Yahoo Testing New Query Refinement Tools

Yahoo has begun testing Search Assist, a new search refinement that could have an impact on search marketers for its ability to prevent typos and guide searchers toward a specific query.

Search Assist refines queries by providing related topics as searchers type to assist them in finding the right search term that will deliver the most relevant information. A recent Harris Interactive poll of online users commissioned by Yahoo showed that Web search users on average needed between 3 and 4 searches to find what they needed. Search Assist is intended to cut down on that number by presenting users with more refined queries and topics early in the search process.

Most of the major search engines have offered post-search suggestions for related searches for years. Google Suggest was the first to offer this type-ahead, pre-search query refinement in its Labs beginning in December 2004. Ask.com added a pre-search query refinement feature in June with the launch of Ask3D.

Yahoo added the pre-search Search Suggest feature earlier this month, which had been available in the Yahoo Toolbar for Firefox since March.

With Search Assist, Yahoo takes that idea a step further by offering related topics as well as specific suggested queries as searchers type. It's also designed to stay out of the way when users don't need it, and will only engage when users pause in the middle of typing a query.

For example, a search today for [origami” would return search results with suggestions at the top, such as "Also try; origami instructions, origami flowers, more..." That same search with Search Assist returns those queries and others in the left side of a drop-down box, but adds a set of related categories on the right side, including paper folding, ultra-mobile pc, oriland, origami designs, and more:

Yahoo Search Assist

Search Assist utilizes technology Yahoo acquired with AltaVista called Prisma, which was launched in 2002. Prisma combined categorization and clustering to present searchers with "parallel" terms that have a strong association with the original query which searchers could use to find related topics. Search Assist takes the top 20 pages of Prisma results to create its suggested queries and topics.

For search marketers, the tool could make it easier for searchers to find your site, as long as you can get your site in the top 20 pages. It could also help marketers to refine keywords to target, by offering the most common terms suggested for a given keyword that the marketer may have been targeting previously. One downside for SEMs is that it could also have a negative effect on marketers that had been capitalizing on misspellings.

The feature has been rolled out to a small group of randomly selected Yahoo users, and more will be added next month. By September, if Yahoo is confident in the state of the tool, it will roll it out to a wider audience.

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