Instant Search? Just Add Water

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It looks like the concept of instant search, first illustrated on Google late last year, is catching on elsewhere. Today Yahoo announced the debut of Yahoo Search Direct — their iteration of providing instant search results as a user types their query into the search box. Focusing on the mission of Yahoo to provide “answers,” the announcement stated that “[w]ith Search Direct, Yahoo! content is combined with information from the Web to provide rich answers, not just links, and to give people the option to immediately engage or continue to a traditional search results page.”

How is this different from Google’s offering, dubbed Google Instant? It’s early days yet, and since Yahoo’s product is still in beta, it’s not really possible to compare the two directly. Yahoo’s Search Direct is only offered in the US right now and only is applicable to certain categories of subject matter (currently, “top trending searches, movies, TV, sports teams and players, weather, local, travel, stocks, and shopping categories”).

But let’s take a look at a simple comparison, which should be fairly equal among the two even at this early stage — weather in a given zip code. Here are screenshots for the same search for weather in 55110 (St. Paul, Minnesota).

Yahoo Search Direct

Google “Instant”

Both provide pretty much the same information, with the main difference being (besides the actual details shown), the layout. Yahoo’s presentation has the more detailed results (the “answer”) to the right of the query box, while Google locates the latest update or “news” type of results concerning the query down below the query box. For me, the Yahoo presentation is more visually appealing, since Google’s setup requires the eye to skip over the suggested searches that drop down from the query entry line, while Yahoo’s sets this new information off to the right, allowing the eye to more easily read it.

Is all Yahoo really doing is shifting some of the results you would see anyway up and to the right? Here’s what you get for a weather-related search in Yahoo in Canada, where Search Direct has yet to be introduced. Note: I can’t search for Minnesota and still trigger the same kind of results using Yahoo Canada, so I’ve substituted a city in Canada.

Yahoo Prior to Search Direct

Obviously, it’s not fair to compare the two choices at this point. Yahoo is just out, and admittedly has a limited set of searches that it is using Direct Search with. Still, the “before” shot of a Canadian weather report and the “after” Minnesota Yahoo Direct Search shot don’t appear different in terms of the quality or type of information presented. The difference is in how the information is presented (the new Search Direct box). Actually, looking at the “before” Yahoo shot and the current Google shot, the two are remarkably similar — except one has to actually hit “enter” in the Yahoo case to bring up the search results that Google brings up instantly.

The bigger question, of course, is the same as it was when Google introduced what has become known as Google Instant — the possible impact on ranking and implication for SEO. Remember, however, the same observation made during that feature launch, which was how many searchers use alternate means to the standard query box these days in their searches for information? Many report using other means of entering queries that bypass the traditional Google (or Yahoo) homepage altogether.

There are a lot of parameters to consider. However, if Yahoo wants to be considered the “answer” engine, they are going to have to work very hard to differentiate themselves from the strides Google has already made to outpace them in striving to be more useful to searchers.

About the Author

Frances Krug has worked in market research since graduating from UCLA with an MA and CPhil in Latin American history. As an editor and online content provider for the last 7 years, she currently is Associate Editor at iNET Interactive, where she also directs Search Marketing Standard's email marketing program.

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