Yahoo’s ‘Universal Search’ and Vertical Search Suggestions

When you start typing a query into the search box at Yahoo, you’ll see a dropdown appear under the search box with some suggestions predicting queries that you may want to see Web search results even before you finish typing.

But presently you only see those suggestions for Web search results. I wrote about those Yahoo search suggestions in Predictive Queries versus Unique Searches.

It would be interesting to see suggestions from some of Yahoo’s other databases appearing, such as image search or local search.

A couple of recent patent applications from Yahoo, related to the “predictive queries” patent filing, explore showing how the context of a search and historic search patterns may cause suggestions from other search databases.

One of them also describes how a number of these vertical results could be presented together on a search portal page in response to a completed search.

Does this patent application describe what is going on at Yahoo’s alpha search? It just might.

The Search Equalizer

The first Yahoo patent application is the Search equalizer (20080016034), which determines a relevance score for possible results in different search contexts, such as Web, images, video, local, and shopping results, and shows them as suggestions in a dropdown.

This search equalizer might suggest predictive queries from different vertical searches that might contain the most relevant results for a specific query, while a searcher is typing the letters of their query into the search box.

It might also provide suggestions that are “related” to predicted queries. For example, a searcher starts typing in “interna” into the search box, and it shows a prediction for “international trade” and also for topics that might be related such as “GATT, WTO, UN, US trade policies.”

Tabs, buttons, or links might also be shown, which a searcher could select to see suggested queries from for query sets from other search verticals, such as “Web,” “Images,” “Video,” and “Shopping.”

Right now in Yahoo, when you choose a type of search other than a Web search, you don’t receive suggestions for those other search types.

While this process would show predictions from different databases, depending upon which button you choose, it might also provide predictive queries from the different databases in the dropdown regardless of which button you choose, based upon which databases it might think contains the most relevant results for a possible query. The dropdown predictive suggestion would include a tag showing which vertical that suggestion was from.

Thus, relevance scores may be displayed for Web based searches and for searches over one or more particular verticals, allowing users to compare and choose between them. This has the benefit of promoting effective and efficient selection of search contexts for queries that have a higher probability of returning relevant results.

The Query Categorizer

The second Yahoo patent application, the Query categorizer (20080016046) describes in more detail how the different verticals are selected, based upon “historical search result selection data for similar sets of query terms.”

That historical selection data for a set of query terms includes the number of times that someone might have “selected a search result from that vertical after conducting a search based on that set of query terms.”

Yahoo Universal Search?

While this patent application tells us that it is related to the “predictive query” patent, it also describes how it works in the context of showing a full page of search results after a completed query has been typed in and submitted by a searcher”

According to techniques described herein, in response to a user’s submission of a set of query terms through an Internet search engine’s user interface, the Internet search engine automatically ranks multiple verticals based on the estimated probabilities that those verticals will contain content that would be of interest to the user.

After the verticals have been ranked, a set of the highest-ranked verticals is automatically selected. Search results from each of the verticals in the selected set are presented to the user.

Thus, in one embodiment of the invention, the user is able to obtain a sample from several different verticals–and more specifically, the verticals that are the most likely to contain content in which the user is interested.

The frequency of searches from within the different verticals using specific sets of queries may determine whether search results from those verticals appear within a set of search results conducted within the default main search box at Yahoo.

The searches through the different verticals might include searches for “related query term sets,” so that for instance, the Yahoo document tells us that a search where the main query is “Britney Spears,” might also include a secondary query for “Baby One More Time” or “Kevin Federline.” Those choices might depend upon the time period of the search, and which of those related queries might be searched for more frequently.

Presenting Search Results from Selected Verticals

A number of different ways for presenting search results from different vertical searches are described in this patent application, including:

1. Segregating results from different verticals into different areas on the search portal page.

2. Possibly presenting those segregated results in an order reflecting which of the vertical results ranked highest.

3. Displaying some results in a nonverbal manner, such as thumbnails for images, or a thumbnail frame image for a video.

4. Search results from multiple verticals could also be shown in applications other than a browser, such as an email reader or news reading program, or a word processing application. These results might be shown in a “pop-up” window generated by one of these applications. The results might also be generated from a set of implicit search queries selected by the application.

5. The results from these different verticals could also be presented on a smaller screen, like a Web enabled phone.

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6 thoughts on “Yahoo’s ‘Universal Search’ and Vertical Search Suggestions”

  1. Thanks, 8amSeo.

    The alpha search interface is pretty interesting looking. I wonder what reaction it would stir if Yahoo switched over to it one of these days.

  2. What I really like about the potential for vertical searching and predictive queries is the specific insights they can give you, when researching a topic, professional area or field that you are largely unfamiliar with.

    Every topic and field has its own jargon and “professional speak” and predictive queries etc. can be useful tools for opening up a world of possibilities to the uninitiated newbie researcher, who may be searching on a topic they know little about.

    These tools will expose that person to the words and language for those fields they are unfamiliar with and make their research and learning curves that much faster and more efficient.

    The faster, more efficient and more precise search engines become, the more the web becomes an extension of our own minds, blurring the line between expert professional and curious amateur.

  3. @ Mystic Liquid – thanks. Building vertical search suggestions into a dropdown area seems like it might be a good idea. We’ll see where it goes.

    @People Finder

    I think you’ve nailed one of the findability problems of search – trying to find something when you’re not sure what it is that you are looking for. I don’t know how much the line between amateur and expert will be blurred, but an effective suggestion approach has the potential to make searches for a lot of folks easier.

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