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Going Shopping? Ask Jeeves for Advice

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As the online shopping search space continues to heat up, Ask Jeeves has entered the fray with powerful enhancements to its smart search capabilities that help in all phases of the shopping process.

Like other Smart Search results, product results are generated only when the search engine determines that a query is shopping related. This query analysis goes beyond what most other product search services offer, by attempting to determine where a shopper is in the purchase process.

"Product-related searches require a different approach than general Web searches," said Jim Lanzone, vice-president of product management for Ask Jeeves, Inc. "We developed Smart Search for Products to be a logical and comprehensive way to find the product information that people actually need."

Prior to integrating product search directly into standard Ask Jeeves search results, the commissioned a study of online and offline shopping needs and behaviors. The study determined that consumers have different information needs at different points of the shopping cycle, including reading reviews, evaluating features, identifying similar items, comparing prices, and finding stores when they've decided to make a purchase.

"We found that cost comparison is only one stage of a much more complex process," said Daniel Read, Director of Product Development for Ask Jeeves.

While Jeeves has long provided cost comparison for products through a partnership with Pricegrabber, the new smart search for product results offer a rich variety of different types of information in addition to prices, including product reviews, feature comparisons, links to online stores that sell products, clarification and sorting tools, and general web results from Teoma.

The clarification and sorting tools are what really make smart search for product results stand apart from other shopping search services, because of the way that they adapt to the user's intent.

For example, a search for "laptop" generates a set of "related categories that appear in a red box at the top of the result page. These are actually links that help Jeeves refine your query to a more specific level, such as "notebooks & accessories" and "memory."

Clicking the notebooks & accessories link offers further refinement links, including "notebooks, "batteries & adapters, tablet PCs, and so on. Clicking any of these refinement links produces a completely different set of results: photographs of actual products, with links to additional information about them.

The products initially displayed are the most popular choices for a particular category at Pricegrabber, according to Read. You also have the option to see all products in a category.

"The functionality appears only when were 110% certain it's going to deliver a better search experience," said Read. "Instead of a standard ten blue links experience, you're getting a direct answer."

By contrast, if you search for a specific product by name, the refinement process is skipped and you're shown photos of the product itself. Search for "apple ipod" and you'll see the three most popular versions of the product itself.

In addition to direct information about products, there's also a new capability to sort your search results by product reviews, features, prices, online stores, in addition to standard web results. These "information gathering" results come from the Teoma database. When you've got enough information to select a specific product, results are provided by Pricegrabber. Sorting "allows you to change the lens of your search," said Read.

"It's a combination of structured and unstructured data," he continued, referring to the unstructured, Teoma web results, and the highly structured Pricegrabber results. "Users want the predictability of the search engine experience, but want structured data when they want it."

For now, smart search for products results are primarily optimized for electronics products. Read says the company will expand the capability to cover other types of products such as consumer durables and clothing in the near future.

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