The Web search race heats up

Microsoft overhauls its search site and Yahoo changes are coming, following site redesigns at Google and in search version of duck, duck, goose.

The major search engines are notorious for their claims of out-doing each other. For years, Google and Yahoo battled it out over which had the largest index. Google eventually claimed the title two years ago, but Yahoo countered that relevancy is more important than size.

And this year, the features race is on, with interface and site overhauls either already done or in the works at the top four search providers.

Google's big search site update, in May, garnered headlines for its integration of image, video and other search types into one long list of Web results. And launched its all new Web site in June, incorporating all types of search results onto one page but in separate areas. Ask also simplified its home page, added new video search (powered by Blinkx) and offered the ability to view video previews by moving the cursor over the thumbnail image.

This week, Microsoft upgraded its Live Search core relevancy and index size, as well as incorporated new health, shopping and entertainment vertical searches into the main search page, improved its video search and is allowing for video previews by hovering the mouse over thumbnails.

Wait, déjà vu.

Yahoo won't be far behind on its search site revamp. Sources close to the company say it plans to unveil significant enhancements to Yahoo Web Search in coming weeks.

"It's follow the leader in many ways," Ask Chief Executive Jim Lanzone said in an interview after getting a whiff of changes at his competitor's sites. One thing that differentiates Ask is it is focused solely on search and not on selling business applications, offering communications services or serving as a portal, like its three main rivals, he notes.

What's in the cards for Ask? Something called "collectivism," Lanzone says. "Our algorithm puts out the first best guess and users act like a 50 million person edited version of Wikipedia to hone those results over time. We're also rebuilding the infrastructure of our search engine."

In addition, "core results need to improve in terms of their freshness and neatness," he says. "We've been running on an old-school backbone for the last couple of years and upgrading that has been one of our focuses behind the scenes. Also, search verticals--we can do a better job on those."

And the cycle continues.