The promise of Universal Search or One Search has, for years, waffled between the promise of a better search experience and the reality of results diluted with local listings, videos, images, social network chatter, and other content often irrelevant to the needs of the user. Simply, the idea behind Universal Search is that one set of results can and should provide more than just web pages; the reality is that those other results are often simply woven into the traditional set of results, moving web pages or preferred content to subsequent pages. The experience often works well in a vertical (shopping, travel, finance, etc.) where the search experience has context, but across every conceivable result, it leaves something to be desired.
The universal direction for search engines left SEOs, and businesses, chasing video and local listings much more aggressively than perhaps they should; diverting attention from ensuring their web sites are optimized properly in favor of publishing video or getting listed in every local directory on the promise of get more content indexed by Google. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating avoiding local listings or consider video; this is an exploration of the Universal Search user experience. I’m only pointing out that everything should be taken in context.
The real reason behind this post is a bit of praise for Yahoo! After much criticism on my part, and notwithstanding the replacement of Yahoo’s search engine with Bing, Yahoo steps up the game quite nicely with this redesign of their search results; fluidly incorporating other content without blending the results in a way that dilutes the experience. An AJAX like experience enables users to tab through video, twitter, or image content as it’s available; getting a quick synopsis of other results while leaving the familiar web results readily accessible.
Sparking an arms race in search, Bing can arguably be credited with prompting a spate of innovations in the search experiences in the last few months (some not so welcome). While others before them have attempted to light a fire under the search industry, Bing’s slick, innovative user experience has led, according to Matt McGee, to a increasing share of search volume (and dollars) by Microsoft.
So, go Yahoo! Purely from the user experience standpoint, what do you think of the new directions in search?