America Online Relaunches AOL Search
Today, America Online will deploy an overhauled version of AOL Search for its members followed by a wider public release this coming Monday. AOL Search has been updated with a streamlined tabless interface and is banded together with vertical search capabilities that the company expects will return better results.
What's more, AOL has extended the portal's utility by expanding its fledgling collection of search-related Web properties and striking up new partnerships. Strategic partnerships were critical to the site's launch because the company -- acknowledging it is a media company above all else -- has turned to third parties to develop the technology that powers many of its core features.
As first evidenced by Snapshots, AOL Search will combine editorial content from its Web brands including AOL CityGuide, Sports Illustrated, Singingfish.com, Pinpoint, and BizRate with the traditional listing of aggregated search results provided by Google. This technique is commonly referred to as "skewing."
In a momentum note, there are now over 2.5 million Snapshots which blanket nearly 20 percent of all AOL search queries with packages of information ranging from movie show times, sports and music to cooking, shopping, current events and local interests.
AOL has partnered with Fast Search & Transfer (FAST) to deepen its local search capabilities by deploying design conventions developed by FAST. New content aggregation, indexing and algorithmic techniques will clear the path for AOL to make its compilation of local content more comprehensive. AOL's goal is to provide users with the information where they "live, work and travel."
Local merchants also have an inroad into AOL Search. AOL will work with Ingenio to create Internet advertising solutions for small businesses that may not have a presence on the Web through the Ingenio Pay Per Call platform. The platform literally requires merchants and service providers to pay per call when customers telephone a specially crafted number found in their advertisement.
Advertisements will be placed prominently as sponsored link results on AOL Search, the AOL.com portal site, AOL Yellow Pages, as well as other AOL properties.
To narrow down the focus for its customers and reduce wading through search results, AOL has partnered with Vivisimo to license clustering technology that categorizes results by topic. Topics are displayed alongside general search results so that users can better "find what they are looking for."
No matter how well search results are displayed, queries must be structured and refined in order to retrieve relevant results. AOL has devised a method to improve the accuracy of its results by incorporating a "suggestion tool" that assists users by helping them refine their search. AOL SmartBox anticipates what keywords a user wants as they type and opens a query box that indicates what else should be added to the keyword phrase.
For example, typing in "Eagles" requires the user to specify whether they want to search for the band, bird, or the football team. Recent queries are saved into a drop-down menu.
Lastly, AOL Search will provide new usability tools for the visually impaired that adjust font sizes and improve compatibility with screen reader software.
AOL Search Vice President and General Manager Gerry Campbell told BetaNews that the company's search strategy was a "marathon, not a run," and promised that more innovations were on the way.