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AOL Refreshes Search Services

America Online today announced new search services to capitalize on rising interest in the technology from users and advertisers.

The Internet arm of Time Warner also announced several partnerships with smaller specialists to develop desktop search, expanded local search and new opportunities for advertisers and businesses.

"Updating the service is an ongoing process," Jay Esmele, an AOL spokeswoman, told internetnews.com. AOL is working to gain ground from heavy search hitters Google , Yahoo and Microsoft .

In addition to a cleaner look, improvements unveiled today should help users get answers faster. With technology from Vivisimo, search results are organized into topics and displayed alongside the list of general Web search results.

In addition, a new SmartBox suggestion tool helps narrow a query even before users hit the search button. For example, if a user enters the word "eagles," the feature presents options for the band, the football team or the bird.

A new layer above the search results, called SnapShots, is designed to showcase editorial content from AOL sites. And quick tools such as AOL Travel, CityGuide, Yellow Pages, MapQuest and Moviefone will also be easily accessible.

"The new features are nothing revolutionary, but are useful and powerful, and effectively differentiate AOL Search from the other major players, including AOL Search partner Google," Chris Sherman, associate editor of Search Engine Watch, wrote in the site's blog. (Search Engine Watch is owned by the same parent company as internetnews.com.)

AOL, which still has 22 million members despite slipping subscriber statistics in recent years, also promised future upgrades. The Dulles, Va., unit will work with Fast Search & Transfer to expand local search based on a new algorithm.

The improved local search will be available later this year, Esmele said. She also noted that the agreement should not be seen as dissatisfaction with Google. The companies have a multi-year deal and remain a very important search partner, she said.

AOL is also working on desktop search. Under a pact with Copernic, AOL will deliver a tool to allow users to comb through their computer hard-drives for files.

Other coming advances are squarely aimed at advertisers and businesses. While continuing to use Google to provide Web search results and sponsored links for AOL Search, AOL will also work with Ingenio.

Ingenio's ad platform will allow AOL to charge advertisers for the number of phone calls directed their way from AOL's search pages. That could potentially expand their addressable market, allowing AOL to market to local companies that don't have a Web site yet.