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Live Search Overhauled

Microsoft's Live Search overhaul is, to understate it, aggressive, and their presentation of it dazzling to the point of euphoric. Their aim: To reclaim territory thought by some to be irretrievably lost to Google. And they believe they've done it, at least technologically. All that remains to be seen is if the searching public will respond.

And that's a big if.

Nevertheless, Microsoft is throwing next-generation technology terms around as though the public is ready to hear them: Live Search algorithms use neural networking ranking, modeled after biological neural networks, capable of learning and differentiating between natural language patterns.

Now's the time to take the Blue Pill, if you have one.

However they've gone about it, Satya Nadella, Corporate Vice President for Search and Advertising, says they've matched Google in relevancy and have surpassed Yahoo. Relevancy, it just so happens, accounted for 91 percent of user dissatisfaction, so it made sense to focus on that the most.

They did so by looking at the searcher behavior patterns and user feedback, and used that information to structure the results so that they were better tailored to those patterns. The biggest expansion in the results comes in four categories, where 40 percent of all searches lie: Entertainment; Shopping; Health; and Local.

They divided search sessions into three main types:

  • Targeted search – Searchers looking for specific answers; high frequency, short sessions
  • Discovery – Otherwise known as navigation: shopping, research, high interest searching
  • Exploration-type – No specific goal, general searches for sports, hobbies, gossip
But they also found that 40 percent of queries went unanswered, and that half of them required further refinement. So, with all that in mind (and much, much more, we presume, that won't fit in this space) the first of Microsoft's biannual updates to Live Search includes these updates/improvements:

  • Quadrupled the size of the index
  • "Streamlined" the look and feel of the results, and increased page-load speed
  • Auto-spell correction, with the option of leaving search misspelled
  • Better stop word handling (sometimes you need the "the" when searching: Office or The Office)
  • More high-interest, vertical content:

    • Entertainment – Entertainment news and celebrity "instant answers" with images facts, and a new xRank celebrity ranking, a current popularity measure
    • Shopping – Pulls in products along with reviews, guides, prices; Live Search Products is powered by Microsoft's "Opinion Index" technology that summarizes "the sentiment of the Web about a product."
    • Health – Organizes health content from trusted sources and allows searchers to refine searches
    • Local – Allows searchers to peruse local business listings and reviews.

  • A new video search feature with mouse-over motion previews in the SERPs
  • Live Search Scopes allow people to see search results from Web pages, local maps and directions, images, videos
  • without the need to re-enter the same query each time or to leave the page.
  • Live Search Academic enables people to search through academic information and journals, including computer
  • science, engineering and physics journals.
  • Live Search Books – an index of information from printed material
  • Live Search QnA enables searchers to ask and answer questions
  • Live Search Macros is a tool that allows consumers to create their own custom search engines or use customizations created by others who share their interests to make their searches more relevant to them.
Updates to Live Search are expected every fall and spring, with more enhancements expected especially in the mobile and maps realms.

Local proves to be a huge area for expansion in search, and it looks like the search engines are really looking to beef that part of the experience up. Yesterday, Microsoft also announced a major deal to serve local advertising to the Associated Press's 1,800 local online video affiliates.

In addition, Microsoft plans to release "Live Search Webmaster Portal" into public beta later this year, a resource center similar to Google's Webmaster Central and Yahoo's Site Explorer.