April 7, 2003 5:03 AM PDT

Yahoo alights on new search site

Yahoo on Monday will phase in a new search site that plays up paid listings and simple, informative query results, but it has yet to capitalize on the assets of newly acquired Inktomi.

The redesigned graphical interface and search service, called Yahoo Search, will have newfound prominence across the Web portal's collection of sites and will be marketed widely in traditional and online media starting Monday, according to Jeff Weiner, Yahoo's vice president of search.

Despite widespread talk of Yahoo's imminent plans to break away from Google, its increasingly powerful partner and rival, the new service will be powered by Google technology. In an interview with CNET News.com, Weiner discussed the potential benefits of Inktomi's technology to Yahoo Search in coming months, including benefits from its paid-inclusion program, but he declined to say whether Inktomi would take Google's place.

"We're maximizing our flexibility and becoming less dependent on one (search) provider," said Weiner, who added that Yahoo's purchase of Inktomi was finalized at the end of March and that technology changes were premature.

Web search has become the must-have feature for Internet publishers this year, with site operators of all stripes salivating over its revenue potential and adding paid text links to their navigation engines or Web pages. Sales from commercial search are expected to soar to $7 billion within four years, according to investment firm U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray.

Just last week, Microsoft said it is investing significantly in developing search technology that will rival its competitors' and will downplay its reliance on third-party providers such as Inktomi, which is one of its Web search partners. As part of the investment, the company is adding new staff and engineering advancements in navigation technology.

In the past year, Yahoo has made a similar commitment by acquiring Inktomi and by staging small upgrade to its search site. In October,


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the company introduced a redesign that featured Web search results incorporating more data within the listings related to the visitor's query, or information from its editorial directory. At the same time, Yahoo started to downplay its legacy directory service in favor of Web search results and sponsored search results from Overture Services.

Its latest upgrade puts even more data directly into search results related to visitors' queries. For example, people searching for weather information about Palm Beach, Fla., could type in the city and state and get the local temperature on the first page. Or a Web surfer could type in a city, state and merchant name to retrieve a Yellow Pages listing with a map to find that business.

Similarly, visitors can type "news Iraq" to call up listings to related news stories of the day. In addition to news, Web and directory results, visitors will also be able to search an image database that the company has added.

Yahoo Search's new design touts simplicity with less graphical clutter, a formula pioneered by Web darling Google and one that nearly every search company has followed. People will be able to access the search service through Yahoo's various properties--the company plans to integrate it into HotJobs.com and Personals, for example--as well as directly through search.yahoo.com.


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As part of the changes, Yahoo will feature more sponsored search listings in the form of text links down the right-hand side of the page, replacing graphical banners or buttons. The company has long had an exclusive deal with Overture to display sponsored listings above its Web search results, but terms of the deal have not been disclosed.

Shedding light on the extent of that deal, Yahoo's Wiener said that the right-side links will be a mixture of ads sold by Yahoo sales staff and those of third parties. That may include companies other than Overture, a move that could again raise questions about Yahoo's long-term plans for developing its own pay-for-performance search system.

Overture said that the company is contracted to provide pay-for-performance search listings, which are those that advertisers pay for only when Web surfers click on them. Yahoo will display text ads along the right-hand side of the page that advertisers pay for based on the number of times they appear before visitors, or by CPM (cost per impression).

Yahoo also plans to omit graphical banners from the top of search pages unless they are targeted to the visitor's preference, Weiner said.

Yahoo also started testing a new product-search site, at products.yahoo.com, that draws on data from its shopping service. Similar to product-search sites from Google or DealTime, Yahoo's service lets people compare prices of items across multiple sites or narrow their search by cost.

 

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