, certain verticals make a lot of sense – our focus is back on those spaces. And as we go towards mobile, there are even more verticals that make sense.

Q: But have the local properties languished?

SS: I would say that we recognize that we need to invest in the future.

Q: Back to Microsoft. Do you think that this ongoing issue has damaged the perception of you as a company?

SS: One of the reasons for this event was the clear up that. I think we’ve neglected talking about it – some our own fault, some regulatory reasons.

Q: And with share declining – how worrying is that?

SS: I’m not worried about it. There is much innovation left to me done in this space. We have core competence around content and communication. It will set us apart.

DP: We’ve just scratched the surface for how to change things. We have all these leading properties (finance, mail, etc). We’re thinking about this every single day. It’s a top priority of Carol’s and the company’s.

SS: And our leading products themselves are morphing. There are new opportunities. The user base is changing.

Q: Can you comment on how quickly this market moves? You’ve been talking web of things for a year – but your competitors are adding things as well. So how do you gain share?

SS: We want to change the game entirely. We can take these risks easier than Google can.

PR: We’re sitting at the head now – we need to push it out into the tail, beyond popular search topics. That’s what we’re working on, and it’s hard work. The top 10,000 queries satisfy 2/3rds of queries, but everyone has niche interests and we’re all out in the tail. In order to satisfy most people, you have to do well in the tail. And it’s a tail of things. We’re doing well with that. We’re about 15-20% there now. But no one is close to it.

LC: Don’t be deceived by the surface layer. Look at assistance – did they really replicate us? I did a query with a competitor (I won’t name), about kayaks – how to roll one. On the competitor I got “how to roll a joint.” Look deeper – “it sucks. We rock.” It’s not about surface layer candy.

DP: Search doesn’t sell itself.

Q: So Bing is taking a lot of your share – how does that not worry you?

SS: We’ve backed away from a lot of the distribution relationships that we’re very profitable. Our competition is still there, but we’re willing to walk away. These are toolbar and PC deals – we walked away from. Hence, the drop is share. I think we’ve seen a small drop in regular searches. Also there’s some magic about what constitutes search – we’re not sure if we’re going to play these games yet. We think we can grow our market share.

PR: From the advertising end, it’s not in Microsoft’s interest to steal our marketshare. So they’re not worried about us, it’s taking share from the other platforms.

Q: It sounds like great products in a great store – but is the store in the right neighborhood? Like on my Chrome browser, I have to jump through hoops to search on Yahoo. What do you need to do on the new platforms like tablets?

SS: People find our products really attractive, like Yahoo News and Flickr. We’re focusing on the core. I’m pretty sure we can drive traffic to search through those properties. Our competition isn’t doing that – they have to do deals with OEMs, make their own browsers, etc. We get the traffic organically because we have great products.

DP: Taking a page our of Carol’s playbook – we’re going to get aggressive. “We’re out there buying traffic.” Homepage refreshes, all of this – we need to be aggressive. It’s not about being obnoxious, but it has to make sense. We will tap our asset.

Q: How do you do that in the mobile world if you don’t have an OS?

SS: Interesting point. We have a lot of carrier and OEM relationships worldwide. Again, key in innovating and focusing on the right geographies – like the Asian markets.

Q: What about the advertising that looks like content? That was ballsy to say.

DP: Sure – this is all about advertisers being a part of the relationship, rather than being a bolt-on to it. It’s like during the Super Bowl when we ran the ad over the frontpage. We want to help our advertiser do this more.

Q: But it will be labeled as an ad right?

DP: Ha. Yes.

Q: What about the ads in the drop downs?

DP: It’s about getting you to the info you’re looking for. This is just a test right now. We’re trying it. If it works, we’ll go with it.

Q: Has anyone seen The Invention of Lying? It’s all about that people lie. There’s a lot of skepticism about Yahoo – there’s a question, can they really pull it off? Can you speak to why you think you will? Speak to that skepticism.

SS: The only reason I came here is because I truly do believe that we can do this in a big way. More than maintaining market share. Loss of personnel hasn’t been an issue since I’ve been here. Sharp minds are here. I think we can do it. I honestly do. Even when I came, I approached it with skepticism.

LC: I was at Apple during the dark years. But there was still amazing talent – we could just do no right for whatever reason. The winds were against us. It takes a few wins. When Steve came back and we started to have some wins, it started. But it doesn’t happen over night. We will have some wins – they’re coming. Now Apple can do no wrong. People are going to love what we’re doing – and we’re looking forward to it.

Now they’re introducing Executives from Yahoo! Search for Mobile, and Yahoo! Labs around the world including:

  • Yoelle Maarek, Senior Director at Yahoo! Research in Haifa, Israel
  • Ricardo Baeza-Yates, Vice President of Yahoo! Research Europe and Latin America
  • Preston McAfee, Vice President and Research Fellow at Yahoo! Research in Burbank, CA

That’s a wrap.

Here’s a timeline for Yahoo Search: