ysearch1022408.pngYahoo is announcing that it will let companies introduce their own data to Yahoo’s search results — a significant first step toward giving third parties access to its search engine. The move could lead to more traffic at partner sites, as well as a competitive search advantage for Yahoo against dominant rival Google.

In an example given by Yahoo, review site Yelp can submit data about say, a restaurant review to appear within the search results (screenshot, below). The Yahoo result will show Yelp’s user rankings for the restaurant and links to other information as well as links to relevant pages on the Yelp site, not just a headline, a blog of text and a URL.

Yahoo search’s machine learning system figures out how it will incorporate the third-party submitted data into its search results.

The result is that a user can quickly find more relevant information at Yahoo, without having to go over to Yelp. If this proves to be the case, it is in every company’s interest to spend time making sure their data is presented, because third-parties will still get traffic when people click on the results. In turn, its larger number of detailed search results could help Yahoo win back search users from rival Google.

Google has a custom search results option running since 2006, called Subscribed Links, as Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan points out. However, neither third-party companies nor searchers have been using it. Yahoo tells Sullivan that its service will be different because results that use third-party data will appear for all users.

Longer-term, Yahoo may consider providing third parties with even more access to its search features — maybe even giving third parties access to the Yahoo search index, itself, and let third parties influence search result rankings.

Google, meanwhile, has been looking at a wide range of options for improving its own search results. Even though it is exploring concepts like Subscribed Links and “social search” — using friend relationships to match your search query with a result — the company has been more reluctant to give third parties access to its regular search results. (See our interview with Google’s Marissa Mayer for more.)

In fact, one intriguing idea here is that a social network like Facebook could introduce its “social graph” — or your list of friends and information about your relationships with them — to Yahoo search.

Yahoo could use the social graph to notify your friends when they adopt new search apps. Like Facebook Platform, this could help spread apps on Yahoo’s search platform.

Doug Sherrets contributed to this article.

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