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AOL expands search services

Desktop search integrated, geographical customising to come

AOL has launched a new version of AOL Search, and announced new partnerships aimed at expanding its search services.

One of the deals is with Copernic Technologies, to provide an integrated desktop search feature, AOL said. A time frame for that feature was not provided.

AOL also licensed clustering technology from Vivisimo, which it is using in a new sorting and clustering feature that automatically organises the most relevant search results by topics and shows those with a list of general web search results. AOL is the first of the major search engines to incorporate that type of clustering technology in search results, the company said.

Before users actually hit the "search" button, they can use an automated SmartBox suggestion tool that helps users refine their searches so that they get more accurate results. Searching on the word "eagles," for instance, brings up a query box listing the bird, the rock band or the American football team from Philadelphia.

Pulling in information from AOL's content and web brands network, the search function now includes a set of results called "Snapshots" that offer editorial content and information for various topics such as local movie showtimes, sports statistics and current events, AOL said. Member ratings of local business and restaurants are included in Snapshots, which also provide a calculator, currency converter and the ability to find an airline flight or a restaurant.

AOL has programmed more than 2.5m Snapshot packages that will be provided at the top of search results for up to 20 percent of all search queries.

Integrated shopping search results include access to the Pinpoint Shopping database that consists of more than 25m products so that users can narrow the range by store name, category of items being shopped for, brands, price and merchant ratings.

AOL Search, which has been redesigned to move away from a tabbed interface, also has been enhanced so that people with vision problems can adjust font sizes, and it is more compatible with screen reader software that blind people use.

Based on a new algorithm, AOL Search will also have expanded local search functions soon, with more features so that users can obtain more information about the places where they live and to which they travel, AOL said. AOL is working with Fast Search & Transfer to expand local search services and results that users can customise to their geographic locations.

The ISP has also announced a deal with Ingenio, which has a Pay Per Call advertising service for merchants that will lead to sponsored link search results being listed on AOL Search, as well as AOL.com, AOL Yellow Pages and other of its web content, aimed at customers who are searching online for local products and services.

These enhancements were rolled into the search function in the subscription-based AOL service yesterdayand will appear on Monday in the search area of the public AOL.com portal, said Gerry Campbell, vice president and general manager of AOL Search.

The search improvements are in line with AOL's overall strategy of beefing up AOL.com in order to attract more users and more advertisers, Campbell said. "The release today is just the start of moving search more out to the web," he said. "We want to be the search of choice not just for our members but for the audience on the web as well."

AOL has no plans to develop its own technology for searching the web, preferring instead to continue using Google's search technology and accompanying search-sponsored ads, even when Google is a competitor in this space, Campbell said. "Our relationship with Google is very strong. We selected them because they provide the very best web search capabilities as well as monetisation capabilities through AdWords and we still see that value being a very strong part of our offering," he said.

This is a good decision, according to one analyst. Search engine users are more interested in a clean, easy-to-use interface and an appealing search experience than in the underlying search technology, said Niki Scevak, a Jupiter Research analyst.

"AOL is rightly focusing on differentiating themselves by creating a consumer search experience through their media heritage and editorially-guided search results rather than by creating a tech index," he said, referring to the Snapshots feature.


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