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Google Instant, Meet Yahoo Instant – Er, Yahoo Rich Search Assist

Yahoo is following Google by rolling out its own version of Google Instant, with a twist. Called “Rich Search Assist,” the feature automatically shows results as you type, though only in the top half of the page.

Meet Rich Search Assist

The screenshot below shows an example of this:

As you type, Yahoo suggests search topics using its preexisting Yahoo Search Assist service. But now, next to the suggestions, Yahoo flashes up a closer look at the first result you’d get for each topic. As you move down through the other suggestions, the preview changes to match those.

The short video below (it’s about 15 seconds) shows this in action. I shot this of Yahoo Rich Search assist running on a Yahoo corporate laptop, so please forgive that it’s not a high-quality screencast:

Now In Testing With Select Users

Shashi Seth, senior vice president of Yahoo Search products, told me about 5% of Yahoo’s users are currently being opted-in to the new experience and that Yahoo is also testing various versions of it.

Testing will likely continue for a month or two until a final product is rolled out to the public, Seth said. Later this week, Yahoo plans a blog post with more details about the service.

Postscript: Yahoo has a post up now about it here.

Ads Covered, Said Has No Impact

Unlike Google Instant, Yahoo’s version of results previews covers up its ads. Seth told me that so far, this has been “revenue neutral” — ad income isn’t impacted. He also also said that “user engagement and happiness” has gone up.

I was a bit confused about this. If engagement is up, that should mean that people are selecting more from the preview box shown and not going the actual result page — which contain ads. So, there should be a drop.

Alternatively, people might be engaging with the preview box, then ultimately ignoring what’s there and closing it, heading to the results the “old fashioned” way. If so, then the previews wouldn’t seem successful.

We’ll all have a better idea when we can actually see and play with the service ourselves.

Instant & Previews & Assist, Oh My!

It’s worth clarifying that Yahoo Rich Search Assist is like Google Instant but NOT like the recently launched Google Instant Previews (which do cover ads and which Google also says doesn’t cause a major impact).

To recap:

  • Google Instant: Launched in September, shows previews of results as you type
  • Google Instant Previews: Launched in November, shows previews of pages listed in results, if you deliberately chose to see them
  • Yahoo Rich Search Assist: Now being tested, shows previews of results as you type

About That Name

As for the name, Yahoo Rich Search Assist, it’s a mouthful. I asked why Yahoo didn’t just call it Yahoo Instant, and Seth smiled. That’s because Yahoo did have a Yahoo Instant search product back in 2005, before Google had its Google Instant that came out this year. Since everyone’s going to call this Yahoo Instant anyway, I think Yahoo should resurrect the name.

By the way, I asked if Yahoo was working on Yahoo Rich Search Assist before or after Google announced Google Instant. Before, I was told.

Finally, looking today, I noticed that somewhere along the way, the old format of how Yahoo’s regular Search Assist worked seems to have ended. You used to get a drop-down box with various suggestions listed horizontally. Now, the suggestions are all listed vertically.

Learning More

You can learn more about how Search Assist used to work, as well as more about other things mentioned in this article, via our past coverage below:

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