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How Yahoo Search Assistant Changes SEO

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On Tuesday Yahoo became the last of the four major search engines to offer blended search. Last, but definitely not least as Yahoo’s Search Assist may just be the killer app to get some switching back from Google. Search Assist also has the potential for changing a few things when it comes to optimizing for Yahoo as people begin to unknowingly build more advanced queries.

Yahoo’s been rolling out some of the changes recently, but on Tuesday they all came together. There’s already been a lot of coverage and instead of trying to repeat what’s been said I’ll leave you with the links towards the bottom of this post. However the best way to see the changes is by going to Yahoo and searching.

SEO Related Observations About Search Assist

In using search assist the last couple of days a couple of things have become clear to me. The first is that whether they realize it or not people will be performing more long tail searches. The second is that when search assist is open one less organic search result is visible above the fold.

Yahoo Search Assist for the keyword cavern

In the above image you can see search assist in action for the single word ‘cavern.’ The phrases on the left are search suggestions and one of the nice features is that cavern doesn’t need to be at the beginning of the suggested phrases. The two columns of phrases to the right are concepts around the word cavern you can explore.

As an aside you might notice the Beatles as one of the concepts and it might seem strange for it to be there, but the Beatles got their start playing at The Cavern club in Liverpool. Just a little trivia for you non Beatles folks.

Getting back to the cavern search I selected Howe Caverns from the suggestions on the left and then selected ‘adventure tour’ in the concepts that showed up.

Yahoo Search Assist for the phrase howe caverns + 'adventure tour'

You can see that Yahoo is now showing results containing adventure tour. While it doesn’t show in the search box the actual search now being performed is

howe caverns + “adventure tour”

Notice that adventure tour is being searched in quotes as an exact match while the howe caverns part of the search isn’t. The query above is somewhat more complex than a user will typically type on their own. It’s not overly complicated, but now thanks to search assist we’ll be seeing more advanced searches that will go deeper into the search tail.

Combined with the observation that one less result will be in front of people (at 1024 x 768 resolution one organic result is visible) I think it becomes more important to optimize for long tail queries for Yahoo traffic. It may not be enough to simply have all the words on the page either as the second half of the query is an exact match.

As you start to use search assist more your attentions naturally ends up more focused more at the top of the page on search assist itself. If you don’t see a good result quickly you may decide to further refine the search as opposed to digging deeper into the results and clicking beyond the first page. It wouldn’t surprise me to see less results being clicked, but more clicks leading to good results. That would likely lead to more satisfied Yahoo users.

Long tail optimization has been good advice for awhile now. Search Assist makes the advice better and should also require more focused long tail optimization. Additionally with one less organic result showing the paid listings take on a greater percentage of the space. It’s very possible Yahoo will start seeing more clicks on their ads.

Suggestions For Search Assist

I’d like to see Yahoo display the actual search being performed when using search assistant. In the above howe caverns + “adventure tour” search why not show the entire search in the search box? Showing the actual search would help users better understand what is happening and it would educate them about advanced search operators. If Yahoo tested the idea and found users were more confused by seeing the search change I could understand, but otherwise I think it would be a nice touch.

Exploring concepts is a great addition and I wonder if it could be expanded one more level. Instead of only exploring concepts around the original search why not allow exploration around the more advanced modified search. It would add one more level of refinement and for Yahoo it would keep more people on Yahoo’s search results page

If possible I wouldn’t mind seeing more advanced search operators gain inclusion in search assist. Right now search assist will include an exact match phrase on top of your initial search. Perhaps they could add a way to exclude certain words or phrases as well.

Resources

These are some of the posts I had been collecting for tomorrow’s This Week In SEO post. If you haven’t yet spent any time with Yahoo’s search assist the posts below will fill you in more about how it works and the general changes Yahoo made. Eric Lander’s Search Optimization Guide will walk you through a variety of the changes and how they relate to seo.

If you haven’t yet tried it, give Yahoo’s Search Assist a spin and let me know what you think. I’ve been a Google user primarily for years, but I’ve noticed over the last couple of days I’ve been using Yahoo a little more than I have been and I have a hunch that’s going to increase.

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