February is off to a great start in the world of search. Yesterday, Google went public via Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land with their very compelling claim that Bing is copying their search results by using data collected from the Bing toolbar and the Suggested Sites feature. To summarize, Google thought that Bing was copying their search results so they set up a honeypot by purposely ranking sites on queries that no one would search for and then waiting to see if the results were copied over to Bing. And, what do you know, they were.
Even though it is my job to monitor search engine results pages, since the Bing/Yahoo merger I just do not make it to Yahoo more than once a week and then, just for a quick search or two to verify that the paid results are approximating what is showing on Bing. It is for this reason that little changes to Yahoo often slip under my radar and that’s a bad thing because Yahoo has always been and continues to be a commerce friendly engine. I am also happy that despite Yahoo’s recent troubles, and the merger with Microsoft, they have resisted the temptation to become a carbon copy of Bing. So, I was kind of excited when I recently noticed a change to the Yahoo Search Assist feature that is not only different than what Bing is doing, but is a definite positive for eCommerce sites. But the important questions is; will this change benefit the user?
The previous incarnations of Yahoo’s Search Assist emulated Google Suggest and offered alternate queries for your initial search. Now, it looks like Yahoo is trying to direct users away from non-commerce sites that may have a dominant position in the organic Bing-powered results. Sites like Wikipedia and Answers seem to be filtered out of these latest suggested results. In the example shown, the top ranking commerce and review sites are presented as suggested results for my digital camera query.
As you can see, the suggested results have omitted sites that probably will not lead to some sort of conversion. Bing has not adopted this tactic yet.
So, is Yahoo actually leading users where they would have gone anyway or are they trying to improve their position as a viable portal for merchants? I am going to give them the benefit of the doubt here and say that most people searching for “digital camera” are probably not interested in the Answers or Wikipedia result and actually do want results that are either reviews or products. So if this is true, are organic results becoming less relevant on their own? Will we see this tactic played out in other forms of search? My initial feeling is yes, most certainly.