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Yahoo overhauls its search engine

Yahoo Inc. has made significant enhancements to its search engine that the company said boosts the speed of searches and accuracy of results.

The engine's new Search Assist feature provides suggested search queries on the main results page along with related concepts to help users explore an unfamiliar subject area, said Tim Mayer from Yahoo's search development team in a blog post.

For example, Mayer said, a search for "United Nations" would prompt Search Assist to list related topics like general assembly, 1945, League of Nations and Secretary General on the results page. If a user clicks on "general assembly," a new set of results and concepts related to United Nations General Assembly would be displayed, he said.

Search Assist drops down automatically from the search box page when it "senses" a user is having trouble putting together a query, according to Mayero. But it only shows up when a user needs or asks for it, he noted.

"We did this to avoid a common complaint about assistance technologies on other search engines" - that suggestions are added to the results page whether or not a user wants or needs them, he wrote.

Yahoo has been testing the new Search Assist feature for several months, and there have been significant improvements over that time in user satisfaction, according to Mayer. For example, there was a 61 percent increase in successful task completion when users had Search Assist as part of their search, he said.

Yahoo also announced that when videos from YouTube, Metacafe or Yahoo Video show up in the search results, the list will include a player that will allow users to immediately watch the videos. In addition, the updated engine will allow Flickr photos to be embedded in the main results search page, Yahoo said.

In a blog item posted on TechCrunch, Erick Schonfeld said that Yahoo "nailed" guided search requirements with this release -- "as long as what you are looking for can be found somewhere else within Yahoo.

"That's my one pet peeve about Yahoo's new search upgrade," Schonfeld said. "All of these shortcuts are helpful, but they are not all objective. Most of them ... point back to Yahoo."

On the social networking site Mashable, blogger Adam Ostrow, noted that the new features may make existing Yahoo users less likely to switch to a competitor. "However, stealing market share from Google will depend on improving their core search algorithm to yield better results, and that remains to-be-determined," he wrote.

The unveiling of Search Assist follows last week's release of a Compete Inc. report which concluded that while Google Inc. dominates the search business, results generated by Yahoo Inc.'s engine result lead to more user clicks than those of the market leader.

The Compete study said that in August, only 65 percent of the Google searches done by the U.S. online population prompted a user to click on a result. About 75 percent of all searches on Yahoo led to referrals, the best result among eight top search engines.