Search Strategy Comparison: Yahoo, MSN, & Google


Greg Linden has a nice post comparing the strategies of MSN, Yahoo, and Google regarding how each of them plans to innovate in search. He quotes an MSN developer who suggests that MSN will attempt to extract more information from the user on each query:

Saleel Sathe (Lead PM, MSN Search) argues that searchers will have to change their behavior and learn how to use search better:

"Search engines have shot themselves in the foot by providing a search box, where users provide relatively little information," Sathe said.

"The average search query is 2.3 words... but if you asked a librarian for information you would not just give them 2.3 words -- you would give them the opportunity to give you the rich detailed answer you want."

Yahoo, on the other hand, belives in social search, according to the head of their Technology Development Group for Search, Bradley Horowitz:

"What we think is the next major breakthrough is social search. It basically democratises the notion of relevance and lets ordinary users decide what's important for themselves and other users," said Horowitz.

And Google's strategy, of course, is to use all the information under the sun to deliver targeted, personalized SERPS.

Linden sees problems with all three strategies. Which one seems most viable to you? Or how about the other search engines trying to break into the space -- Wink, Gigablast, Exalead, Ask or any of the growing number of others?


Search isn't search - convenience wins

What some search engine engineers fail to see is that search isn't search. Well, in half a minute some of them will see anyway...

Search is increasingly not "search for information" but in stead it's "another way to navigate the web". So search is navigation.

And when you navigate, what route do you want to take? The easiest of course. You want to "just get there" as fast as possible. The Google strategy (and possibly the Yahoo strategy as well) supports this by bothering the searcher as little as possible in the moment the search is conducted.

On the other hand, in some cases "search" still is "information search". Here, the most qualified answer will win in the long run. The MS approach is likely to add some benefit here, because if you realy want to know about something then you don't mind putting in a little extra effort.

Extracting more information

Extracting more information from the user will be a tough uphill battle. Imagine the average surfer confronted with any of the advanced search pages, they will run away so fast.

Wink, Exalead?? never seen them in my referrer logs, actually never heard of them at all.
Ask, gaining ground. Gigablast, been trying to break in for years.

Claus is right, most searches are not as much for a single piece of information as they are for information gathering, search is way to navigate and nothing more in most cases.

divded use

Surely none of these is absolute, although they are very correct. For many, "search" is navigation. For many others, "search" is really part of "research". Anyone else ever grow tired of trying to please everyone with one website? Most of us moved on to segmentation years ago.

Even "search is navigation" segments into clearly separate groups including:

  • those who type into the search box because it is first in the tab order or visual order, accounting for the amazing number of google searches for, Yahoo searches for, etc.
  • Those who mis-type into the Firefox location bar only to suffer from an automagic Google "lucky day" redirect. I imagine this accounts for a good deal of the typo.tld searches and domain.tldtypo searches
  • Those who accidentally go full screen in their browser and don't know how to escape. I have seen plenty of these location-bar-bereft people simply set their home page to Google and get everywhere from there.
  • Hard-core users who want to get somewhere yet want the quick visual cue of who else is in that SERP, continuously over time. Some people actual fool themselves into believing they are keeping-up that way.
  • etc etc etc...

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