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Yahoo! Unveils New Search

Mega portal Yahoo! on Monday unveiled the new version of Yahoo! Search, embedding search more deeply in its network and looking to build more revenue from it.

As expected, search will be a more integral part of Yahoo!'s network, with search boxes following a user throughout the site. The search itself has a variety of new features, including special search functions for products or images. In addition, the search ties more closely with the Yahoo! network, offering up Yahoo! content rather than just links to Web sites.

"Yahoo!'s goal is to provide the highest quality search experience on the Internet," said Jeff Weiner, Yahoo!'s senior vice president for search and marketplace. "The new Yahoo! Search marks the next step in building an innovative and integrated search platform that leverages the most relevant, comprehensive content from across the Web and innovative search solutions using leading search technology and content on Yahoo!."

Giving Search a Yahoo! Flavor

Weiner, said all the changes were made with an eye to making search easier and more helpful for the user. The first change was to overhaul the Yahoo! Search start page. The portal has done away with much of the clutter -- including untargeted banner ads -- offering a longer search box and the option to search the Web, Yahoo!'s directory, news, yellow pages, or images.

A search for "real estate" on the new search page offers more than just Google algorithmic results and Overture paid listings. Instead, the top of the results page is framed by Yahoo!'s own content, such as a link to its real estate section and listings of homes, apartments and commercial properties. Sponsored and algorithmic results appear below.

The search box will be a header on pages throughout Yahoo!'s vertical properties, starting with mail, address book, and calendar. Yahoo! hopes to make its search even more ubiquitous through Yahoo! Companion, its toolbar search application that it launched in November 2002.

A user can now exclusively search Yahoo! content by using the exclamation point after a search term. For example, a search for "sports!" will only crawl Yahoo! pages.

In addition, Yahoo! Search will feature a beta version of a product search engine, allowing users to compare products by price or merchant, and eventually make a purchase. The service is similar to Froogle, the product-comparison search engine Google rolled out last December. Yahoo! plans further vertical search options, Weiner said.

Along with increased focus on its vertical channels, the new Yahoo! Search hopes to give users a more local flavor. For example, a user typing in a search for "Palo Alto, CA Blockbuster" is returned Yellow Pages listings for the nearest Blockbuster video store, along with an option to map the store from the user's preset location and get driving directions. Similarly, typing in an address now automatically yields a map of the area while "San Francisco weather" returns a Bay Area forecast.

The over 100 million registered Yahoo! users can save their search preferences, such as language and number of results on the page.

Yahoo!'s Nervous Search Partners

By offering this, Yahoo! hopes to take advantage of both its tools and personalization -- both of which give it an advantage over a search at a site like Google.

Yahoo!'s search moves will only fuel more speculation that it increasingly sees Google as a rival. Fellow mega portal MSN officially declared Google a rival this week, when it confirmed it was making a major effort to beef up its investments in search.

The relationship between Google and Yahoo! has been in doubt since Yahoo! plunked down $235 million for search company Inktomi in December. While Yahoo! insisted Google remains a partner, it has taken pains to stress that their relationship is "flexible." The two companies signed a multiyear algorithmic search deal last October.

The same goes for Overture, which has also been hit hard by rumors that Yahoo! would cast it aside. Along with Microsoft, Yahoo! accounted for nearly two thirds of Overture's business last year, putting Overture in a precarious position.

Weiner said Yahoo! remained committed to the Overture relationship, which he credited with helping the company immensely, but again the key word qualifying the relationship is "flexible."

The new search features show how Yahoo! can monetize search outside the Overture relationship. In the Blockbuster search, for example, Overture's paid listings will appear only far down on the results, with Yahoo! yellow pages listings appearing at the top. Likewise, product searches look to drive users to Yahoo!'s own shopping channel.

In fact, Weiner said some search pages would feature fewer paid listings. If a search is non-commercial, he said Yahoo! Search would serve up non-commercial results.

The overhaul is part of Yahoo! CEO Terry Semel's drive to make search an integral part of every facet of the portal. While the company stresses that its moves are meant to make the user experience better and easier, it also has a self-interested rationale: Search has proven very lucrative.

Last year, Yahoo! took in $140 million through its relationship with paid search provider Overture. The numbers opened Yahoo!'s eyes to the potential for search to monetize its enormous amount of traffic.

More Moves Await

At its analyst day in February, Yahoo! outlined its plans to make many of the changes unveiled today. One possibility Weiner discussed in February missing from today's announcement was content-targeted pad listings. He said the content-targeted ads, which Google recently rolled out and Yahoo! partner Overture plans to soon, are still too new to evaluate their effectiveness.

Yahoo! also plans on rolling out a paid inclusion product once it integrates Inktomi into search. With paid inclusion, advertisers can pay to have certain pages of their Web site crawled by a search engine. Weiner did not give a timeline for when a paid inclusion product would be ready.

Yahoo! rolled out a marketing campaign today to alert users to the new search functions available and brand its search as an alternative to Google. In addition to ads throughout the Yahoo! network, the portal will run ads with the tagline "Faster, Easier, Bingo!" on CNET, NYTimes.com and CBS Marketwatch. All week, print ads will also appear in major papers, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today.