Search Engine Shoot-Out

Human Insight

Search sites are adding more human opinions to search results. "If you're looking for a hotel for your vacation, traditionally you've gotten a list of hotels," says Tim Mayer, Yahoo Search's senior director of product management. "But there's no person or authoritative expert saying, 'I went to this hotel and recommend it.'"

One solution is to add more "human expertise" to the autogenerated results. Yahoo has a homegrown source of this content: The Yahoo Answers service is an online community where users ask and answer questions on a variety of topics. The company recently began adding Yahoo Answers posts to the bottom of some search-result pages. For instance, when you search for "summer vacations", you will see a 'Shared by Yahoos' section at the bottom of the results; the section includes links to several summer-vacation 'Best Answers' (meaning the most relevant), as chosen by Yahoo Answers users.

Cynics may point out that this feature benefits Yahoo by routing users to its in-house content, boosting its page views as a result. Perhaps, but we found the Yahoo Answers opinions more relevant than many of the standard, top-ten hits, a few of which were just random links to vacation rentals. In contrast, Yahoo Answers posts were more interesting: One contributor described seven travel destinations in India, while another offered a comprehensive list of family-friendly theme parks.

Opinionated results are a good start, but at present they aren't always blended smoothly with the conventional search results, usually being relegated to the bottom of the page. Few people are likely to scroll down to find them. Yahoo's Mayer acknowledges this issue: "We're just beginning to integrate this content, so we're going to be learning more about how to rank it. Long term, we will incorporate it more aggressively on the search page."

The same "summer vacations" query run on Ask.com, Google, and Live Search produced a conventional (though mostly useful) collection of travel-site hits. While Live Search did serve up a link to an MSNBC message board on seasonal travel, it was labeled as merely 'boards.live.com', which gave us no indication that it was related to our search specifically.

Yahoo's 'Also try' feature at the top of its results page presents related queries culled from users: Search for "muffins" on the site, and 'Also try' lists "muffins recipe", "banana muffins", and other alternate forms of relevant content.

Chart: Keep Up With the Times

No news-search service beats Google's timeliness, which is everything when it comes to hearing stories first. Click the icon below to see how the tested engines performed, including their scores in each round.

Keep Up With the Times
No news-search service beats Google's timeliness, which is everything when it comes to hearing stories first.
Service First round Second round Third round Average Comments
Google 19 20 19 19 Comprehensive listings of local and national news sources; the service also provides image thumbnails for some of its news stories.
AltaVista (Yahoo) 20 17 16 18 AltaVista returns accurate news results, but it provides access to fewer local news sources and image thumbnails than Google offers.
Yahoo 20 11 15 15 To find News Search on Yahoo, you must click the More button; we think the feature should be easier to find in this cluttered kitchen-sink layout.
Live Search - 14 16 15 Impressive showing, but its search-results page is too sparse. Adding some image thumbnails of news events would help.
Ask.com - 14 11 13 A decent news-search tool, but you'll get more timely hits elsewhere. And in our tests, Ask displayed fewer image thumbnails than Google does.
Daypop 13 15 4 11 -
NewsTrove 16 5 - - -
News-Is-Free 11 - - - -
InfoPlease 0 - - - -
Chart notes: The average score is composed of scores from three rounds of testing. Our scoring awarded a search engine three points if the first link in the results led to the target answer or site (or if the answer itself appeared at the top of the results page or within the first result). A link to the correct answer as the second or third result was worth two points, and a link to the correct response elsewhere in the top ten results scored one point. If the target answer or item didn't appear anywhere on the first page, we awarded no points to the search engine. We added Live Search and Ask.com to the second round of tests after several contenders in the first round failed.
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