Yahoo! Branching Out its Search Roots

SAN JOSE, Calif. — As Yahoo! slowly but surely crawls back into its roll as an enhanced search provider; the company reaffirmed its plans Thursday to make its search capabilities extremely visible throughout the portal.

Speaking at the Search Engine Strategies 2003 Conference & Expo here, Jeff Weiner, the company’s so-called search czar, says the media giant’s strategy is to make sure users and advertisers stick with them from inspiration through purchase.

“Search is part of a broader continuum,” Weiner said. “Not all searches are created equal and few sites deliver everything in one place. Surely someone who is doing a search for camera is having a different experience than a person searching for a specific model of digital camera. There are product search sites and then there are comparison sites. We realized that there is an opportunity to blend search and vertical assets.”

A senior vice president, Weiner came to Yahoo! along with CEO Terry Semel and was immediately named to create run a whole new Search and Marketplace division. Prior to that, Yahoo! has somewhat kept its search technology separate from its other properties despite being a main force behind helping popularize portals and searching for the masses in the late 90s.

To mix things up a bit more, Weiner said the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based media company is currently beta-testing its new Yahoo! Product Search. Similar in concept to Google’s product portal Froogle, the idea is to help funnel and filter users at different levels of interest. Depending on where you enter, Yahoo! Product Search takes you to an evaluation page and a side-by-side comparison. The merchant offerings come with information, specs, price comparisons and (if you have a Yahoo! account) the choice to automatically purchase the item.

In areas where users are looking for education and research on products, Weiner said there is a chance for what he called “involvement branding” and urged advertisers to take stewardship over relevant brands.

Knowing where people stand in the search process is important,” Weiner directed towards advertisers, although he did characterize intuitive search as “fairly ambiguous”. “If the user is close to making a purchase, this is where you want to link them deep in your site. You don’t want to bring them in at the front door.”

For its next big “Search” thing, Weiner said Yahoo! is looking at extending vertical search for its topical portals starting off with areas like Yahoo! Travel and Get Local and migrating over to other Yahoo! properties like Sports and Finance.

Weiner said Yahoo! is also looking at personalizing search results and hinted that the media giant is looking at users defining what is cool and relevant.

He characterized the new features as “near term” and a launch targeted about the same time as the full release of Yahoo! Product Search.

Recently, Yahoo! has staked its claims on re-acquiring its search soul throught the purchases of Overture and Inktomi . Yahoo! continues to use Google as its primary search results tool at least until the contract between the two companies expires next month.

“One distinction Yahoo! has had over Google in the past is that it often presented a completely different view of the Web,” said SearchEngine Watch founder Danny Sullivan. “I’m not saying that Yahoo’s results were better or worse because of this — they were simply unique, and uniqueness is to be valued.

Yahoo! is certainly grooming Inktomi and Overture to be its search technology and marketing engines. For example, Overture Thursday released about 3.2 billion documents to the Web. The index was developed by the former Web search unit of Fast Search and Transfer (FAST), which Overture acquired in April. The move follows Overture’s acquisition of AltaVista and subsequent release of AltaVista’s multimedia index including some 550 million text, audio and video files.

Weiner said Inktomi will be used extensively throughout Yahoo!’s main site and search areas on a global scale but declined to state when the migration would take place.

Editor’s note: The SearchEngine Strategy show is produced by Jupitermedia, parent company of this Web site.

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